Formula 1: Earning Red Bull seat is Daniel Ricciardo’s ‘golden objective’, says Christian Horner

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Daniel Ricciardo signs autographs for fans at the British Grand Prix in 2023
Daniel Ricciardo was promoted to the Red Bull team for 2014 before leaving for Renault at the end of the 2018 season

Daniel Ricciardo hopes to use his return to Formula 1 with Alpha Tauri to earn a Red Bull seat in the future, team principal Christian Horner says.

Max Verstappen’s deal runs to 2028 but Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez is out of contract at the end of 2024.

“Daniel firmly wants to be pitching for that 2025 Red Bull,” said Horner.

“That’s his golden objective, and by going to Alpha Tauri he sees that as his best route of stating his case.”

Red Bull have dominated the 2023 season so far, winning all 10 races, with reigning world champion Verstappen taking eight and Perez two.

But after a strong start to the season, Perez’s form has slumped and the Mexican has failed to make it into the top 10 in qualifying for the past five races – Verstappen has been on pole position for all of them.

That has led to speculation as to whether Red Bull will replace Perez with Ricciardo if the Australian impresses alongside Yuki Tsunoda at Alpha Tauri.

Ricciardo lost his seat at McLaren at the end of last season and chose to rejoin Red Bull as a third driver for 2023.

Horner, who was speaking to the official F1 Nation Hungarian GP preview podcast, said: “At the moment, there’s only something in place until the end of the season, so there are no thoughts or expectations beyond that.

“We’ve loaned him to Alpha Tauri 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.”

Horner said the team are trying to work with Perez to improve his performances. He previously said he believed the Mexican was putting himself under too much pressure to try to beat Verstappen.

“Some of that has been bad luck, some of it’s been a little self-inflicted,” Horner said.

“We’re just trying to help him through that period. He’s still second in the world championship. He’s won two grands prix so far out of the 10 this year, and he started the season in such great form.

“We just want to help him rediscover that form.”

Ricciardo test showed ‘the old Daniel’s still there’

Ricciardo’s contract with McLaren was terminated as a result of failing to get on terms with team-mate Lando Norris.

He drove for Alpha Tauri at the start of his career in 2012 and 2013, when the team were known as Toro Rosso, and earned a return with an impressive performance in a test at Silverstone last week.

Ricciardo was driving during a Pirelli tyre test, in which the tyre supplier decides on car set-up and the teams do not know the details of the designs they are using.

But Horner said they could see enough to know that Ricciardo was immediately fast compared to the times Verstappen and Perez had achieved at the British Grand Prix, the race immediately preceding the test on the same track.

“What impressed me the most when I went up to have a look at the test was, bearing in mind he hasn’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,” said the Red Bull boss.

“Then 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 on the day, would have put him on the front row of the grid, so that was hugely impressive.

“I was just pleased to see that he was still able to operate at that level.

“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. It almost was like the pressure released off his shoulders, that he could still do it, that he wasn’t going mad, and the old Daniel was still there.

“Then his long runs were very impressive and the work that he did for Pirelli was absolutely on the money.”

Horner said he asked Ricciardo whether he was prepared to return in a team which has been close to the back of the grid so far this season.

“First of all, it had to be clear, did he want to do it?” Horner said. “Stepping into an Alpha Tauri is very different to driving a Red Bull car, and it will certainly have its challenges.

“The thing that we needed to be sure of is was he up for that challenge, scrapping to get out of Q1?

“And he seemed more than happy to go back into that situation to get back on the grid and be a Formula 1 driver again.”