Daniel Ricciardo’s shock return to racing for AlphaTauri is the latest in-season driver swap Red Bull have chosen to make…
Red Bull’s ownership of two teams in F1, Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri (formerly known as Toro Rosso), has meant the company have occasionally decided to make drastic changes to their driver line-ups as they’ve rotated their signings across the four cockpits.
Now synonymous with in-season changes to their line-ups, here are all the previous occasions Red Bull have dropped a driver for another before the end of an F1 season…
2005 – Red Bull – Vitantonio Liuzzi and Christian Klien
During their first year in Formula 1, Red Bull tried to live up to their desired image as an F1 disruptor by taking an unusual approach to their driver line-up. David Coulthard was signed as their lead driver, but the team chose to race with two second drivers.
Vitantonio Liuzzi and Christian Klien were signed to race in four-race blocks, but it was Klien who ended up doing the lion’s share of the year as Red Bull quickly realised the arrangement was to no one’s benefit. It took until 2006 for Liuzzi to get a proper go at F1, joining Toro Rosso after doing his initial four-race scheduled block at Red Bull in 2005.
2006 – Red Bull – Christian Klien out, Robert Doornbos in
Starting as they continue to go on, Red Bull weren’t happy to sit around with an underperforming driver. Towards the end of 2006, Klien was failing to keep upper management happy as Coulthard continued to lead the way for the squad.
For the last three races of the year, Red Bull decided enough was enough and chucked Klien out, replacing him with their first Dutch signing: Robert Doornbos. He would not get to keep his seat for 2007, as Red Bull turned to Mark Webber for the following season.
2007 – Toro Rosso – Scott Speed out, Sebastian Vettel in
Midway through the second year of Red Bull junior team Toro Rosso’s involvement, the relationship between full-time driver Scott Speed and team boss Franz Tost broke down – to the point where there was a rumoured physical altercation between the pair.
Whether or not the fisticuffs actually took place is unclear, but what is certain is that Red Bull made the choice to promote promising junior driver Sebastian Vettel to a full-time race seat for the second half of the year.
2009 – Toro Rosso – Sebastien Bourdais out, Jaime Alguersuari in
Former Champcar Champion Sebastien Bourdais struggled to keep pace with burgeoning F1 talent Sebastian Vettel throughout 2008 and 2009 and, by midway through his second season, Red Bull had had enough.
From the Hungarian Grand Prix, Toro Rosso signed Spanish youngster Jaime Alguersuari, becoming the then-youngest F1 driver ever at just 19 years and 125 days old. Alguersuari’s signing marked the start of a period of relative stability within the Red Bull ranks, with neither team changing line-ups over the following two years.
While Alguersuari was replaced for 2012 by Daniel Ricciardo, the Spaniard was given full seasons, as was Sebastien Buemi. The now ultra-successful WEC and Formula E Champion was also replaced for 2012, with Jean-Eric Vergne brought into the fold.
Vergne himself was released at the conclusion of 2014, while Red Bull promoted Ricciardo to their main team as Mark Webber retired from the sport.
A decent first season for Daniil Kvyat in 2014 saw him promoted to Red Bull for 2015, handing Carlos Sainz his chance, but it wasn’t until 2016 that Red Bull returned to their old habits.
2016 – Red Bull – Daniil Kvyat out, Max Verstappen in
Verstappen had come into F1 for 2015 at Toro Rosso, impressing the whole F1 world to the point that Red Bull knew they were facing a stern challenge for his services from other teams. Daniil Kvyat had a reasonable start to his 2016 season but earned the wrath of former Red Bull champion Sebastian Vettel by coming in ‘like a torpedo’ during the Chinese Grand Prix before colliding with Vettel, not once, but twice, during the opening lap of the Russian Grand Prix.
As a result, Red Bull made a sensational decision to drop Kvyat back to Toro Rosso, and shuffled Verstappen up to the senior team. The decision was vindicated just days later, as Verstappen weathered race-long pressure from Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen as the youngest and eldest driver on the grid fought for the win in Barcelona – a fight Verstappen won.
2017 – Toro Rosso – Daniil Kvyat out, then in again, Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley both in
Towards the end of 2017, Red Bull went a bit wild with rotating drivers as the struggling Daniil Kvyat was ousted for highly rated junior Pierre Gasly – the French driver then the reigning GP2 Champion.
With Carlos Sainz departing to join Renault after Jolyon Palmer’s exit, Kvyat was brought back in as a substitute, while Gasly was also sidelined as it clashed with the final round of his Super Formula campaign.
As a result, Red Bull turned to WEC driver and former Red Bull junior Brendon Hartley as a replacement, while Kvyat was dropped entirely after the United States GP – Gasly and Hartley seeing out the rest of the season.
2019 – Red Bull – Pierre Gasly out, Alex Albon in
Red Bull started their 2019 season with Pierre Gasly alongside Max Verstappen after Daniel Ricciardo’s move to Renault, but the French driver came into the season already under pressure after crashes during pre-season testing annoyed upper management.
Gasly’s struggles continued throughout the season, even occasionally being lapped by Verstappen as the scrutiny on his performances grew. After just 12 races with Red Bull, Gasly was demoted back to AlphaTauri, while the rookie Alex Albon was propelled up to the main team in a direct driver swap. Gasly would go on to find his feet once again with AlphaTauri, resulting in a move to Alpine for 2023.
Albon struggled during his full 2020 season, and was demoted for 2021 as Red Bull brought in the veteran Sergio Perez.
2023 – AlphaTauri – Nyck de Vries out, Daniel Ricciardo in
Former Mercedes Formula E Champion De Vries impressed during his sole substitute race appearance at the 2022 Italian Grand Prix, with Red Bull taking a gamble on the Dutch driver for 2023 by signing him to AlphaTauri alongside Yuki Tsunoda – the Japanese driver having come through his own rocky start to life in F1 to assume the mantle of team leadership as Gasly left for pastures new.
But, from day one, De Vries struggled to keep pace with Tsunoda and, combined with several incidents and accidents, quickly came under pressure for his race seat as Red Bull had Daniel Ricciardo waiting in the wings as a reserve driver, while also having junior Liam Lawson on standby.
After the British Grand Prix, Ricciardo was given a Pirelli tyre test outing in the Red Bull RB19 and, just a few hours later, was confirmed as a replacement for De Vries as the Dutch driver was unceremoniously booted from the team.
Ricciardo’s installation at the team could also be seen as a way of putting further pressure on the struggling Sergio Perez, as the Mexican’s performances have fallen apart during the middle portion of the season. Might Perez be the next to fall foul of Red Bull?