Tuesday at Silverstone, Daniel Ricciardo will climb into the cockpit of Red Bull’s RB19 for the first time, to partake in a two-day tyre test for Pirelli. Over the past few weeks, as speculation has grown over a return to the grid, many Red Bull decision makers, such as Christian Horner and Dr. Helmut Marko, have pointed to this test as a stepping stone for a return to the grid.
But has this decision already been made? According to multiple reports, it has.
According to a report from F1-Insider, the decision has already been made to replace Nyck de Vries at AlphaTauri with Ricciardo following the summer break.
Dutch outlet The Telegraph went a step further, releasing a report on Tuesday indicating that the decision has already been made and that De Vries has been “sent away” from the team, with Ricciardo set to replace him at the Hungarian Grand Prix next week.
Rumors of such a switch have been swirling for weeks now, ever since Marko gave De Vries the “yellow card” following a string of poor performances at the start of the year.
That warning saw De Vries deliver a 12th-place finish at the Monaco Grand Prix — to date his best performance of the year — but since then his situation with AlphaTauri has only grown more precarious.
Marko further upped the ante when, speaking on the Inside Line F1 Podcast, he outlined how he and Horner did not see eye-to-eye on bringing De Vries to AlphaTauri, with the Red Bull team principal having a more negative view.
As Marko told the Inside Line F1 Podcast he and Horner do not always agree on driver signings, and De Vries is the latest example. “The last one where I would say, Nyck de Vries. And at the moment it looks like he [Horner] is right,” said Marko.
“It’s AlphaTauri [not Red Bull], but as we are a big family I would say we are at least getting opinions,” added Marko. “And he [Horner] was not so big a fan of Nyck de Vries.”
Beyond the report from F1-Insider, former driver Ralf Schumacher, a current analyst for Sky Sports, also believes the decision has been made. “The decision has been made, I’m pretty sure of that. He did it well, had his highlight in Monza last year and was in the right place at the right time. It’s a shame for him that he probably can’t drive Zandvoort – I would guess – but also good for Daniel Ricciardo and for the team,” said Schumacher. “AlphaTauri is really bad on the road and could use a little experience. Nothing is fixed, but everything is possible.”
Marko was asked by Sky Sports whether a move was in the works ahead of the British Grand Prix, and the Red Bull advisor kept his cards close to his chest. “Tuesday is the tyre test and then we’ll see.”
Pressed on the issue Marko added: “We’ll look at the tire tests and then we can talk.”
When the initial rumors broke about Ricciardo replacing De Vries, word around Red Bull and AlphaTauri was that the team would look to one of their younger drivers as any potential replacement. Marko himself pointed to their young duo ahead of the British Grand Prix. “We have two drivers who are ready for Formula 1. These are Liam Lawson and Ayumu Iwasa. We are keeping an eye on [De Vries’s] development,” Marko told ServusTV.
However, signs now point to Ricciardo being the more immediate replacement, perhaps on a trial basis to determine his status for 2024.
This move may also have more to do with De Vries’ current AlphaTauri teammate, Yuki Tsunoda. So far this season Tsunoda has been clearly ahead of De Vries, out qualifying him in seven of the ten races this season and having two points to his credit on the year, without De Vries notching any points so far.
Is that due to Tsunoda’s growth, or the rookie’s struggles? Giving Tsunoda another point of comparison may tell the tale, and if Tsunoda continues to outpace his AlphaTauri teammate — now a veteran in Ricciardo — that will speak volumes of his growth.
And could prime Tsunoda for a move to Red Bull at some point.
There is another option, however.
One involving Sergio Pérez.
Pérez has also endured his share of struggles this season, particularly in qualifying. While he sits second in the Drivers’ standings, Pérez has yet to see Q3 since the Miami Grand Prix at the start of May. As Max Verstappen himself pointed out at the British Grand Prix, given the strength of the RB19, Q3 should be “the minimum.”
Could this be about putting pressure on Pérez? To make him think Ricciardo could be an option at Red Bull in 2024? Will Buxton, noted F1 analyst, thinks so:
If this does indeed go down, to me it screams of the wider play and that’s about putting pressure on Perez to sort himself out. No point rushing RIC back early solely to prep for AT in 24. Either they’re seriously evaluating him for RBR 24 or want Checo to think that they are. https://t.co/I9E2kAX6FO
— Will Buxton (@wbuxtonofficial) July 11, 2023
As all this unfolds, Red Bull released some images on Tuesday of Ricciardo climbing into the RB19 for the first time, complete with his #3 on the front wing:
So while whether Ricciardo does indeed slide into De Vries’ seat at the end of August remains to be seen at least one thing is clear.
A lot of eyes are going to be on this test session at Silverstone.