Ironically, the team at the bottom of the Formula 1 grid has two of the most sought-after seats. Now AlphaTauri, and therefore Red Bull, are faced with the dilemma of having three Formula 1-ready drivers all vying for two seats in 2024 – but who deserves it?
For AlphaTauri, Red Bull’s sister team which has fielded more drivers than points scored this season, is staring at a measly three-point return from the first half of this season. Speculation, as expected, is rife as to what direction the team will take as they plan for the coming season.
Since Ricciardo’s return to the team where he made his name, his performances haven’t exactly set the grid alight. Through a series of unfortunate events, Ricciardo has been forced to spend more time on the sidelines suffering a fractured hand at the Dutch Grand Prix; with no news on Ricciardo’s expected return, Red Bull’s rookie Liam Lawson has been brought in for the foreseeable future.
It’s been confirmed that AlphaTauri will look completely different next season, as the Red Bull bosses aim to increase their sister team’s standing in the grid by synergising their efforts across the two teams. New location, new name, and possibly, new drivers.
Laurent Mekies will leave Ferrari to join as Team Principal in 2024, the Italian-based team will relocate to Milton Keynes, and the team will enjoy another rebranding reminiscent of 2020, with some speculating the team will go by Hugo Boss Bulls Racing for the upcoming season.
Until the official renaming of AlphaTauri is finalised, however, I’ll be referring to them by their current name for the purpose of this piece.
Here we take a look at some of the favourite drivers to earn their 2024 drive with AlphaTauri, and what that might mean for the rest of the teams.
Fans were rightly excited when Daniel Ricciardo was announced as the replacement for the outgoing Nyck de Vries in July. The Australian returned to the team where he first made his name all those years ago, having spent the first part of the season without a car, racing for AlphaTauri once more during the Hungarian Grand Prix.
I can’t remember a time when a driver change had caused so much commotion in the press area. The way that Ricciardo was received, not only by the media but by Formula 1 itself, you’d have thought that the former Red Bull driver had just won his maiden world championship.
Such is the Australian’s appeal and reputation within the sport, that his return signalled a huge change; The Honey Badger was back, and with a point to prove.
Ricciardo fell out of love with the sport following the conclusion of his McLaren drive. He had offers to return to F1 further down the grid but rejected them in favour of Red Bull’s offer. It was clear he needed to return to the Red Bull family to rediscover his passion for racing, biding his time for an opportunity to return.
“Six months ago I wasn’t in a place to jump at an opportunity like this,” Ricciardo revealed ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix. “But that’s been the luxury of time, I’ve fallen in love with it again and I feel like I’m being myself again, back in an environment that is giving me a lot of nostalgia.”
Since returning, Ricciardo failed to score any points before an unfortunate accident at the Dutch Grand Prix forced the Australian to give up his seat to Red Bull rookie Liam Lawson.
To Ricciardo’s credit, he only had two races – Hungary and Belgium – to emulate some of the forgotten pace he once showed with his new team.
Ricciardo can’t return to the grid sooner, but his injury could mean he misses both Singapore and Japan in the coming weeks, with a projected return pencilled in for Qatar. This season represents an opportunity to race for a seat higher up the grid, and his old Red Bull seat, as the ultimate prize.
“Obviously the dream is a Red Bull seat,” Ricciardo has conceded. “Of course, that was my wish but you need to be realistic, and if I want to get back into Red Bull it will be a process, and this is the best path for me at the moment.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has conceded that Ricciardo wants the 2025 drive with Red Bull, applying immense pressure to the stuttering Sergio Pérez as Max Verstappen’s understudy.
With 2025 firmly in Ricciardo’s sights, he may need to bide his time that little while longer, and another season at AlphaTauri could be the perfect place for him.
WATCH Daniel Ricciardo makes his Red Bull return in the RB19 below.
In his third season with AlphaTauri, young Yuki Tsunoda has matured incrementally with each passing year. The Japanese talent joined the Red Bull family with a lot of promise following an F4 Japanese Championship title in 2018, lining up on the F1 grid in 2021.
Since entering F1, Tsunoda has consistently shown glimpses of real pace in arguably the worst car on the grid. He’s been able to cut out silly mistakes that have cost him in the past, and in his third and fourth race of this year, Tsunoda finished P10 twice, securing two valuable points for his team.
In a season that’s been marred by limp and less-than-impactful performances, Yuki’s driving has been a rare highlight, while his rookie teammate was struggling at the back of the pack.
At 23, Tsunoda has shown maturity in his role as AlphaTauri’s first driver following the departure of Pierre Gasly at the start of this year. Now, as his contract is set to expire at the end of the current season, where Tsunoda will be driving in 2024 is still yet to be decided.
Red Bull’s ever-present senior advisor Helmut Marko has claimed that Yuki’s contract extension with AlphaTauri “depends on the further results. But there are already discussions with our partner Honda. You can assume that it will happen if you take this year’s performances.”
Tsunoda’s future is intrinsically linked with Honda; the Japanese outfit has been supporting their young driver since 2016 and has been funding his seat at AlphaTauri since he joined in 2021. With the news that Honda will be supplying power units to Aston Martin by 2025, and looking for a full return to F1, Tsunoda could well be brought in to aid Aston Martin Aramco Honda’s fight for championships in 2026.
“He is originally from our school and in Formula 1 he is doing very well,” said Honda Racing Corporation president Koji Watanabe, when asked about the prospect of Tsunoda driving for Aston Martin in 2023. “But talking about the future, we still have three years to go so it’s too early for us to say what will happen. I don’t think it’s the time to talk about this. But we’re hoping that he will become a candidate. But it’s up to the team to make the final decision.”
Red Bull’s junior driver Liam Lawson has been on an unprecedented run during his rookie Super Formula drive and is one of the outsider favourites to make the step up to the vacant AlphaTauri seat next season.
The New Zealand-born driver was second in the standings in Japan, claiming P1 three times in his first six races and taking crucial points in the remaining three, before Daniel Ricciardo’s accident at Zandvoort fast-tracked the young Kiwi to make his Formula 1 debut this season.
In his first two races, Lawson secured a P13 and P11; a respectable return for a rookie thrust into the limelight.
At 21, Lawson certainly represented the exciting choice to partner Yuki Tsunoda for the rest of the F1 campaign following de Vries’ dismissal midway through the season, but ultimately missed out the more experienced profile of Daniel Ricciardo.
A generational talent with raw speed and untapped potential, the prospect of seeing Lawson flying up the pack in arguably the grid’s worst car has been a refreshing change to an otherwise predictable season. However, replacing a rookie with another one was hardly the responsible choice for the Red Bull hierarchy, until a change in circumstance forced their hand.
Nyck de Vries left AlphaTauri without registering any points in a less-than-effective debut season. Ricciardo re-entered the grid with a point to prove and points to score. Lawson has nothing to lose and everything to gain from this short-term loan.
“More and more comfortable, but just a little bit disappointed with the race,” Lawson said after his second-ever Formula 1 race in Italy, “We maybe had the pace for points, I’m not sure, we have to look into it. I had a bad start, and that’s where we really lost the chance. A bit disappointed to be so close.”
Next year, Red Bull will be faced with a dilemma they know all too well. Lawson’s stock will continue to rise as he makes waves in Formula 1 and finishes his Super Formula season well. The Red Bull hierarchy will be forced to make a decision about his long-term future.
With Ricciardo also looking for a permanent seat on the grid either next season or the one after, Lawson could be forced to wait for his chance in the big race, but Red Bull will undoubtedly risk losing another one of their exciting juniors if they can’t guarantee him a drive next year.