Red Bull Racing have finally confirmed Formula one’s worst kept secret over the past week. Helmut Marko leaked the news of Ricciardo’s return to Milton Keynes to German TV during the run up to the Abu Dhabi GP. However a number of F1 observers believe the team may have an ulterior motive.
Today Red Bull announced the return of the eight time grand prix Australian anther “third” driver for 2023.
McLaren’s only GP winner in a decade
Despite winning McLaren’s only grand prix since Jenson Button in Brazil 2012, the past two seasons with the Woking based team have proven difficult for Ricciardo. The Aussie’s other 7 grand prix victories came during his first spell with the Red Bull Racing team.
Ricciardo partnered both Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen during his 5 years with the Red Bull senior team beating both at least once in the drivers’ championship.
Following Marko revealing Ricciardo was in talks with Red Bull, Christian Horner explained the role the team envisaged for him if he signed the contract.
Horner explains his reasons
“Daniel’s a big character,” he explained. “It’s been disappointing to see his performances, he would have wanted a lot more out of the season. But he is still one of the biggest names, one of the biggest characters in Formula 1. He obviously has a history of being a Red Bull Junior.
“And just with the demands that are on the race drivers these days, just from a marketing perspective alone, we are very active as a team, we do many, many show runs and events. So to have a driver of Daniel’s profile and history with the team, within the group, is only an asset for us.”
Joining Red Bull would “mean he keeps in touch with Formula 1”, said Horner, “we’ll obviously be using him in the simulator as well and he’ll potentially be attending some events.
Ricciardo wants the contract right
When asked why he hadn’t yet signed for Red Bull by Sky F1 presenter Simon Lazenby, Ricciardo made it clear he wanted some time away from Formula One and Red Bull had yet to reflect that in the contract on offer.
Following today’s announcement of Ricciardo’s return, Christian Horner stated: “It is great to bring Daniel back into the Red Bull family.”
“He has enormous talent and such a brilliant character; I know the whole factory is excited to be welcoming him home.
“In his role as test and third driver, Daniel will give us the chance to diversify, assisting in the development of the car, aiding the Team with his experience and knowledge of what it takes to succeed in F1.
“We’re very pleased to be working with Daniel again and look forward to everything he will bring to the Team in 2023.”
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) November 23, 2022
Riccciardo return to drive for top team
Ricciardo has repeatedly made it clear since the announcement he was leaving McLaren his goal was to return in 2024 with a front running team.
“I want to do it in the right place. I’ve never said that I want to just be a driver to make up the numbers. If I’m here, I want to be here for purpose,” Ricciardo told the media as the news of his McLaren departure was breaking.
Whatever Horner gives as being the official reason for re-recruiting Ricciardo the F1 rumour mill believes there are ulterior motives.
The relationship between Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez has become strained in recent weeks so as Damon Hill commented, “if the toys come out of the pram,” Daniel could benefit.
Perez position tenuous
Further, while Sergio had a strong start to the season, he has fallen away and failed to beat Charles LeClerc to P2 in the drivers’ championship.
The in season development of the Red Bull car has been toward Verstappen’s preferred driving style with oversteer and away from Perez’s preference for understeer.
Daniel Ricciardo has a more similar driving style to Verstappen than Perez, so the theory goes if Sergio doesn’t hit his performance targets in 2023, then he’ll be out and Ricciardo back in.
"I think that will be the highly likely place for me, Red Bull"
Looks like we will be seeing Daniel Ricciardo back next year around the paddock 😀 pic.twitter.com/t6YWneafxI
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) November 20, 2022