Is change really in the air at AlphaTauri?
After another poor performance at the Miami GP, Nyck de Vries received an ultimatum from Helmut Marko, saying that the Dutch driver is running out of time to show good results in his maiden year in Formula 1.
During the 2022 season, de Vries replaced an ill Alexander Albon at the Italian Grand Prix, driving for Williams. His incredible performance saw him cross the line in P9, and that was enough for the Red Bull family to sign him up for the junior team, AlphaTauri.
Difficult first races
However, his performance so far this season hasn't been convincing. De Vries struggled in comparison to Yuki Tsunoda, who already has a year of experience on his shoulders. In Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, he finished P14, in Australia he didn't finish the race as he collided with Logan Sargeant. His worst race was probably in Azerbaijan, where he struggled for the entire weekend, also hitting the wall on Sunday and was forced to retire. During the last race, things didn't go better, as he only managed to cross the line in P18.
It is well-known that if you're a Red Bull driver, you either perform or it's easy for you to be left out of the program and lose your seat. Daniil Kvyat, Pierre Gasly, and Albon know this very well. What happened to them a few years back, is similar to what is going on now. De Vries is failing to meet the team's expectations, and Helmut Marko stated that if the Dutch driver fails to deliver good results at Imola, Monaco, or Barcelona the team might consider an early change in its line-up for the rest of the season.
Right after those comments released by Marko, rumors had it that former Formula 1 driver Daniel Ricciardo could come back into the sport earlier than expected. The rumors were also supported by the fact that the Aussie was at the AlphaTauri factory in Faenza for seat-fitting procedures. However, that doesn't mean that Ricciardo will be the number one candidate to replace de Vries, and it doesn't imply that the Dutchman will leave the team before the summer, either.
Why was Ricciardo in Faenza?
So let's make things clear and proceed in order, analyzing why Ricciardo was seen in Faenza, and construing all the possible replacements that AlphaTauri could consider in case its line-up will be modified.
Last year, as Ricciardo was left without a seat at McLaren, Red Bull announced he had signed a contract to be the reserve driver for the 2023 season. That means that on some occasions, like tire testing, the Aussie will have to drive the car. To do that, a seat fitting process is required. Moreover, it's worth underlining that Ricciardo will be the reserve driver for both Red Bull and AlphaTauri. Thus, this solves the “mystery” of why the Australian was at Faenza with the team.
However, it's also not a secret that after his first few months back at Red Bull, Ricciardo has rediscovered his shape and seems to be back at his best. This, at least, is what Red Bull has claimed about its reserve driver. Therefore, it would be a mistake to eliminate him from the seat contention should de Vries leave the team.
Other youngsters ready to jump in
However, despite having an experienced and talented driver like Ricciardo, Red Bull would concentrate first on other names. More precisely: Liam Lawson or Ayumu Iwasa. Both of them are way younger than the Aussie, and the Red Bull family is known to put very young drivers – Max Verstappen would be the perfect example – into an AlphaTauri car to make them more experienced and then promote them to the senior team, Red Bull Racing.
Lawson raced in Formula 2 last season, finishing third overall. This year, he is competing in the Super Formula championship and is doing good so far, with a win in his first race. Iwasa scored just eight points less than Lawson in Formula 2 last year, and he is still driving in the same category in 2023. He has already won twice this season and is currently third in the standings.
Both drivers know how to win and to race hard, but of course, not everybody can overcome the big change when reaching Formula 1.
Despite the rumors, as of now, AlphaTauri is staying committed to de Vries, especially team principal Franz Tost, who said that the Dutchman is still going through his learning curve in Formula 1, and he needs time.
Ricciardo-AlphaTauri: an unlikely deal
Moreover, considering Red Bull's philosophy regarding youngsters, it is unlikely to see Ricciardo replacing de Vries at AlphaTauri. That is because, as we said earlier, the team prefers to put young drivers inside the cockpit and see whether they're ready for the big step or not, and if they are, then bring them inside the senior team. Plus, after initial rumors linked Ricciardo to AlphaTauri, it was later understood that there have been no contacts between the Aussie and Red Bull regarding a possible comeback in Formula 1 as a full-time driver, at least in 2023.
Ricciardo surely wants to come back, but maybe with another team next season. Therefore, so far, things remain unchanged for AlphaTauri and Nyck de Vries, who will surely have to cope with the pressure and deliver convincing results in the next three weeks.