Had Daniel Ricciardo not broken his hand, Natalie Pinkham believes he “would” have replaced Sergio Perez at Red Bull next season.
Returning to the grid with Red Bull’s junior team in what was billed as an audition for a Red Bull race seat, Perez’s to be precise, Ricciardo broke his hand during his third outing when he hit the Turn 3 wall at Zandvoort.
He’s been out of action with his seat going to the very impressive Liam Lawson, the Kiwi recording AlphaTauri’s best result of the season with a P9 in Singapore.
Could Daniel Ricciardo still replace Sergio Perez in 2024?
Yet when Red Bull announced their 2024 line-ups Lawson missed out with the Red Bull seats going to Max Verstappen and Perez, while Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda will be the AlphaTauri team-mates.
But with Perez’s form once again in question following back-to-back incident-filled races in Singapore and Japan, F1 Nation pundit Tom Clarkson wonders if Red Bull are questioning their decision.
“Four Red Bull drivers on the grid, one isn’t performing as well as he should at the moment and that’s Sergio Perez,” he said.
“So I’m thinking, in the corridors of power in Salzburg, actually should Daniel Ricciardo step up to the big team, to Red Bull Racing, for 2024 leaving Liam Lawson and Yuki Tsunoda at AlphaTauri.
“That’s really I think the question they’re asking themselves.”
That was put to Pinkham, who says she “would agree”.
“I think,” she continued, “had Daniel not had that really unfortunate crash and had he come in and put in really solid performances for AlphaTauri then that’s what would be happening.”
Pinkham, however, believes Ricciardo, who will potentially be back in the car at the United States Grand Prix, still has time to put pressure on Perez, and that would open the door for Lawson.
“If he does put in a phenomenal performance at AlphaTauri, which we know he’s capable of, then yes, he is putting pressure on Sergio Perez. And then you’ve got room for Liam Lawson as well in the junior team,” she said.
Perez situation means AlphaTauri being used for ‘different purpose’
Putting Ricciardo in the AT04 is a change in Red Bull’s philosophy when it comes to AlphaTauri with the junior team in the past being used to train junior drivers.
But with Red Bull uncertain about Perez, former F1 driver Pedro de la Rosa says the team is now using it to make sure they have a driver ready to cover Perez should he fail to impress.
“I think that gave Daniel a chance at AlphaTauri given the fact they want to be covered just in case whatever happened with Checo,” said the Spaniard.
“If they had no doubts that Checo would be close to Max then they wouldn’t have taken Daniel, but the fact is they are not sure what could happen in the future.
“So all in all, what I’m saying is AlphaTauri is a team meant to give young drivers opportunities, but I think that they’re using it for a different purpose at this moment in time.”