RB’s rough start will have Daniel Ricciardo asking existential questions

Sam Cooper

Daniel Ricciardo's return to the Red Bull seat looks less likely with every passing race.

There are few teams that came into the 2024 season with as much hype as RB.

Red Bull’s sister outfit had just gone through the third revamp since the Austrian company took over. Gone was the AlphaTauri advert and instead the catchy name Visa CashApp RB was given to the Faenza project.

But while there was widespread criticism of the name, on the track it was thought that RB may be about to return to a Toro Rosso level of competitiveness.

It was Daniel Ricciardo who was perhaps the most vocal of the team’s hype men.

“It’s no longer just a platform for Red Bull Racing, it’s a time for us to fight at the front of the midfield,” he said during pre-season.

“I like what’s happened, the changes that have taken place. There’s something about the team, the mindset is a bit different, kind of like a point to prove. It’s cool. It’s fun.”

And as for what they could achieve on track? Ricciardo suggested top-fives were not out of the question.

“You have to aim high, but being in this sport so long, you want to remain realistic as you don’t want to end up ultimately disappointed,” he said.

“Top-fives should be a target and if we get into that position, maybe some podiums present themselves. Of course, we want to win but, you know, let’s… I think we made steps last year, let’s make a few more steps.

“Do I think top-five results are on the table – and could they be on the table in the first half of the season? I’d like to think so.”

But two races in and the idea of a points finish looks a challenge let alone being in the top quarter of the grid.

Ricciardo qualified 14th in the season opener in Bahrain but could only rise to 13th. That race was not epitomised by RB’s charge up the field but instead by Yuki Tsunoda defying team orders and suggesting there was already tension between the two men gunning for the 2025 Red Bull seat.

Ricciardo did not have to worry about any Tsunoda-dive bombs in Saudi Arabia as he was well behind the Japanese driver throughout the race.

A poor P16 was later explained by a 41-second pit stop not picked up by the TV cameras but he was 14th when he pitted and it was under safety car conditions, so could have been a lot worse.

All the while, Sergio Perez has been doing exactly what Red Bull want him to do – finish P2.

Red Bull are 100% after two races and perhaps Perez is feeling a new sense of confidence because, for the first time, it was he who suggested he may not be with the team in 2025.

Perez walking away at the age of 35 is not out of the question but the pendulum of perception has firmly swung back his way and away from Ricciardo.

That then proposes a question that has faced one of Australia’s finest in recent years – who is Daniel Ricciardo?

Ricciardo has often been associated with success but in your memories of him doing well, chances are it was in the red and blue overall of Red Bull. A look at his season-by-season history in terms of points show just how heavily the Red Bull stint contributed to his 1,317 point total.

Daniel Ricciardo career points
Daniel Ricciardo’s points per season in his F1 career.

His time at Renault is often harshly criticised, ignoring the fact he scored the team’s first podium since 2011, but it was at McLaren where his reputation took its first downfall.

His troubles in Woking were explained by a difficulty in getting to grips with the McLaren car and yet a rookie in Oscar Piastri was able to get up to speed pretty damn quickly.

In an effort to rediscover his form, Ricciardo believed he got inside his head too much. A turn to Red Bull was supposed to be a refreshing of the palate. The familiar surroundings of Milton Keynes a tonic as he spent an enforced period on the sideline.

But it was at Silverstone when the much-talked about ‘Daniel Ricciardo of old’ was said to have returned.

Christian Horner suggested Ricciardo’s lap times, which were done as part of a Pirelli tyre test, would have had him lining up alongside Max Verstappen on the front row of the British Grand Prix just gone.

As Drive to Survive revealed, it was that moment that Red Bull decided to give one of their favourite sons another go.

But even his return to action was not as smooth as Ricciardo would have liked. In an effort to avoid the man who replaced him at McLaren, Ricciardo hit the barriers at Turn 3 in Zandvoort, breaking a bone in his left hand and subjecting him to another enforced rest.

PlanetF1.com recommends

F1 2024: Head-to-head race statistics between team-mates

Ranked: Six drivers (sort of) who have made poor first F1 2024 impression

The rest of 2023 was seen as a write-off, with his audition set to come in 2024 as the face of the new RB team but so far it has been another step backwards.

Ricciardo is the fourth oldest driver on the grid behind only Nico Hulkenberg, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso and yet those other elder statesmen look as near to or at their best as they have ever been.

Ricciardo then is F1’s great enigma. Without that stint at Red Bull, it is hard to think how he would have survived this long on the grid but the belief that he will one day rediscover that form looks more unlikely with every passing race.

The Australian has stated his goal is to finish his career back in the Red Bull seat he will regret ever giving up but, unless there is a serious upturn in form, it is hard to see how that will ever become a reality.

Read next: Six silly F1 2024 predictions we wish we could change already