Sergio Perez looks as safe as houses in that second Red Bull seat for the rest of F1 2023, but otherwise Daniel Ricciardo poses a very serious threat.
Ricciardo had decided to use the F1 2023 campaign to sit on the sidelines and gauge his hunger for a return in 2024, but the Honey Badger didn’t even make it halfway through the season before being offered the option to return turn. And he took it.
He started the year as Red Bull’s reserve driver and his Pirelli tire test after the British GP was heralded as an opportunity for Red Bull to put him in the RB19 and see how his performance now stacks up on the track. As a result, he is back from the Hungarian Grand Prix to take Nyck de Vries’ place in AlphaTauri.
Daniel Ricciardo on the hunt for Sergio Perez’s Red Bull seat
But he is not satisfied with AlphaTauri, he is after Sergio Perez’s Red Bull race seat.
And that’s not a prediction, that’s a fact, as Ricciardo has blatantly labeled a Red Bull return as the “fairytale” final chapter of his Formula 1 career. Max Verstappen can sleep peacefully with that ambition, but not Perez.
With Ricciardo having made such a point that he doesn’t want to return to the F1 grid at all costs, but is instead only interested in winning chances, there would be no point for him to take up the offer to drive the slowest car there is in the AlphaTauri. AT04 if a Red Bull comeback wasn’t the actual motive.
And with that in mind, it’s pretty clear that Ricciardo is back to audition for Perez’s seat and, if Red Bull and Ricciardo have their way, to put some serious pressure on the Mexican driver.
All the mid-season driver changes Red Bull have made in their F1 history
How Red Bull’s world was turned upside down after Sebastian Vettel’s victory at Monza
While it’s important to note that word from Red Bull doesn’t necessarily give away the full story, team boss Christian Horner has said Ricciardo working his way back into the Red Bull line-up isn’t in their plans, Perez can certainly trust the team when they say his seat is safe for the rest of F1 2023 – as long as he doesn’t crash Verstappen, of course!
Red Bull have never achieved a one-two in the drivers’ standings, and having come close with the RB18 last season, the unconquerable dominance of their F1 2023 creation, the RB19, means that performance is certainly a certainty this season. …as long as they keep Perez.
Indeed, Perez has that P2 spot in the Drivers’ Championship, which ultimately means he’s reaching his goal as a Red Bull driver, and the ever-changing pecking order of the chasing peloton now gives him the chance to build a safety net as the likes of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton take points from each other and lose even more to their pursuers.
As Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko himself said, it would “make no sense” for Red Bull to ax Perez now and most likely throw away that one-two chance, agreeing to that famous F1 saying of ‘the points are handed over’ . out on Sunday’, Perez continues to do enough in that respect.
Its qualifying form definitely needs attention. A series of five race absences in Q3 is not acceptable, but Verstappen is dominant enough not to need a rear gunner in the strategic battle up front at the moment, and Perez consistently recovering to a solid points position is fine in Red Bull’s books.
Sergio Perez must fear Daniel Ricciardo for F1 2024
But once the points tally is reset, Red Bull will have the option to choose directly between Perez and Ricciardo as to which of those F1 veterans, with multiple wins to their name, is the one to put their trust in.
For that reason, Perez was hopeful that the McLaren version of Ricciardo turns up at AlphaTauri, which with Red Bull junior Liam Lawson waiting in the wings, would surely pull the curtain on Ricciardo’s F1 career and ensure that Perez continues with Red Bull. at least for another year.
While Yuki Tsunoda impressed in his third campaign at AlphaTauri, he feels like a promotion risk Red Bull wouldn’t take. Horner recently commented, “I don’t think he’s on our level yet”.
However, when we see the Ricciardo of his Red Bull days take the wheel of the AlphaTauri AT04 and drag it to the back of the points, tucking Tsunoda into his back pocket, then Perez is in trouble.
Of course, Perez can help his case dramatically by suddenly nipping his qualifying troubles in the bud and rolling out P2 finish after P2 finish to round out the season, but he has become “more sensitive” to the RB19 in recent rounds. especially when it comes to one lap pace, that somehow feels like a highly unrealistic prospect.
The mission then is simple for Perez, he has to keep his head under the relentless pressure of being Verstappen’s teammate, pile up the points, be such a great team player that he becomes the ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ tag away from Alonso, then hope Ricciardo’s return descends into a nightmare.
Read next: AlphaTauri’s ‘weakness’ that could stumble Daniel Ricciardo in his Red Bull quest