Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has confirmed Daniel Ricciardo is targeting a seat with the Austrian side for 2025.
Ricciardo will mark his full-time comeback to Formula 1 at this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix after it was confirmed last week he would be replacing Nyck de Vries at AlphaTauri for the remainder of the season.
The Australian revealed earlier this year that returning to the Red Bull cockpit he vacated at the end of 2018 would represent a “fairytale” close to his F1 career.
Reigning World Champion Max Verstappen is contracted through 2028 but team-mate Sergio Perez’s current deal expires at the end of 2024 and a continuation of his recent struggles could open the door for Ricciardo.
The Mexican driver has failed to progress to Q3 in qualifying at the past five events and has dropped 99 points behind Verstappen in the Drivers’ Championship.
“At the moment there’s only something in place until the end of the season,” Horner discussed on the F1 Beyond the Grid podcast. “So there’s no thoughts or expectations beyond that.
“We’ve loaned him to AlphaTauri to the end of the year. Obviously, our drivers are going to be Max and Checo again next year. But it’s always good to have talent in reserve.
“I think Daniel is viewing AlphaTauri, he firmly wants to be pitching for that 2025 Red Bull seat. That’s his golden objective. And by going to AlphaTauri, I think he sees that as his best route of stating his case for 2025.”
Ricciardo returned to Red Bull at the start of this year as a reserve driver option after having his McLaren contract cut short following a tumultuous two-year stint.
Horner has reiterated his stance that the Ricciardo that he encountered upon his return marked a vast contrast to the one that departed for Renault at the end of 2018.
“I didn’t really recognise the Daniel over the last couple of years, that we’d sort of grown so used to, that had grown up with us,” he said. “So that’s where it started.
“He came in and drove the simulator the day after Abu Dhabi, or a couple of days after Abu Dhabi. It was a complete disaster and he’d picked up every bad habit imaginable when he was working with this previous engineer.”
But after several impressive runs in the simulator, Ricciardo was granted the opportunity to get back behind the wheel of an F1 car for the first time since December 2022 at Silverstone on Tuesday.
The Red Bull chief adds that “that the plan was always to put him in for that Silverstone test” in the team’s RB19 car and underlines “the test was extremely impressive”.
He added: “What impressed me the most when I went up to have a look at the test was, bearing in mind he hasn’t driven this car, hadn’t been in a car for seven months, within his third or fourth lap he was down to a time that was within a second of what our drivers were achieving.
“Then in his first proper run, as it were, on tyres that were comparable, you could see his confidence was growing and growing and that first lap on probably what was his seventh lap of the day would have put him on the front row of the grid. So it was hugely impressive.”
“I was just pleased to see that he was still able to operate at that level,” he continued.
“You could see, I mentioned to him ‘that would have put you on the front row of the grid’, and you could see almost the relief in his eyes and almost like the pressure release off his shoulders that he could still do it, that he wasn’t going mad and the old Daniel was still there.
“And then his long runs were very impressive and the work that he did for Pirelli was absolutely on the money.”
Amid de Vries’ continued struggles, Ricciardo’s strong testing display saw confirmation arrive the same day that he would be driving for AlphaTauri for the remaining 11 races of the year.
Horner discloses that Ricciardo was aware of the possibility of cutting short his sabbatical and getting back onto the F1 grid even before the test got underway.
“Obviously before the test, there was some element of discussion with Daniel to say, look, if this goes well, would you be up for driving an AlphaTauri because things aren’t quite going as we’d hoped with Nyck,” he explained.
“Would you be up for that challenge? And he [responded] ‘Yeah, absolutely’. He was prepared, if you like, to take a step backwards to try and take two steps forward.”
De Vries had failed to score a single point in his 10 outings with AlphaTauri and had succumbed to a crushing 8-2 head-to-head defeat against team-mate Yuki Tsunoda.
Horner says the decision to replace him before the summer break and slotting in Ricciardo made the most sense out of all the options available to Red Bull.
“It was becoming obviously a difficult situation for Nyck de Vries, but there was a high expectation on him because whilst inexperienced in Formula 1, he’s obviously a very experienced driver,” said Horner.
“I think there was a general feeling that Nyck wasn’t quite hitting the mark. And then the question was what are the options if we were to switch things around? And from a Red Bull Racing perspective, the most interesting option for me was to see how Daniel performed. So that was the decision that was made.
“It all happened pretty quick. And here he is for the Hungarian Grand Prix.”