LONDON (Reuters) – Daniel Ricciardo’s return to the Formula One starting grid with tail-enders AlphaTauri, from Hungary next week, has also raised more questions about Sergio Perez’s future at sister team Red Bull.
Tuesday’s announcement that the 34-year-old Australian had replaced the axed Nyck de Vries should have rung alarm bells for the Mexican, whose contract alongside dominant double world champion Max Verstappen runs to the end of 2024.
Perez is second overall but 99 points behind Verstappen after 10 of 22 races, and his form in the last six has been patchy.
If fan favourite Ricciardo can show he has truly recovered his mojo, and is no longer the driver who was so out of sorts at McLaren in 2021-22, then champions Red Bull have an even more obvious replacement.
Red Bull have a history of ruthlessly promoting and demoting drivers between their two teams, as well as discarding them entirely.
AlphaTauri, who will have new bosses and a different name next year, can benefit from the experience of an eight-times race winner, although how long Ricciardo is prepared to be an also-ran remains to be seen.
Either way, he needs to impress against Japanese team mate and Honda protege Yuki Tsunoda in a car struggling to score. That is the Australian’s gamble.
The departure of De Vries after just 10 grands prix, without even getting the chance to race in front of his home crowd at Zandvoort next month, had been widely flagged and was surprising only in the timing.
Some still jumped to his defence, notably drivers who experienced similar rejection.
“Never expected it to be over so quickly for Nyck,” said compatriot and former Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde, who took legal action against Sauber in a 2015 contract dispute, on Twitter.
“If you look back at it, the amount of time he was given to get used to the car and the progress he made (slowly but surely) it’s – in my opinion – been too soon.”
Brazilian Lucas di Grassi, who had one season with Virgin Racing in 2010, added: “When you axe a driver after 10 races it shows the process of making the hiring decision is wrong.”
It could be argued that 2021 Formula E champion De Vries, 28, had 11 races more than he looked like getting at this point last season.
He impressed by taking points for Williams in a one-off appearance at Monza last year, replacing the unwell Alex Albon, but has not scored since.
If a combination of circumstances handed him the seat, all triggered by McLaren deciding to part with Ricciardo, a similar alignment has sealed his fate.
The problem for De Vries was that he could never count on the full support of Red Bull after being passed over by others.
AlphaTauri had wanted to hire American Colton Herta but he lacked the necessary super-licence. Red Bull juniors, and notably New Zealander and official reserve Liam Lawson, were deemed not ready.
Helmut Marko, who oversees Red Bull’s driver development programme, was asked last month whether he and Red Bull principal Christian Horner ever disagreed about drivers.
“Not often, but sometimes we do. The last one… I would say De Vries,” he told ‘The Inside Line’ podcast. “He (Horner) was not a fan of De Vries.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)