In one of the most realistic signs yet that Daniel Ricciardo could return to the F1 grid, Red Bull have reportedly given rookie driver Nyck de Vries an 'ultimatum' after a difficult start to life in the top flight of motorsport. De Vries was drafted into Red Bull's sister team Alpha Tauri for the 2023 season, replacing the outgoing Pierre Gasly, but the early returns for the Dutchman have not been encouraging.
Red Bull are well known for a somewhat ruthless approach to underperforming drivers, perhaps best exemplified when they rotated Gasly and Alex Albon in as teammates to Max Verstappen - with neither able to find their best in the demanding Red Bull environment. It would appear De Vries could be the latest to feel the wrath of the team's high expectations after some early struggles.
Ricciardo has already had a seat fitting for the Alpha Tauri, not in itself a sign of an imminent switch - particularly considering the team's regular reserve driver, New Zealand's Liam Lawson, will be absent from the next two F1 grands prix with racing commitments in Japan. That fitting was done largely in case of emergency.
However the door could still be open for Ricciardo, albeit with the Alpha Tauri looking a far cry from the competitive machinery that helped Gasly to victory in the 2020 Italian GP. De Vries has been comprehensively outperformed by teammate Yuki Tsunoda thus far, with Italian media reporting that Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko has given him a three race deadline to show some improvement, or risk his F1 dream coming to a premature end.
Any appearance for Alpha Tauri this season would likely only be limited to a handful of races, with the team believed to prefer Lawson for any long-term role with the team. Ricciardo's contract with Red Bull doesn't have room for a full-time move to Alpha Tauri either.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has previously said Ricciardo is '10 minutes away' from driving an F1 car, an indication of the West Australian's readiness to jump back in the cockpit. He has previously raced for Alpha Tauri, in 2012 and 2013 under the Toro Rosso guise.
Daniel Ricciardo not giving up on F1 championship dream
Ricciardo has long stated his intention to return to F1 in 2024, after deciding to part ways with McLaren at the end of the 2022 season. He was succeeded at McLaren by fellow Aussie Oscar Piastri.
And in his latest interview with ESPN, Ricciardo hinted that he could be eyeing a spot as the second driver at Red Bull. “I’ve been in the simulator, but I will drive the RB19 (for the first time) in July after the Silverstone race,” Ricciardo said.
“Then maybe I’ll get another one after Monza as well in September. I’m certainly excited to drive a fast car, but also a car that maybe still feels familiar to me – it does a little bit in the sim.
“But I’m just excited to drive again and to just try to remind a team obviously I once had a lot of success with that I can still turn a fast lap.”
The second driver for Red Bull is Mexican Sergio Perez who is currently second to No.1 driver and world champion Max Verstappen. The pair reportedly share a frosty relationship, but that doesn't mean it will be any easy task for Ricciardo to come back as a lead driver.
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