Daniel Ricciardo’s departure from Red Bull created one of the biggest headaches in F1, but now that problem has finally been solved.
It’s only taken four years, but Red Bull has finally solved its Daniel Ricciardo problem.
After emerging as one of the best drivers on the F1 grid at Red Bull, Ricciardo abruptly left at the end of 2018 season following multiple crashes with his then teammate Max Verstappen and perceived frustration at being treated as the team’s “No. 2 drivers”.
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While Red Bull has surged into championship contention with Verstappen at the helm, Ricciardo’s career has flooded since his departure.
He secured a pair of podiums in two lean seasons at Renault and he has only stepped on the podium once during his year-and-a-half at McLaren — at his breakthrough win at last year’s Italian Grand Prix.
In Ricciardo’s absence, Red Bull has struggled to find a driver capable of holding their own alongside Verstappen and ensuring they challenge for the constructors’ championship.
Both Pierre Gasly (2019) and Alex Albon (2019-2020) underperformed and didn’t meet expectations before Red Bull settled on Sergio Perez, a 10-year veteran in F1.
The Mexican was solid in his first season in Red Bull and showed he was the man they had been looking for with victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
His superb effort holding off Lewis Hamilton in last year’s epic finale in Abu Dhabi played no small part in Verstappen’s eventual victory.
Perez’s victory at the Monaco Grand Prix on the weekend signaled he was more than Verstappen’s No. 2 driver and this week Red Bull rewarded him with the security of a two-year contract extension.
The 32-year-old’s success only reinforce what a sliding doors moment it was for Ricciardo to leave Red Bull — a decision many believe was unwise and triggered his slump in form.
With Perez now contracted until 2024, Red Bull have the Verstappen teammate they always wanted and appear set to contend for drivers and constructors titles for the next few years at least.
Gasly and Albon are both still on the grid with AlphaTauri and Williams, respectively, and the Frenchman is now being mentioned as a potential replacement for Ricciardo at McLaren after arguably proving all he can at Red Bull’s feeder team.
Ricciardo has finished in the points just once this season and McLaren boss Zak Brown put the heat on the Australian last week, hinting at a get-out clause in his contract should his poor results continue.
Speculation has been mounting McLaren could sack Ricciardo before his deal expires at the end of 2023 and replace him with IndyCar drivers such as Colton Herta or Pato O’Ward, who have development contracts with McLaren.
Another left-field candidate to take Ricciardo’s spot is fellow Aussie Oscar Piastri, who has been kept off the grid this season thanks to Fernando Alonso’s solid form.
But it’s likely Piastri will have an F1 seat next season, either at Williams (replacing Nicholas Latifi), Aston Martin or McLaren.