Daniel Ricciardo made a surprise F1 comeback this year at the Hungaroring, and is now set to agree to a contract extension with AlphaTauri.
Ricciardo was a key player in last year’s F1 driver market, unexpectedly losing his McLaren seat. The 34-year-old opted to spend the beginning of 2023 on the sidelines – to reset mentally and wait for a better opportunity. Lucky for the Australian, a convincing Silverstone test with Red Bull and (a lackluster season for De Vries) was enough to earn an AlphaTauri seat.
With Red Bull searching for alternatives to Sergio Perez, Ricciardo became an asset worth re-evaluating. A relatively smooth return before the summer break increased the excitement for Ricciardo’s F1 return. However, a crash and injury sustained in Zandvoort makes assessing the Australian’s current level a difficult task.
The Lawson Factor
This did not seem a major problem initially, but Liam Lawson’s recent performances have complicated matters. After all, AlphaTauri is a team that develops young drivers – at least those deemed with enough potential to invest in. Considering Lawson secured F1 points in just his third race weekend, he surely qualifies for this category. The Kiwi secured the Faenza outfit’s best result of 2023, albeit in a race with several retirements.
Regardless, the more significant aspect of the 21-year-old’s performance is the average gap relative to teammate Yuki Tsunoda. Although a sample size of three races is hardly enough to make any conclusions, there are certainly encouraging signs. Tsunoda’s misfortune in Monza and Singapore prevents meaningful race comparisons, but Lawson is certainly competitive in qualifying.
Returning to Daniel Ricciardo, this is all relevant because it presents Red Bull with a dilemma. Christian Horner’s team has two young, fast drivers at their disposal. Both have proven capable of delivering results in the short term, and both can progress substantially in the long term.
On paper, this is a huge problem for Ricciardo’s efforts to earn a F1 Red Bull drive. Excluding a shock replacement of Sergio Perez, facilitating the 8-time race winner’s return would impede the trajectories – and wider F1 careers – of Lawson and Tsunoda. However, Ricciardo is widely expected to sign a contract extension with AlphaTauri for the 2024 F1 season.
Combining Experience and Youth
The first indications emerged earlier this month, with Peter Bayer (team CEO) stressing the importance of experience at his team. Bayer went so far as to say that AlphaTauri “cannot only develop young drivers, we have to be competitive”, he told PlanetF1 He was also very complimentary of Daniel Ricciardo, praising his impact – especially related to tinkering with the AT04’s set-up.
Reports also emerged later this week that Ricciardo would partner Yuki Tsunoda for 2024, with the up-and-coming Liam Lawson likely to spend next year as AlphaTauri’s F1 reserve driver. Ultimately, Red Bull has determined that their former driver is a strong candidate to partner with Max Verstappen. Ironically, the team could return to its driver line-up from the 2018 campaign.
It is difficult to quantify how he would fare against the Dutchman in actual machinery, especially given the lack of recent data. Additionally, Ricciardo’s impact on AlphaTauri’s development – given their growing collaboration with Red Bull – is unclear.
Still, the reigning F1 World Champions are set to choose a combination of youth and experience for 2024.