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Analysis

Why Red Bull's patience wore even thinner with de Vries amid Ricciardo's rebuild

Nyck de Vries' removal after just 10 Formula 1 races for AlphaTauri seems particularly harsh, even for Red Bull. But Daniel Ricciardo's call-up suggests there are more factors at play.

Nyck de Vries, AlphaTauri AT04, in the gravel

Any other team ejecting its rookie driver after less than half a season would have caused a serious stir in Formula 1.

But the fact that de Vries' removal from Red Bull's second team AlphaTauri was almost greeted with a sense of inevitability speaks volumes on the company's - and in particular advisor Helmut Marko's - notorious lack of patience once one of its drivers fails to deliver.

There is plenty of precedence for Red Bull keeping its youngsters on a short leash. Daniil Kvyat lasted only four races into the 2016 season at Red Bull before being swapped with Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen.

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In that case, Red Bull was vindicated by the Dutchman winning the very next race and going on to become a dominant factor in F1, but Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon had perhaps more reason to be aggrieved than Kvyat.

Gasly's promotion from Toro Rosso to Red Bull lasted just 12 races in 2019 before being sent back to Faenza. His replacement Alex Albon too struggled to gel in a team and car built around Verstappen, being dropped entirely after a season and a half.

If Gasly and Albon were right to feel burnt by their brief spell at the main team, then Yuki Tsunoda is a rarer example of Red Bull's nurturing patience.

Honda protege Tsunoda too struggled mightily with a lack of consistency during his debut year, but he received the support he needed and after a move from the UK to Faenza the Japanese youngster was able to turn his flashes of speed into a more stable presence. He then secured two consecutive contract extensions and is now being seen by several of his peers as one of the standout drivers of the 2023 season.

Nyck de Vries

Nyck de Vries

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

In that light, de Vries' ousting seems particularly harsh again. After an erratic start to his F1 career the Dutchman had been slowly but surely narrowing the gap to Tsunoda, while also being handed a terrible set of cards in the form of AlphaTauri's underperforming AT04.

Its 2023 machine was such a disappointment upon launch that team boss Franz Tost even slammed his own technical team in Saudi Arabia, saying he didn't trust his engineers anymore after delivering a car that fell short of off-season projections.

So, why now?

If Red Bull knows it has dealt de Vries a poor hand and there doesn't seem to be a backlog of Verstappen-esque Red Bull juniors to replace him, then why make the change now?

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On one hand Red Bull was hoping de Vries's vast experience would make him an instant hit in F1. He may not have been the team's first choice - that was IndyCar star Colton Herta, who didn't qualify for a Super Licence - but his impressive cameo for Williams at last year's Italian Grand Prix wowed Marko enough to offer him the seat.

And while Tsunoda was still extremely raw on his 2021 debut, having arrived in Europe from Japan only two years prior, de Vries could boast an impressive resume.

After collecting titles in Formula 2 and Formula E the then 27-year-old also completed a stint as Mercedes' test and simulator driver, with Marko and AlphaTauri hoping his vast experience would be beneficial for its car development and offer a shortcut to de Vries' learning curve.

That partly explains why Marko's patience was wearing even thinner than it normally would.

The Perez factor

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin F1 Team

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin F1 Team

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

But on the other hand, Red Bull's choice for the 34-year-old Ricciardo instead of its impressive Super Formula protege Liam Lawson also hints at other factors at play.

For while Ricciardo clearly felt the fire burning to make a comeback after his bruising McLaren exit and subsequent sabbatical, it is unlikely the eight-time grand prix winner will have agreed to a mid-season return to the struggling AlphaTauri without having his eyes on a bigger prize.

The Australian's return was confirmed after a reportedly impressive Pirelli test at Silverstone on Tuesday, in his first outing in the Red Bull RB19, with Red Bull explicitly saying he was on "loan" to Faenza.

Team boss Christian Horner intriguingly said it was "great to see Daniel hasn’t lost any form while away from racing and that the strides he has been making in his sim sessions translate on track. His times during the tyre test were extremely competitive. It was a very impressive drive and we are excited to see what the rest of the season brings for Daniel on loan at Scuderia AlphaTauri."

AlphaTauri might not be such a bad long-term prospect for Ricciardo ahead of an overhaul under incoming CEO Peter Bayer and team boss Laurent Mekies, as it's set to move away from being a pure junior driver team.

But it is hard not to see Ricciardo's return to Faenza, the team he drove for in 2012 and 2013, as an audition for a Red Bull seat.

While Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez came out of the blocks flying in the first races of 2023, his form dropped after Verstappen came from the rear to beat him in the Miami Grand Prix in May. Subsequent mistakes have made Perez miss Q3 for five races in a row, allowing Verstappen to cruise to six consecutive wins and a 99-point lead.

Ricciardo has replaced de Vries at AlphaTauri with

Ricciardo has replaced de Vries at AlphaTauri with "immediate effect"

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

While the lack of a consistent second-fastest team has allowed Perez to stay second in the championship, it is clear that if Red Bull hadn't enjoyed the advantage it currently has with the dominant RB19, its constructors' championship outlook wouldn't have been as rosy as it currently is.

Give the team serious competition, and Red Bull will once again need a number two driver capable of delivering regular podiums to Verstappen's wins. After all, that's why it ousted Gasly and Abon, and why it brought in the Mexican in the first place.

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Perhaps Tsunoda wasn't perceived as a credible challenger to Perez' seat from 2024, but Ricciardo's surprise return could be seen as a way to show Perez he needs to step up, or else...

If the Ricciardo gamble fails, then that could still pave the way for Lawson to be brought in after a proper winter of preparation. Without burning him in the AT04, and possibly with the Super Formula title under his belt.

There is little doubt that the former scenario is what Ricciardo has in mind.

Perez now has 12 races to stop it from becoming Red Bull's too.

Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing

Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Erik Junius

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