Helmut Marko deals huge blow to Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull hopes

Michelle Foster
Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo. Red Bull launch New York February 2023.

Red Bull driver Sergio Perez stands with team reserve Daniel Ricciardo at the launch of the RB19. New York City February 2023.

Daniel Ricciardo’s chances of replacing Sergio Perez at Red Bull have been dealt a huge blow with Helmut Marko saying the Aussie is “not at the level” of his current pairing.

Ricciardo spent five seasons with Red Bull when he won seven grands prix from 2014 to 2018. But with the rise of Max Verstappen came the departure of Ricciardo with the driver opting to join Renault in 2019.

He was barely halfway through his two-year contract when he signed for McLaren, joining them in 2021 in what effectively became the beginning of the end for the Honey Badger.

Failing to regain his lost form and unable to work out why, Ricciardo and McLaren called time on their partnership two years into his three-year deal with the driver opting to sit out the 2023 season and instead take up a role as Red Bull’s reserve driver.

It is a role that has seen him put in time in the simulator, but according to Marko he has yet to find his former speed and is “not at the level” of Verstappen nor Perez.

However, how far off he was from their lap times in the Red Bull simulator, Marko isn’t saying.

“These are internal details,” he said in an interview with Motorsport-Total.com. “Something must have happened to him that slowed him down in his competitiveness.”

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But while Marko’s words aren’t at all encouraging, Ricciardo is determined to find a spot on next year’s grid. He has, however, made it clear that he only wants to join a team capable of fighting at the front of the field.

“His goal is to get back into a top team,” said Marko. “Those were his statements. And I think this break from active sport is good for him so that he can find himself and know where he really wants to go.”

That, the Austrian says, should also put an end to rumours Ricciardo could replace Nyck de Vries at AlphaTauri as that’s not a position Ricciardo wants to be racing in.

Explaining that he is not in line for the seat “for the reasons mentioned”, which are that Red Bull have junior drivers such as Liam Lawson for the job, but “also because of the statements made by himself, it is not an alternative.

“AlphaTauri is AlphaTauri. And Red Bull Racing is Red Bull Racing. Whether you drive in midfield or whether you drive at the front, that’s a completely different pressure, a completely different climate. […] We know his qualities.

“Then came the Renault era. Then McLaren came and there was a slump. That wasn’t the Ricciardo we knew.”

For now Ricciardo is working on regaining that grin that he used to sport during his Red Bull days.

“He does a very good job, does a lot of marketing and PR activities,” Marko said.

As for Ricciardo, the 33-year-old has made it known he doesn’t want to return to the grid at “any cost.

“I didn’t want to just jump back into a car, any car just to be one of the F1 drivers. And I still don’t see myself starting from scratch and rebuilding a career and going at it for another decade.

“I appreciate I might not have every opportunity under the sun, but I want to win. I want to be back with a top team and obviously a team where I have my confidence back and my mojo.”