Daniel Ricciardo Signing as a Red Bull Reserve Driver Makes Sense

Ever since McLaren took “Silly Season” to another level when it terminated Daniel Ricciardo’s contract, the Formula One world has been on fire with speculation and rumors. Fans waited patiently hoping the Australian would land a seat with Williams or Alpine, but now it’s clear he won’t be in a seat for 2023. At the United States Grand Prix in Austin last week, Daniel Ricciardo gave us a glimpse into what his next moves could be, and this is how I interpreted it.

In Austin, Ricciardo said several things that stood out. While discussing his future plans, he said “Look, the situation with McLaren, it was hard to prepare for that.” While many would think that since F1 contracts are usually pretty short-term commitments, teams automatically honor full-term agreements, but as is the case in any professional sport, that’s not true. Performance dictates whether a driver will have a seat or not, and in Ricciardo’s case, Zac Brown felt that buying him out of the remainder of his contract was a better long-term strategy for McLaren. In any event, it’s hard to fault McLaren for making this decision. After all, teams are businesses and have to operate in the best interest of their goals.

In Austin, Daniel Ricciardo also said that a “plan” was being put together, but that they were “still waiting on it.” This left the rumor mill wide open for speculation that he could abandon racing altogether and possibly take on a television gig for 2023. While he would do an incredible job behind the microphone, I believe he still has what it takes, he just needs to take some time off for reflection and get his mind back in the game.

While Ricciardo has said that IndyCar is off the table, when Marcus Ericsson was left without a seat, he joined Chip Ganassi Racing in 2020 and is now just the second Swedish driver to win the Indianapolis 500. Sometimes a driver just needs new scenery, while other times, perhaps, familiarity could be what helps them find their way.

With that said, Daniel Ricciardo has been linked to reserve driver roles with both Mercedes and Red Bull, but I think his longterm goals would align better with Red Bull. Ricciardo said “I want to fight for wins.” He already has a record of winning in Red Bull and team principal Christian Horner even went to bat for him a few weeks ago, saying that if he were Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer, he would sign him to a seat. With Gasly joining Esteban Ocon at Alpine in 2023, that pathway to the grid for Ricciardo has has long expired.

A few weeks ago it was announced that Red Bull was in a minor breach of the 2021 budget, and while information on that has been limited to the public, Brown wrote a stern letter to the FIA. The letter said, “Any team that has overspent has been given an unfair advantage in both the previous and current seasons. [The FIA must] communicate the subsequent consequences and penalties to preserve the integrity of F1.” Brown’s biggest issue (and one that he shares with other team bosses) is that even a minor breach in the budget can give a team a big advantage. Horner responded to the letter with threats of legal action, so it’s safe to say there’s some bad blood between the two right now, which puts Ricciardo in a potentially advantageous position.

McLaren stopped sharing intel with Ricciardo a while ago, but he still knows enough about the 2023 car that he could share with the Red Bull organization. And while this intel wouldn’t necessarily be of much help to Red Bull, it could help AlphaTauri, which is a direct competition in that field. In Ross Braun’s book he mentions that he didn’t like hiring people who had information from competitors because it meant those people were likely to take his intel to another team in the future. However, with how things played out with Ricciardo and McLaren, perhaps, Daniel Ricciardo’s moral compass is aimed more at self preservation. This is a business, after all.

If Ricciardo signs with Red Bull, there is a more clear pathway to resurrecting the drives we grew to expect from him before he departed to Renault a few years ago. AlphaTauri’s driver lineup in 2023 is Yuki Tsunoda and and newcomer, Nyck De Vries. However, Tsunoda is only signed through the 2023 season, and if he wants an extension, he’ll have to drastically improve next season. He makes far too many mistakes, so if the Red Bull organization signs Ricciardo as a reserve driver and they see his confidence and desire come back in a punchy way, that AlphaTauri seat could be his. If he exceeds expectations in the 2024 season, he could be back into that second seat with Red Bull, as Checo Perez’ contract expires at the end of 2024.

Many think Ricciardo is “washed” but I don’t think it’s fair to jump to that conclusion just yet. We saw how he performed in his time at Red Bull, he just didn’t want to be second to Max Verstappen so unfortunately, he’s become a bit of an expendable journeyman the past few years. We also can’t blame him for trying to find a team where he would be the driver with the primary strategy. I always felt like leaving Red Bull was a bad move and one that he would live to regret. Only he can answer that question, but aside from his triumphant win in Monza in 2021, his career as an F1 journeyman has been frustrating to watch.

This is why I think that Red Bull makes the most sense for him because there’s a viable route with an organization he’s familiar with. I just don’t see the same longterm opportunities through Mercedes.

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