Daniel Ricciardo has lifted the lid on the story behind his F1 comeback with AlphaTauri, revealing his Red Bull test at Silverstone was the final box to be ticked after ever-improving performances in the simulator.
Ricciardo started the 2023 season as Red Bull’s reserve driver after losing his McLaren seat at the end of last year, but will make a sensational return to racing with AlphaTauri at this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
The Australian has replaced Nyck de Vries, who was dropped by the Red Bull junior team after failing to score a point in the first 10 races of the season, with the deal announced on the day Ricciardo drove the dominant RB19 car for the first time in a post-British GP Pirelli tyre test.
Daniel Ricciardo reveals truth behind Red Bull Silverstone test
Speaking to media in Budapest, Ricciardo has admitted that it may have made sense to be parachuted into AlphaTauri during F1’s summer break in August – the traditional time for mid-season driver changes – but believes having two races to acclimatise to the AT04 car in Hungary and Belgium could work in his favour for the rest of 2023.
He said of his return: “It all happened pretty quickly. Being back in the family now, I know how things can change quick so I always tried to stay as ready as possible, also in case obviously Max [Verstappen] or Checo [Sergio Perez] were unfit to drive.
“But you know at any time something can change and, for sure, probably slightly more conventionally would be in the summer break – but we know Red Bull is a little unconventional, which is totally fine.
“There was a little bit of chatter over the [British GP] weekend but it was really just wait and see how the test goes and see obviously how I feel and we go from there. Obviously, I felt really good in the car and it went well and then it was pretty much like: ‘Well, you look ready so let’s do it.’
“In a way, the summer break would have been more conventional but I kind of like that I’ve probably got two races and then the break, so I’ve then got some things to think about over the course of the break. So I’m going to try and just soak up as much of these two as I can and then obviously, come Zandvoort, we’ll have a little bit more of a guidance or awareness of where I probably expect to be for myself.”
Ricciardo’s performance in the Pirelli tyre test has been cited as a crucial factor behind his return, with reports indicating his fastest lap time would have secured him a place on the front row at the British GP.
The 34-year-old has confirmed that his times were “competitive” and that Red Bull’s minds were made up after just two runs at Silverstone, with Ricciardo showing an encouraging rate of improvement in the simulator after a damaging two-year spell at McLaren in 2021/22.
Asked if he learned of his AlphaTauri chance straight after getting out of the car, he said: “Pretty much. It’s always with Helmut [Marko, Red Bull advisor] and Christian [Horner, Red Bull team principal].
“I think there already was, maybe, a little bit of excitement and curiosity about the test and I think the sim had kept getting better and better to a point where Christian and Helmut had got some belief in me again and the test was just that last box that needed to be ticked and to make sure that I could translate everything on track.
“It was already after probably two runs there was some smiles in the garage and I think that was pretty much it.
“The fact is, yes, I’ve driven the simulator, but last week I hadn’t driven a car in eight months. I haven’t really been doing anything driving-wise. I haven’t driven F3s or go-karts, I’ve been really just switching off from that.
“I just appreciate the [RB19] car is very good, it’s the best on the grid at the moment, but I just got in it and I drove and I didn’t really think about anything. I just drove, I had fun.
“And obviously the times were good and I was competitive, but I think that as a junior, when you’re coming up, you’re still pretty ignorant and you don’t know much – you just race cars, because it’s what you love doing.
“So I think there’s going to be a lot to learn, but I’m not going to solve everything this weekend. So it’s really just about focusing on using things I do well. And I think that that’ll translate into some more positive outcomes.”