Formula One is a mere two weeks away from the annual summer break which coincides with the start of the ‘silly season.’ A this time of the year, teams traditionally start seriously consider who their driver line up for the following year should be.
With back channels operating and agents leaking stories to create advantages for their clients, the F1 media is awash with tales of who is getting sacked and which big surprise appointments are around the corner.
Mid-season F1 driver replacements rare
Drivers being replaced mid season is still very rare in Formula One and over the past two decades it is Red Bull and their junior team who have been the predominant culprits of this kind of ruthless behaviour.
The most recent example was Pierre Gasly being dropped during the 2020 summer break from the senior Red Bull outfit and switching places with Alex Albon who was in his rookie year with Toro Rosso.
Previously, Max Verstappen had been the beneficiary of a switcheroo between the two Red Bull sponsored teams.
Having joined Toro Rosso in 2015, Verstappen began to Cath the eye of the F1 quickly sun that the following season prior to the Spanish GP, Red Bull swapped him up with Daniil Kvyat returning to Toro Rosso.
Sainz ditches Red Bull for Renault
This was an inspired decision by Christian Horner and Helmut Marko as they were rewarded immediately with Verstappen storming to victory at the Circuit de Barcelona.
Red Bull were on the receiving end of a mid season driver change when Carlos Sainz ditched Toro Rosso to join Renault to replace the failing Jolson Palmer. Just four races before the end of the season, Sainz jumped ship and drove for Renault at the 2017 US Grand Prix in Austin.
Whilst a number of other F1 driver mid season changes have occurred over the years, Roberto Moreno classically jumped ship not once but twice during the 1991 season.
Moreno who had switched mid way through 1990 from EuroBrun to Benetton was to suffer at the hands of a deal by Eddie Jordon to promote Micheal Schumacher to the Benton team mid 1991.
F1 driver three teams – one season
Moreno was switched to Jordon but was soon replaced by Alessandro Zinardi for the race in Spain. Moreno was again hunting for an F1 drive when a seat opened up at the seasons finale in Australia for him to pilot the Minardi car.
This year it appears there are two drivers potentially at risk of losing their seat mid-season. The first being Nyck de Vries of AlphaTauri who was hailed by Red Bull’s Helmut Marko on his appointment and expected to immediately take up the role as team leader ahead of Yuki Tsunoda.
Recently Marko has admitted he may have been wrong over the appointment of the Formula E champion and that Christie Horner’s preference for Mick Schumacher may well have been the decision AlphaTauri should have taken.
Yet its harsh on De Vries to criticise him too fiercely given the AlphaTauri car is awful and even his experienced Japanese team mate in his third year of F1 has only scored 2 points in 10 races plus two Sprint events.
Perez & De Vries risking the sack
The other driver in the ‘sacking’ spotlight is Sergio Perez. Given Red Bull’s stealth over their previous mid season driver sackings it is difficult to read the tea leaves of Checo’s future.
Prior to the Sumer break in 2020 Helmut Marko car out at the race in Hungary stating they would be making no driver changes before the end of the season. Four weeks later prior to the restart in Belgium, Pierre Gasly had been switched with Alex Albon who was promoted alongside Max Verstappen.
Only seven drivers this season have performed worse than Perez in qualifying when measured on the number of failures to make it into the top ten shootout.
Of course Perez remains second in the drivers’ championship though much of that is based on the fact he scored two thirds of his points over the first five of ten races half so far this year.
Hamilton/Alonso outscore Perez
Both Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton have outscored Perez over the past five races and as the field closes in on the RB19 Red Bull will be seriously concerned over the lack of contribution to the constructors’ championship from their second driver.
This of course should not be problematic this season as Max Verstappen pointed out recently when asked what he thought Christian Horner and Helmut Marko would be thinking about another dismal qualifying performance form Sergio Perez.
“You have to ask Helmut [Marko] or Christian [Horner] that,” Verstappen continued. He then said, laughing a little, “Of course we are fighting for the team championship too, but I think I can do that on my own at the moment.”
