Following a string of poor performances, De Vries’ seat at Alpha Tauri has become a hot topic of debate with many speculating if he’ll make it to the end of the season under the watch of Helmut Marko or if a new driver is already being lined up to take his seat in 2024. Anyone who is aware of the history of Redbull’s sister team will know that they are responsible for introducing over 25% of the current F1 grid into Formula 1 and have had one of the highest success rates of any junior academy. But just as quick as they are to grant an F1 opportunity to a junior driver, they are not shy in replacing them if they feel as though their performances are not up to par.
After winning F2 and then Formula E, Nyck De Vries was finally offered an F1 seat after impressing everyone during his stand in performance at Monza in 2022. I think it’s fair to says that everyone had great expectations for De Vries after he managed to score points in Monza in a Williams, but to say that he has fallen short this year would be quite the understatement. Of course, it should be noted that we are only 5 races in to a record breaking 23 race season, however De Vries has not exactly hit the ground running and the permanency of his Alpha Tauri seat has already been called into question. With some calling De Vries F1’s most experienced rookie, there was an expectation that he would comfortably outperform the other rookies on the grid but as of now he is sitting dead last in the standings, narrowly behind Logan Sargeant in P19 and 6 spots down from Piastri in P14.
Whilst comparing De Vries’ performance to the other rookies can offer a slight insight in how he is doing, the most accurate point of comparison will always be to look at the performance of his teammate and unfortunately for De Vries, Tsunoda is having his best year in F1 so far. It should be established that this is Yuki’s third year in F1 and so there will be a natural offset between the two, when looking back over the past couple of years it’s fair to say that Yuki’s has a mistake or two or three in him but heading in to 2023 I think he’s surprised a lot of people with how big of a jump he’s made since Gasly left the team. There was a lot of doubt over whether Yuki would be able to step up into the leadership role at Alpha Tauri and five races in, I would say he’s probably been one of the best drivers of the season so far. He’s comfortably outdriven his teammate on most occasions and has somehow managed to drag that car in to the points a couple of times. Yuki’s performances this year have only cast a bigger shadow on De Vries as when you look at the gap between the teammates it’s noticeably bigger than the gaps between the other two rookies and their respective teammates, considering the discussions surrounding De Vries’ seat in 2024, he will have to show a considerable uptick in performance by the end of the year and at least be on par with Yuki by the in order to guarantee his future in F1.
The higher ups at Redbull have never been shy about giving a public evaluation of their drivers’ performances and this is no different for De Vries. Helmut Marko recently came out and informed the media that De Vries has “got a yellow card” and Redbull are willing the “fall back on their young pool of talent” if worst comes to worst. This should’ve set alarm bells of for De Vries as if there’s one thing we’ve seen from Redbull’s ruthless nature it’s that they are not afraid to drop a driver, whether that’s after one season or even half way through a season, they will remove anyone who is not up to their standard and as history has shown, their junior academy is full of talented replacements who can quickly be subbed in. The two drivers in the running for a 2024 Alpha Tauri seat are Lawson and Iwasa. Lawson has proved himself in his junior career and should probably be the first option for Redbull as he deserves a seat in F1. Iwasa is in his second year in F2 and has quickly made a name for himself which has led to him becoming one of the two drivers in contention for De Vries’ seat come 2024, although he has elevated his driving to stand out amongst the current F2 grid, I think Lawson would be a bit more of a reliable choice as he has a stronger record throughout his junior career as well as having had hands on experience in the RB18 in 2022.
There was also speculation as to whether Ricciardo would make a return to Redbull’s junior team since joining the world champions earlier this year as their reserve, but this was quickly put to bed with Marko confirming that he’s not in the running to join the sister team. Given that Ricciardo refused offers from teams lower down on the grid for a 2023 seat it wouldn’t make sense for him to then join Redbull’s junior team who are currently sitting in P9, the only way that would begin to make sense would be if the team were sold and another manufacturer came in. However, this would not guarantee that the team would begin to move up the grid as it would presumably take a couple of years at least for a new team to find their footing in F1 and when looking at Ricciardo’s past decisions, it doesn’t look as though he is aiming for a long term project.
De Vries’s future in F1 is still up in the air and by the end of the season we could be looking at a completely different driver who has entirely transformed from what we’re seeing now. Despite De Vries’ wealth of success and experience prior to F1 we should keep in mind that he is still a rookie and is clearly showing that no matter your previous experience, F1 is in its own lane and only time will tell if he is able to do enough to secure his future beyond 2023.