Following last year’s F1 silly season, I didn’t anticipate that this year would throw up as many unpredictable twists and turns as it has but as is the nature of Formula 1, it always has a surprise in store. Before we could even reach the summer break Redbull decided it would be the perfect time to drop a bombshell that would send the world of Formula 1 into chaos when they announced the immediate departure of Nyck De Vries in favour of Daniel Ricciardo. Whilst this stirred up an absolute frenzy, the most interesting point that arose from this commotion was the impending battle between Tsunoda and Ricciardo at Alpha Tauri.
The decision to replace De Vries did not come as a surprise to most, with the brutally honest comments made by Marko on the Inside Line F1 Podcast had already signalled the end for De Vries as he stated that Horner was right to have doubts about signing the Dutch driver for 2023. Although many understand the decision that was made, the cut throat delivery left a bad taste in people’s mouths as it felt unnecessarily harsh, furthering Redbull’s ruthless reputation.
The announcement of Ricciardo’s return to Alpha Tauri was majoritively well received, there were a few who were quick to point out that it may not have been the best decision in regards to furthering the opportunities for young talent in F1, as Redbull have one of the largest talent pools to pull from in their junior academy. However, the signing of Daniel Ricciardo is symbolic of a larger picture that has been rumoured since he re-signed with the Redbull family at the end of last year. Upon finding out the he would be out of a race seat in 2023, Ricciardo spoke to a few of the backmarker teams such as Haas and Williams but ultimately decided that he would take the year off as his goal in F1 would be to return to a top team. So, if Ricciardo wants to be at a top team why would he sign for Alpha Tauri who are currently sitting P10 in the Constructor Strandings?
We all know that Alpha Tauri are the sister team of the reigning world champions and Ricciardo’s eventual objective is to get back into his 2018 Redbull seat alongside Max Verstappen. Alpha Tauri undoubtedly offer Ricciardo his best opportunity to make a return to a top team and given Checo’s recent run of poor qualifying performances, the thought of Ricciardo partnering Verstappen once again is not too far out of the question. Horner added fuel to the fire by recently coming out and stating that Ricciardo would be eyeing up a 2025 Redbull seat as that would be his “golden objective”. Although there is nothing wrong with this statement on it’s own, once you contextualise the sentiment of the statement it does appear as though Horner, and Redbull, are clamping down on Checo and putting pressure on his performances by dangling the threat of Ricciardo over him.
Assuming that Ricciardo hits the ground running and outperforms Tsunoda for the remainder of the 2023 season, a possible promotion to the top team could be on the cards, but what happens if Ricciardo fails?
Tsunoda has been one of the most improved drivers over the past couple of seasons, after initially joining F1 in 2023 his first year at the junior team could be summed up as a hot headed rookie lesson. His infamous team radio’s garnered more attention than his driving and his propensity to push the car far beyond its limits and make rookie mistakes left many questioning if he was the right driver to partner Gasly. Tsunoda acknowledged after his first year that things had to change if he wanted to retain his seat in F1 and he done exactly that, he has continued to steadily progress and lead the team following Gasly’s departure but will Ricciardo prove to be too much of a task for him?
I think the expectation for this partnership is that Ricciardo should be comfortably in front of Tsunoda by the end of the year, although Tsunoda has proven himself to be a consistently solid driver, Ricciardo is heading into the team with over a decade of F1 experience, 32 podiums and 8 Grand Prix victories. If Ricciardo is not up to task, that will likely signal the end of his F1 career as there would be no reason to hold onto him and as his stock is already low within F1 it would be difficult to imagine any other team reaching out.
On the other hand, if Tsunoda outperforms Ricciardo this would raise his stock in F1 and could potentially put his name in the shop window for a 2025 Redbull seat, although I don’t think this would be the most beneficial proposal for Tsunoda. It’s unlikely that Tsunoda will ever reach the height of a Verstappen and so his future within the Redbull family is a difficult one to categorise. 2024 will mark Tsunoda’s fourth year at the team and given that the purpose of Alpha Tauri is to be used as a development tool for the larger team you have to wonder where will Yuki go if he doesn’t progress to the top team? Redbull’s young, promising prospects such as Liam Lawson have already stated that they are looking out for a possible Alpha Tauri seat next season which means that either Tsunoda or Ricciardo will have to move on. There could be potential for Tsunoda to depart from the Redbull family and follow Honda’s move to Aston Martin in the next couple of years, given how big of a role they played in helping Yuki secure his spot at Alpha Tauri, but this is only a rumour for now.
Redbull are certainly the talk of the town at the moment as there seems to be so many moving parts between their junior team and main team with nobody knowing what the exact outcome will be. We’re still uncertain about Redbull’s intentions as they haven’t given much away regarding Perez’s future, Ricciardo’s potential to be promoted and the possible introduction of junior talent into F1, we’ll just have to stay tuned and watch eagle eyed as the developments unfold.