How Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo Plans to Spend 2023 F1 Season
After nearly 12 years on the Formula 1 grid, Daniel Ricciardo finds himself in a reserve role for 2023.
While Ricciardo’s recruitment by Red Bull after his release from McLaren was facilitated by his marketability, he is still set to play a role in Red Bull’s attempts to retain both titles.
Ricciardo will undertake duties in Red Bull’s simulator and is likely to briefly sample the RB19 race car during in-season tire testing.
For the first time since he started climbing the ladder toward Formula 1, Daniel Ricciardo is entering a new year without a spot on the F1 starting grid.
After nearly 12 full seasons on the Formula 1 grid Ricciardo was left without a seat after he and McLaren mutually agreed to terminate a three-year contract one season early.
That came amid a series of underwhelming displays, operating in the shadow of rising star Lando Norris, while Ricciardo was subsequently reluctant to chase another seat at a midfield or backmarker outfit as his options dwindled.
“I’m looking forward to not competing at that level for 12 months,” Ricciardo said in New York on Friday at the launch of Red Bull's livery.
Instead, Ricciardo signed a third-driver deal with Red Bull, the team which backed his junior career, and with which he raced from 2014 through 2018, scoring seven of his eight career F1 wins.
The deal means Ricciardo is not a de facto reserve driver—with youngster Liam Lawson officially in the role—but instead Red Bull will utilize Ricciardo’s infectious buoyant personality for marketing and ambassadorial opportunities. It is one sign of Ricciardo’s popularity, particularly in the United States, that he can still command a spot on the Late Show, despite no longer being one of Formula 1’s 20 full-time racers.
Ricciardo returned to his native Australia for winter—“spending it with family, riding bikes, doing stuff I’d normally do but not be able to enjoy it at the level I did this year”—before traveling to the U.S., where he will remain to attend next Sunday’s Super Bowl.
“The older you get the more you kind of need that in your life,” he said. “It was nice to be home and get quality time with family and friends. I didn’t think too much about racing or the season, I savored it. Every year at home I’m always think about training or I’m occupied with something and it was nice to be completely off. I owed that to them, owed some real one-on-one time to people I love.”
While Ricciardo’s recruitment was facilitated by his marketability, he is still set to play a role in Red Bull’s attempts to retain both titles. Ricciardo will undertake duties in Red Bull’s simulator, providing tips based off his experience, and is likely to briefly sample the RB19 during in-season tire testing.
“On race weekends I’ll listen in [to meetings], and if I’m not at the circuit I’ll have access to the information, being on the channels with the engineers, and figure out what trends we might be seeing,” he said. “Even if they’re winning every race no car is perfect. You’re always trying to chase something, so to understand the development, and maybe if I have an idea from the last few years I can lend some guidance and advice, or test something in the simulator and give feedback.”
Ricciardo’s return to Red Bull brings a reunion with Max Verstappen, now Formula 1’s two-time defending World Champion, and Ricciardo’s teammate from 2016-18.
“He’s always been a professional and a super nice guy to work with,” said Verstappen. “Back at the factory the people at the simulator can rely on his experience; he’s raced in F1 for a very long time—he’s a race winner—so we’re very happy to have him on board, that’s for sure.”
Verstappen’s current teammate, Sergio Perez, concurred, believing Ricciardo “will be a massive help” through the season as “he’ll understand what we’re talking about when we’re talking about the car.”
Ricciardo’s signing, even in a reduced capacity, understandably raises theories of whether it places an extra pressure on Perez.
“No, when you’re at Red Bull, you have to perform at your best,” Perez said in response. “It doesn’t matter if Daniel is here or not.”
Perez is anyway contracted through 2024, while Ricciardo – who has downplayed the prospect of a guest appearance in another championship – is not (yet) actively pursuing a seat.
“I’m still, let’s say, taking a day-by-day approach,” he said. “I’m trying not to put too much stress on it that, like, by March 1st I really need to know how I feel. I just want to let it happen naturally. Being at the launch, it does excite me, and it is a cool feeling—but I’m also really happy to be taking the year I’m taking. It does feel right.
“I kind of want that mental time off. Competition is awesome, I really do love it, but it’s a lot as well.
“If I was to step into something else [in 2023] there’d be a level of expectation, so I’d want to make sure that I could just have fun with it, as that’s what this year really is – a chance to take a more of a light-hearted approach on things, and ease off. If I did go into something that put a lot of pressure on me I don’t know if I’d enjoy it – I don’t think that’s what 2023 is asking of me.”
Ricciardo stressed that if he does decide upon a racing return then Formula 1 is still the priority, but outlined “If I go through this year and I’m like ‘you know what, I don’t want to race in F1 any more, I did my time’, whatever, then maybe I’ll see if there something else which interests me, but [in terms of] the pure competition I’m looking forward to just having this year off.”
Ricciardo will not attend the first pair of grands prix in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia “so maybe [watching on TV] will warm up a few feelings” but will be on the ground on home soil, in Australia, in early April. That, he reckons, could influence his longer-term outlook.
“Being around the whole atmosphere, the noise, sound, smell… that will probably do what it does,” Ricciardo pondered. “And whether I’m like, yeah, stoked and excited and wanting to get back or happy being a fan for a bit longer, we’ll see. I think Melbourne will tell me quite a lot.”