As Daniel Ricciardo competed in only seven grands prix through the 2023 season, his ranking takes his reduced participation into account
In a Formula 1 career that had left him among the most successful drivers of the modern era not to have won a world championship title, Daniel Ricciardo had never endured a season like 2022.
If his first campaign with McLaren in 2021 was a disappointment, then year two was no short of a disaster. As Lando Norris was fighting off faster cars and almost always finishing inside the top eight, Ricciardo only secured four top eight finishes all season long. The 85 points between them at the end of the season was not a gap, but a chasm. As universally beloved as Ricciardo was in the paddock, few could argue McLaren’s decision to cut him loose two years into his three-year deal wasn’t fully justified.
Cast out from his race seat, Ricciardo sought sanctuary in his original home of Red Bull, which was more than happy to welcome home one of the most charismatic and marketable drivers of his generation, and one capable of much more than he’d shown at McLaren. As much as Ricciardo embraced the opportunity to be free from the everyday pressures and stresses of being a grand prix driver, he was soon itching for a return to the cockpit and was very open about that desire. He would not be left waiting long.
Following the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in early July, rookie Nyck de Vries was unceremoniously jettisoned from his AT04 by executive decision of AlphaTauri’s Red Bull overlords. In his place, they chose not to give young Liam Lawson his first opportunity in Formula 1 but, instead, send their recently reacquired Ricciardo back to the Faenza factory he which has been his home in 2012 and 2013.
As thrilled as fans and paddock dwellers alike were to see the ‘Honey Badger’ back on the grid, Ricciardo had a lot to prove following his poor performances at McLaren. However, over three days of his first grand prix weekend back in a Formula 1 car, he did much to banish the memories of the last two years. Driving an unfamiliar car with an experimental tyre allocation format which limited his ability to gather experience on all three compounds as usual, Ricciardo still got through to Q2, unlike team mate Yuki Tsunoda, securing 13th on the grid. Despite being hit from behind at the start, he brought the car to the finish 15 seconds ahead of Tsunoda to instantly prove Red Bull right for picking him over De Vries.
The sprint weekend at Spa-Francorchamps was more humbling. He was knocked out of Q1 on Friday after losing his best lap for a silly track limits violation at Raidillon, but fared much better on sprint race Saturday to record a top ten finish after making the right call to switch to intermediates on the opening green flag lap. In the grand prix, however, he was clearly the second-best AlphaTauri driver and finished well outside of the points while Tsunoda scored a top ten finish.
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Just as Ricciardo was getting back into the swing of racing once more, disaster struck. After a frustrating four weeks waiting to return to the cockpit at Zandvoort, Ricciardo was rounding Hugenholtzbocht in Friday’s second practice only to find Oscar Piastri’s crashed McLaren sitting in his way. Slamming on the brakes, Ricciardo speared into the same TecPro barrier as Piastri, the steering wheel snapping in his hands as his car made contact. His left hand absorbed much of the energy and one of his metacarpal bones was fractured. Although he was able to climb out of the car unaided, his freshly-broken hand put him out of action for another two months as Lawson was finally given the opportunity to make his grand prix debut in his place.
When he returned at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Texas – practically a second home round for him – AlphaTauri were beginning to find pace. Unfortunately, his comeback in America was not as strong as Hungary and he was hampered by damage from debris in the grand prix to finish well behind Tsunoda, who finished in the points.
But the following weekend in Mexico was a flash of vintage Ricciardo from years gone by. He not only secured a stunning second row start in qualifying, Ricciardo’s race pace was truly formidable and he came across the line in seventh – AlphaTauri’s best result of the season.
The final three rounds were solid if unspectacular for Ricciardo as he failed to add any points to his team’s total in their late bid to try and poach seventh place from Williams. Although he outperformed Tsunoda in Las Vegas, he was unable to beat his younger team mate in Brazil or Abu Dhabi.
Suddenly, the season was over. Having raced in seven grands prix during the second half of the year, Ricciardo admitted he wasn’t ready for the season to end and had so much more energy still to burn. Now, he can spend that energy over the winter on preparing to hit the ground running for 2024 – a year many expect will serve as an audition to return to the Red Bull senior team once more.
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