Christian Horner believes Daniel Ricciardo is using his AlphaTauri opportunity as an audition to try to replace Sergio Perez.
Daniel Ricciardo picks his F1 career back up this weekend in Budapest, having secured a return to the grid with AlphaTauri following a successful Pirelli tyre test last week that resulted in Red Bull firing Nyck de Vries in favour of the Australian.
Ricciardo had lost his F1 drive with McLaren at the conclusion of 2022, choosing a year on the sidelines after spending two seasons spiralling downwards in performance due to a failure to gel with the McLaren cars.
Christian Horner: This is a Red Bull audition for Daniel Ricciardo
With Ricciardo now back as one of Red Bull’s four F1 drivers, returning to the junior team with whom he raced in 2012 and ’13 under their Toro Rosso moniker, there is a chance that he could end up eventually slotting back in at the senior team alongside Max Verstappen – the very role Ricciardo chose to leave when he departed Red Bull at the end of 2018.
Speaking on the F1 Nation podcast, Christian Horner explained the long-term plan for Ricciardo.
“Well, I think, at the moment, there’s only something in place to the end of the season,” he said.
“So there are no thoughts or expectations beyond that. We’ve loaned him to AlphaTauri until the end of the year.
“Obviously, our drivers are going to be Max and Checo [Perez] again next year, but it’s always good to have talent in reserve.”
While Perez is under contract for next season, Horner said Ricciardo is very much approaching his opportunity with the goal of returning to Red Bull for the following season – going up against Perez for the 2025 contract.
“I think Daniel is viewing AlphaTauri… he firmly wants to be pitching for that 2025 Red Bull seat – that’s his golden objective,” he said.
“By going to AlphaTauri, I think he sees that as his best route for stating his case for 2025.”
What will Sergio Perez be thinking about Daniel Ricciardo’s signing?
Asked about what incumbent Sergio Perez might be thinking about Ricciardo’s return to AlphaTauri, which could be seen as a means of putting pressure on the Mexican after his poor run of races, Horner said Red Bull are giving him the support he needs.
“Checo has had a horrible run of Saturdays – five Saturdays in a row he’s not made it into Q3. I think some of that has been bad luck. Some of it’s been a little self-inflicted,” he said.
“We’re just trying to help him through that period, he’s still second in the World Championship. He’s won two grands prix so far out of the 10 this year, and he started the season in such great form.
“We just want to help him rediscover that form. Budapest is going to be a venue where, hopefully, he can have a straightforward weekend.
“Then we’ve got a sprint race in Spa less than a week later, so hopefully Checo can rediscover the form that he showed in Jeddah and Azerbaijan that year where he was absolutely on the top of his game.”
Daniel Ricciardo facing different challenge at AlphaTauri to driving a Red Bull
With Ricciardo now confirmed as being back on the grid, having got the nod from Helmut Marko and Horner, the team boss was asked about how the Australian had reacted to the news.
With the AT04 far less competitive than the Red Bull RB19, Horner said the team want to know for sure if Ricciardo is willing to put in the hard yards of driving for the backmarker team.
“[He’s] excited!” Horner smiled.
“First of all, he had to be clear on that wanted to do it. You know, stepping into an AlphaTauri is very different to driving a Red Bull car. It will certainly have its challenges.
“I think the thing that we need to be sure of was whether he’s up for that challenge, you know, scrapping to get out of Q1. He seemed more than happy to go back into that situation, to get back on the grid and be a Formula 1 driver again.”
As for Ricciardo’s physical fitness, having spent more than six months on the sidelines of F1 – more than long enough for a driver to fall out of the fitness window needed for such a physical sport – Horner said they have no concerns.
“He’s in pretty decent shape. We put him through pretty much 100 laps around Silverstone, so it was a baptism by fire,” he said.
“He wasn’t asking for the pads on the headrest.
“Yeah, he’s kept himself in pretty good shape. He’s naturally pretty athletic. He’s kept his training to a standard. It’s going to be a tough one for him in Hungary, which is probably one of the hardest on the calendar, but I’m sure he’s in good enough shape.