Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko has tempered suggestions that Daniel Ricciardo is poised to replace underperforming rookie Nyck de Vries at Alpha Tauri, revealing that the once highly-rated, fallen-on-hard-times Dutchman has three races to prove he belongs in Formula 1.
Prior to this season, De Vries’ shares were at an all-time high thanks to his heroics at last year’s Italian Grand Prix which ultimately got him the AlphaTauri seat for this year, for many F1 was long overdue for the. But that’s a long time ago for a 26-year-old most thought would be plug-and-play in the top flight, thanks to the generally outstanding performances he delivered in lower series.
Now, five races into his first full season of F1, as teammate to Yuki Tsunoda at AlphaTauri; the Japanese driver made to look good alongside his new teammate, Yuki the driver who struggled last year against journeyman Pierre Gasly. Sure the erratic younger driver has improved substantially this year, but only with De Vries as a true measure.
Nothing will happen to Nyck in the next three races
And that’s been a poor benchmark, because De Vries has not even met the most conservative of expectations, thus with Ricciardo hired as the team’s uber-reserve is a logical choice to step in and see what he can do against Tsunoda and really assess how good or how bad De Vries has been. Ditto if Sergio Perez’s performances fall off a cliff; the Australian, their former driver and a GP winner is ready to jump back in.
But De Vries is safe until Canada, in mid-June, revealed Marko to F1 Insider: “Nothing will happen in the next three races. We spoke to De Vries and he agrees with us: he needs to improve. The gap to teammate Yuki Tsunoda, who is doing a great job, is too big. To use footballer jargon, Nick has a yellow card, but not the red one yet. If he improves, a driver change will not be an issue.”
At the start of the season, when Red Bull rehired Ricciardo, team boss Christian Horner outlined the Australian’s role with the team: “Daniel will be attending some races. Obviously, he will be our reserve driver for those events. He will probably do some tyre testing for us to help out with the Pirelli programme that gets distributed around the teams. He will be doing some work in the simulator. So he will be doing more of those activities.”
What about Ricciardo waiting with intent in the wings?
“And then of course with the commercial demands that we have from the myriad of sponsors and partners that we have, particularly with a much bigger presence in the US, where Daniel is now predominantly based, with three Grands Prix there next year, he is going to have a busy agenda for the season ahead,” added Horner, long before the De Vries problem emerged for the organisation that owns two F1 teams.
Ricciardo made 150 Grand Prix starts for Red Bull, the first 11 in 2011 with HRT funded by the energy drinks organisation before he was promoted to Toro Rosso for 2012 where he spent two seasons before the call-up to Red Bull for 2014. With them, he finished 29 times on the podium, as a winner in Blue, his last of eight F1 wins was for McLaren at Monza in 2021.
Dan made 232 starts in the top flight, which could increase if De Vries does not get his act together, fast. Meanwhile for now Ricciardo is among a couple of Red Bull-backed drivers who’ve had a seat fitting with AlphaTauri, the Aussie because he is F1 Reserve for both teams. For now.