Daniel Ricciardo’s former Red Bull race engineer, Simon Rennie, admits the Australian was “definitely not as confident” in the simulator upon his return to the team earlier this year.
After being axed by McLaren following two tumultuous seasons, Ricciardo elected to step away from the rigours of a full-time racing schedule and became one of Red Bull’s reserve driver options for 2023.
Ricciardo had previously driven for Red Bull and its junior side, then known as Toro Rosso, between 2012-2018, but left to pursue an alternative direction at Renault before moving on to McLaren in 2021.
After Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner revealed earlier this year that Ricciardo had picked up some “bad habits” during his period away, Rennie details that Ricciardo looked “a little bit hollow in a way.”
Speaking to Ricciardo on the Talking Bull podcast, Rennie added: “It felt like you were doubting yourself a little bit. And you were a bit concerned about whether you could do it again.
“It didn’t necessarily click straight away in the simulator and it took you – that first day that we did together, you still seemed a little bit unsure of it all.”
However, following several outings in the simulator, Ricciardo was handed the opportunity to get back behind the wheel of a race car during a Pirelli tyre test at Silverstone in the Red Bull RB19.
The 34-year-old’s lap times were impressive enough for Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko to axe Nyck de Vries and place Ricciardo at AlphaTauri for the remainder of the year.
Rennie underlines that Ricciardo’s test session after the British Grand Prix weekend immediately showcased to him there was no lingering race rust evident.
“You couldn’t really tell that he hadn’t been in the car for eight months,” he stated.
“The first run, maybe on the installation lap you were reminded how quick the cars were. But after that, within a few laps it was just like you were driving a car the last week, not last year. That was quite – I don’t know if you were surprised about that, but I was quietly impressed about that.”
Ricciardo produced an assured display in his first weekend in AlphaTauri’s AT04 car, out-qualifying and out-racing team-mate Yuki Tsunoda at the Hungaroring.
But Ricciardo has only completed one more entire race weekend beyond that, having broken his left hand in an FP3 crash at Zandvoort following the summer break.
The eight-time Formula 1 winner has been ruled out of action indefinitely, with Horner conceding he is likely to miss the upcoming Singapore and Japanese Grands Prix.
Red Bull reserve driver Liam Lawson has been deputising for Ricciardo in the past two rounds. The Kiwi racer put in a solid appearance with limited running in the Netherlands before finishing 11th at Monza.
Ricciardo’s injury has come as a seismic blow to his future aspirations of securing a seat with Red Bull for 2025 alongside reigning World Champion Max Verstappen.
AlphaTauri is yet to confirm its two drivers for next year, leaving Ricciardo’s F1 prospects undecided.