(Reuters) – The Daniel Ricciardo of old is back and with a spring in his step, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said on Friday amid talk of the Australian making a Formula One return with sister team AlphaTauri.
Ricciardo, 33 and an eight-times grand prix winner with Red Bull and McLaren, is spending a year on the sidelines as Red Bull’s reserve after losing his seat at McLaren to rookie compatriot Oscar Piastri.
He said recently it would be a fairytale scenario to race for Red Bull again and has been linked to AlphaTauri as an eventual replacement for Dutch rookie Nyck de Vries, who has yet to score in eight races.
Horner told reporters at the Austrian Grand Prix that it was still ‘very early days’ to talk about 2024 and it remained to be seen how Ricciardo got on in tyre testing at Silverstone next month.
“When he first arrived (back at Red Bull) after Abu Dhabi last year, it was a little bit of a shock because we didn’t really recognise him from the driver that had left us a few years earlier,” said Horner.
“But he seems to have refound his mojo, he’s been working hard on the simulator, he’s now extremely competitive in what he’s doing in the virtual world.
“So whether that crosses over into the real world we’ll see, albeit at a tyre test, we’ll get an impression as to the level he’s performing at. But certainly you can see there’s a spring coming back in his step.”
Horner said Ricciardo had done a decent amount of mileage in the simulator, spending time back at the factory when not attending races.
“He’s thrown himself into that and been giving very valuable feedback,” he added.
AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost, who is retiring at the end of the year from a team that has historically been a launchpad for young drivers, told reporters Ricciardo could be an option if no Red Bull junior was deemed ready.
“If the particular time is too early, then maybe we have to find another solution,” he said.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Christian Radnedge)