Is Jumping on the AlphaTauri Seat Best for Daniel Ricciardo?

The 34-year-old Australian driver replaces Nyck De Vries at Alpha Tauri ahead of the 2023 Hungarian GP.

On July 23rd 2023, Daniel Ricciardo will take the green flag at the Hungarian Grand Prix and officially start his 233rd Formula 1 race. A lot changed since his last start, last year in a McLaren. Changing teams, changing roles, and changing perspectives on what his life will be going forward.

In many ways, this move is confirmation that Ricciardo hadn’t lost his touch, or indeed that others lost interest in him as a racing driver. But is it truly a fairy tale ending to his rough tenure at McLaren? Or another chapter in the book of hard knocks?

After all, he’s entering a team that currently sits tenth, or dead last, in the constructor’s championship. He’s also taking an open seat vacated by Nyck De Vries, the 28-year-old Dutchman who barely managed half a season as a rookie before higher-ups showed him the door. Moreover, Ricciardo’s teammate is Yuki Tsunoda, a 23-year-old Japanese driver in the middle of his third season with the team and settling in quite nicely.

In other words, he has a steep hill to climb. In the middle of the season he needs to get to know his new team, build a relationship with his engineer, get to know the car, and perform well against a very young and hungry teammate at a team that is historically and notoriously impatient.

No pressure.

Look no further than De Vries as an example. This was the Dutchman’s first full season in Formula 1. After a stellar one-off performance at the 2022 Italian Grand Prix, he found multiple teams interested in talking with him about a full-time campaign. Alpha Tauri snagged him and then tossed him aside mid-season. Did he get a fair shake? I don’t think so.

The 2021 Formula e World Champion, unlike his young Japanese teammate, had a lot to unlearn from other racing series and teams to truly get comfortable in the car before truly being able to push its limits. In my mind, a full-season is a minimum amount of time that he deserved.

Granted, Ricciardo is a proven winner and enjoyed relative success in every team he entered, save for McLaren (though, ironically enough, he did win at McLaren). And, yes, it’s also true that the Australian has a long track record with the Red Bull Racing family, which will grant him a small grace period.

Emphasis on small. Alpha Tauri feels they deserve more than two points so far in this 2023 season. And the Italian Red Bull Junior team will feel disappointed very quickly if Ricciardo doesn’t add to that figure. Especially if Tsunoda does. And if that’s the case, how long before this starts to feel like McLaren 2.0?

I love Daniel Ricciardo’s energy, attitude, and race craft. He’s a huge asset to the Formula 1 sport and deserves more time on the podium with a top team. I just don’t know if this is a stepping stone up, or a slippery slope down.