It would be difficult for Red Bull to replace Perez with a solid longer term solution mid season from the pool of drivers currently on the grid with other teams.
Norris agent seen talking to Marko
Lando Norris’ agent was seen deep in conversation in the paddock at Silverstone with Helmut Marko sparking rumours of a potential move from McLaren to the world champions over the winter.
However the only realistic possibility to replace Perez mid season would be with Daniel Ricciardo who is currently driving this years car at a two day tyre Silverstone test for Pirelli.
The tyres being tested are Pirelli’s proposed rubber for 2024 which do not require pre-heating before fitting to the car. Most teams this season have nominated current drivers for their Pirelli tests and Lewis Hamilton famously described the new Pirelli’s as “dangerous”.
So its surprising Red Bull have handed the task over solely to Daniel Ricciardo.
Red Bull surprising Ricciardo decision
Yet when we consider for these Pirelli tyre evaluations the F1 teams are unusually permitted to use the current F1 cars, handing both days to Ricciardo is a clear indication Red Bull want to see how he performs in their current machinery.
However, a Ricciardo return to Red Bull is no shoe in and recently the Australian admitted he may have to “work his way up” if he is to return to the F1 grid.
Speaking ahead of the Silverstone test the Aussie driver admitted to SpeedCityBroadcasting, “I’m hanging out just to drive in general. I’ve had enough of a break now where I’ve got ants in my pants, in a positive way.
“But of course it’s a phenomenal car and I’m excited to feel it round [Silverstone], and on such a high-speed circuit as well.”
Ricciardo: arrogant F1 return demands
When McLaren announced they were releasing Ricciardo a year early from his contract, the Aussie repeatedly made it clear over the following race weekends he would not stay in F1 to just drive for any team.
“One thing I want to get out of this year is I want to know what I want, but I also want to know what I don’t want,” said Riciardo. “And I think I can already answer that.
“I don’t want to go back to ground zero. I don’t want to just be on the grid [in order] to be on the grid and struggle in 18th place. So I don’t want to be on the grid at any cost,” stated the Aussie in what many thought was an arrogant demand.
This clearly ruled Daniel out of opportunities for this year which had arisen with AlphaTauri, Haas and Williams.
Daniel considers AlphaTauri drive
However it appears after seven long months out of the sport, Daniel Ricciardo is set to drop his big demands for the kind of F1drive he is prepared to take.
“I’m letting it all happen as it comes and I have confidence I’ll be back on the grid at some point. Obviously I’m not 100% sure of it, but I’m confident it will happen again one day.”
When subsequently asked about replacing Nyck De Vries at back of the grid Alpha Tauri Ricciardo replied, “Never know, never know,”
Perez safe but De Vries at risk
“I’m staying ready. I sat on the couch for two months over Christmas but since then I’ve been getting back into my training and enjoying it.”
If Red Bull are about to sack Perez and replace him with Ricciardo, clearly the Aussie has no idea of this.
Given Daniel is now prepared to go as low as he can just to make it back into Grand Prix racing, it could mean the tea leaves do not read well for the immediate future of Nyck de Vries.
Since the article was originally written, multiple Dutch media outlets including the reputable De Telegrapf are now reporting Daniel Ricciardo will replace Nyck de Vries with immediate effect. The Formula E champion dutch driver has failed to score point this season and has disappointed the senior Red Bull management team.
Whilst the likeable Australian will return sooner than expected to the F1 grid, it is now with a team who are way behind the rest of the field and it will be interesting to see how Ricciardo deals with the challenge.
This move will give the Red Bull management the opportunity to benchmark Yuki Tsunoda who is coming to the end of his third season in Formula One and has yet to race a team mate who is a multiple Grand Prix winner.
Ricciardo will take the wheel of the AT04 in Hungary next time out at the track where he scored his second Grand Prix win for Red Bull back in 2014. Daniel has two other podium finishes at the Hungaroring, though his goal for the coming race weekend will be to extract himself from the first part of qualifying something de Vries managed just twice in 10 events.
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