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AlphaTauri Starts F1 Silly Season 2023 - Who's Next?

Jim K 7/17/2023
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Daniel Ricciardo returns to the F1 grid

Image: Red Bull Racing

Formula One's 2023 silly season started in the days following the British Grand Prix with the news that Nyck de Vries would be leaving AlphaTauri with immediate effect. Although it's never surprising to see anyone under the Red Bull umbrella have their career cast into the unknown, the suddenness of the decision still had some shock factor. Daniel Ricciardo is the man who will take over the drive as he returns to the sport, and his comeback will make Sergio Perez wonder if he's next in the firing line.

De Vries entered the sport this year with far more expectations than fellow rookie drivers Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant, thanks to an impressive Formula E career. A cameo performance for Williams at the 2022 Italian Grand Prix also drew attention to De Vries.

Daniel Ricciardo returns to the F1 grid

Image: Red Bull Racing

The AlphaTauri AT04 is perhaps the weakest car on the grid and currently sits at the bottom of the standings with just two point-scoring finishes to its name. Both came from De Vries' teammate Yuki Tsunoda, with De Vries now bowing out of the 2023 season as a point-less driver with a personal-best result of P12. It's tricky to judge how well a racer at the back of the field is faring, but Christian Horner and Helmut Marko clearly saw enough in less than half a season to end the relationship.

Tsunoda now faces the toughest challenge of his career by going up against a multiple race-winning driver who boasted a reputation as one of F1's best until his move to McLaren. Ricciardo is a known quantity in a top car, and it'll be a statement of intent for his F1 future should Tsunoda shine alongside the Australian. However, plenty of Red Bull Junior Team drivers are ready to step up should he sink, with Liam Lawson's excellent form in Japanese Super Formula making him the lead candidate.

Pressure on Perez

Daniel Ricciardo returns to the F1 grid

Image: Red Bull Racing

For five consecutive races, Perez has started Sunday's grand prix from P11 or lower, which has led to just one podium trip since his P2 at the Miami Grand Prix in May. These are not the results that a driver should turn in when their team delivers the best-in-class car, especially with the experience that Perez has under his belt after around 250 races in the sport. Red Bull have demoted young drivers like Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon during their early F1 careers for turning in results like Perez, and that was when Mercedes occupied the top spot rather than them.

Perez has a Red Bull contract until the end of 2024, but that might not mean his seat is safe. He knows firsthand how much an F1 contract is worth after Sebastian Vettel replaced him when Racing Point morphed into Aston Martin for the 2021 season.

Daniel Ricciardo returns to the F1 grid

Image: Red Bull Racing

Rather than feel any shame for their cold-hearted method of driver management, Red Bull's top brass have often declared that their two-team approach in F1 allows them to switch drivers as they see fit. That's what Perez may face for 2024 should he not turn around his current slump.

Milton Keynes Musical Chairs

Despite Ricciardo's frustrations when he left Red Bull in 2018, he turned in decent results, even with the horribly unreliable RB14. The Verstappen-Ricciardo pairing represented perhaps the most evenly-matched Red Bull driver lineup in the team's history — unquestionably the most potent driver duo from the Milton Keynes team since Vettel left.

Daniel Ricciardo returns to the F1 grid

Image: Red Bull Racing

The team’s delight in welcoming Ricciardo back into the fold shows how much confidence they still have in him, and that might go further if Ricciardo drags AlphaTauri to the midfield. People run Red Bull Racing, and any human wants a sense of familiarity when things aren't going right, so it's only natural if Horner or Marko bring back the driver they nurtured into an overtaking machine.

Silly season is an uncertain time in Formula One in any year, but to have the three non-Verstappen seats in Red Bull's jurisdiction effectively become an unknown for 2024 raises the stakes even higher. So, as AlphaTauri starts Silly Season 2023, the next few months will have plenty of team and driver transfer speculation, but we might not know for sure who will drive alongside Verstappen for 2024 until winter. De Vries has gone, Tsunoda is on trial, and Perez is sitting nervously — how many victims will Daniel Ricciardo claim in 2023?


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