Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko says Nyck de Vries’ stagnant improvement was the ultimate reason behind his early exit from the AlphaTauri Formula 1 team.
On Tuesday it was confirmed by AlphaTauri that de Vries would be vacating his drive only 10 races into the season to be replaced by Daniel Ricciardo, who will return to F1 after being axed by McLaren at the end of 2022.
De Vries was initially signed by Marko following an impressive drive to a points finish deputising for Alex Albon at Williams during last year’s Italian Grand Prix.
However, the Dutchman struggled hugely in his rookie campaign, being regularly outpaced by team-mate Yuki Tsunoda and getting caught up in various incidents.
Marko says that de Vries fell short of expectations and with no clear improvement in recent rounds, the Red Bull group had no reason to delay making a change.
“We contracted Nyck because he performed great at Monza last year,” Marko told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf.
“We expected him to be at least equal to his team-mate Tsunoda this year, but that was not the case. Actually, he was always three-tenths slower than Yuki. We saw no improvement.
“We had to do something. Why wait, and what do two more races matter if you don’t see any improvement? Nyck is a very nice guy, but the speed just wasn’t there.”
Outgoing AlphaTauri Team Principal Franz Tost declared earlier this year that rookie drivers require three years in F1 to progress and fully show what they are capable of.
Tsunoda stated he was surprised to retain his drive after an error-prone maiden year in 2021 but has developed into one of the standout performers this season.
However, Marko argues de Vries shouldn’t be compared to other debutants, citing his age and the extensive testing he conducted with various other F1 teams in the past.
“He is 28, has a lot of experience and has also been able to gain a lot of knowledge as a test driver in multiple Formula 1 cars,” he contended.
“You can’t compare him to a young rookie in my opinion. At the end of April in Baku, he started the weekend well and I thought he would perform better, but then he crashed again.
“Unfortunately, he didn’t do one super lap that really amazed us.”
Upon returning to Red Bull at the start of this year in the role as one of the side’s reserve drivers, Ricciardo was described by current team boss Christian Horner as having “picked up some unrecognisable habits” since his previous departure in 2018.
However, after some impressive runs in the simulator, Ricciardo got his first outing in Red Bull’s current 2023 F1 car, the RB19, in a Pirelli test at Silverstone on Tuesday.
Marko discloses that the Australian’s lap times were immediately competitive and is hopeful his return can inspire AlphaTauri to haul itself from the foot of the standings.
“Ricciardo’s lap times were competitive during the tyre test, on three different tyre sets,” the Austrian added.
“If Ricciardo hadn’t had the speed, we would have needed to consider something else.
“But AlphaTauri is not in a good position right now and is last in the constructors’ standings, so we had to do something to change that. That often happens after a driver change and Ricciardo brings new energy to the team.”
Ricciardo’s F1 comeback will commence in AlphaTauri’s AT03 car at the Hungarian Grand Prix next weekend.