A 2025 Red Bull F1 seat bid couldn’t have started any worse

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Daniel Ricciardo has made no secret of the key motivation for him continuing to race in Formula 1’s midfield: impressing Red Bull enough to let him back in the position he walked away from over five years ago.

And while the start of that mission really came this time last year when Ricciardo impressed on Red Bull’s simulator and then became the obvious choice to replace struggling rookie Nyck de Vries, his 2023 part-season was blighted by the Zandvoort shunt that forced him to miss five races.

It left 2024 feeling like the proper start of his mission to become Max Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate once more – but it couldn’t really have started any worse.

Tsunoda’s had the edge so far

Yuki Tsunoda isn’t considered a serious candidate for a future Red Bull seat, meaning Ricciardo has to beat him convincingly this year to be in the frame for a Red Bull drive. That hasn’t happened across the opening two weekends; in fact, Tsunoda is the one who has had the clear edge on Ricciardo.

In qualifying it’s 2-0 to Tsunoda so far. While Tsunoda was 0.007s shy of a place in Q3 in Bahrain, Ricciardo was 14th, almost a tenth and a half adrift. Then in Jeddah, Tsunoda put RB into Q3 for the first time this year and was four tenths quicker than Ricciardo.

Ricciardo finished ahead of Tsunoda in Bahrain but only after a team order allowed him past, a situation only created by an ill-advised strategy dropping Tsunoda behind Kevin Magnussen’s Haas and just in front of Ricciardo, who had softer tyres.

In Jeddah, Ricciardo had the misfortune of his own with a slow pitstop in the region of 40s but at that point, he was already several places behind a points-contending Tsunoda (eventually thwarted by Magnussen’s clever blockade tactics) and Ricciardo couldn’t make progress at the back of the pack.

Instead, he spun all by himself out of Turn 1, ironically right in front of the driver he’d love to replace at Red Bull, Sergio Perez, who was about to lap him.

So what’s gone so wrong?

‘A few things didn’t quite add up’

Ricciardo appears to characterise the disappointment of his first two weekends very differently.

He admits he “left too much time on the table” in qualifying in Bahrain and couldn’t deliver the two tenths he needed to reach Q3, time that was within the car and himself. So Ricciardo’s taken responsibility for that weekend’s misfire.

But in Jeddah across a “painful three days”, Ricciardo felt it was the limitations of the car holding him back in particular, and something about his VCARB 01 wasn’t quite adding up right.

“We found a few things over the course of the weekend. We simply don’t have everything functioning at 100%. So we see a few flaws, honestly, with the car,” Ricciardo said after the race.

“Like just when it comes to producing efficiency and everything, just a few things didn’t quite add up. Bahrain I knew that it was more me but [in Jeddah qualifying] when it kind of plateaus and the others keep improving, it’s also a bit of a sign.

“I could feel that that was the limit of the car. We did find some things afterwards. But then you’ve got parc ferme, [though] to be honest, even if we didn’t have parc ferme, it’s probably nothing we can fix in 24 hours.

“So I’m sure a few things would go back to the factory and come back with a fresh car in Melbourne.”

And what about the spin at the end of the race?

Ricciardo joked “I didn’t want the team to feel left out” by being the only one to make a mistake.

When asked if it was a result of his concentration fading, Ricciardo replied: “The spin? Yeah, maybe. I stayed… I don’t know. I did just take a bit too much kerb, which caused the spin.

“I’m not intending on taking that much kerb. You could say just probably a little bit of frustration, maybe on my part. But of course I’m not trying to spin. So yeah, I don’t know. No excuses. But doing some work. I’ll use that as an excuse.”

An all too familiar feeling?

Things not adding up about the car while his team-mate doesn’t appear to struggle as much with the limitations. Sound familiar? Inevitably that’s going to draw comparisons to Ricciardo’s struggles at McLaren while Lando Norris excelled.

But Ricciardo’s adamant the intra-team fight hasn’t been one-sided thus far.

“Honestly, up until this point, no,” when Ricciardo was asked about the optics of Tsunoda outperforming after qualifying in Jeddah.

“I think we’ve definitely been close. Obviously he did a good job so I’m definitely not saying he didn’t. But it’s not like he’s been really comfortable and I haven’t been. We’ve both got our strengths and weaknesses, but I think coming into qualifying it was pretty evenly matched, in Q1 it looked that way and then he and pretty much everyone else that’s out there was able to make that step and we simply struggled.

“It’s frustrating to be that far behind, the frustration that comes with it and being 14th when we’re obviously fighting for points doesn’t help.

“OK, first race, I made some mistakes so I was frustrated with myself, but I’m confident where the laptime was. Standing here right now I’m not confident with the car we had, where we could have got it [the time] so that’s really all that’s on my mind now.”

Two races into a campaign is clearly too early to conclude anything, especially given the rather unique nature of Jeddah and how certain drivers – including seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton – haven’t ever really gelled with the track as well as their respective team-mates.

So Ricciardo’s bid for a Red Bull return is far from in crisis. It would be far too premature to declare this a McLaren 2.0 scenario. As his stunning Mexico weekend showed last year, there’s real potential still within Ricciardo’s grasp at this team.

But he cannot allow this run of form to continue given both the volatility of the driver market – who could have foreseen that there would be a remote possibility that Verstappen himself could walk away from Red Bull? – and Red Bull’s at-times trigger-happy decision-making process.

It seldom gives drivers very long to turn things around, even long-time favourites like Ricciardo. And Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko appears to have already given Ricciardo a hurry-up to find some more speed over one lap, in a post-race column with Red Bull’s in-house German-language online publication Speedweek.

Marko said Ricciardo “must now come up with something soon” following Tsunoda’s Q3 heroics in Jeddah and significantly, pointed out what a great job Liam Lawson – the logical next driver in line for an RB seat – did on his stand-in debut last year, in the context of praising the debuts of Ollie Bearman in F1 and Pedro Acosta in MotoGP last weekend.

None of that pressure – nor the instability behind the scenes at Red Bull – changes the contents of Ricciardo’s mission. In fact, it only hastens his bid to show Red Bull he’s a stable, dependable performer.

He’s yet to show that in 2024 and must deliver next time out on home soil in Melbourne, something he knows all too well.

“I’ll obviously put [the Jeddah] weekend behind me and just push the team hard,” he said.

“Already [after qualifying] I stayed quite late to try and help everyone find the issues and yeah, just up to me now to keep on ’em. I know they want it as bad as I do.

“So I’ll make sure that we have a good package into Melbourne and let’s say my season will start there and kick some ass.”

How much ass-kicking Ricciardo performs in this early-season patch will ultimately decide the destiny of where Red Bull sticks its boot next.

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