Ticking time bomb Nyck de Vries the casualty in Daniel Ricciardo’s fairytale comeback

Sam Cooper
Daniel Ricciardo smiling. Silverstone, July 2023.

On the face of it, Nyck de Vries had little preventing the axe from swinging.

He is not a Red Bull graduate meaning the team had sunk little money into his career and crucially at the age of 28, he was unlikely to ever get significantly better.

His hiring had always seemed like an unusual move for a team whose succession plan is usually well defined but having burned through Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon, Red Bull found themselves with a hole that needed plugging.

Their first choice of course had been Colton Herta but the FIA denied a request to bend the super licence rule shortly before De Vries put in a super-sub performance in the Williams at Monza.

That propelled the Dutchman to the top of Helmut Marko’s list of replacements for the departing Gasly but Marko revealed it was not a decision he shared with Christian Horner.

So the most unusual of rookies arrived on the grid at the age of 28 and was expected to inherit the team leader role from Gasly. After all, Yuki Tsunoda had narrowly survived the axe himself after a couple of expletive-laden opening years in the sport.

But soon, De Vries came unstuck. In an AT04 that is arguably the worst car on the grid, it would require regular Tsunoda heroics just to have it challenging for points, something that De Vries is either incapable of or not ready to do.

De Vries’s fate then has seemed sealed for a long time, like a prisoner on death row waiting for his name to be called. Not helped by the comments made from his boss.

An ultimatum of four races was extended as Marko repeatedly told the press how poorly De Vries was doing and all the while, a man who had been predicted to be looming over Sergio Perez’s seat was instead focusing on another.

While Daniel Ricciardo has faced a similar fate to De Vries with his sacking from McLaren, his talent has at least been proven in the past. He joined Red Bull in the hope of rebuilding his career and finding the speed that made him a multiple race winner and when he was first unveiled beaming ear to ear in Red Bull garb alongside Christian Horner, the natural assumption was that Perez should keep one eye over his shoulder.

That may be a situation that plays out further down the line with the Australian revealing to end his career at Red Bull would be a “fairytale” but for now, he is focused on another goal, proving that the Red Bull Ricciardo is still in there.


F1 driver contracts: What is the current contract status of every driver on the 2023 grid?

Fastest F1 pit stops: McLaren keep pressure on Red Bull with Silverstone effort

De Vries was the sacrificial lamb in that mission. A Pirelli tyre test at Silverstone was billed as the first look at Ricciardo but perhaps it was instead the final box to be ticked before Red Bull pushed the big red button.

Mid-season sackings are nothing out of the ordinary but with 55% of the season remaining, this decision is ruthless even by Red Bull’s standards.

The question is, what do Red Bull now expect of Ricciardo? The AT04 is not a car to give Ricciardo the podium and wins he desires but is he expected to match the performances of Tsunoda or surpass them? Is this a test run for a potential move up to Red Bull?

For De Vries, every sign would suggest this is his one and only foray into F1. Older than all but seven members of the current grid, it is difficult to see which team would take a chance on him.

Ricciardo though has been given that chance and it is now or never for the Honey Badger.

Read next:Martin Brundle exclusive: Lewis Hamilton ‘still right there’ against two rising F1 stars