Daniel Ricciardo is coming home.
Red Bull Racing took the lid off the worst-kept secret in Formula One, announcing that Ricciardo would be returning to Red Bull for the 2023 F1 season as their third driver, behind Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez.
Ricciardo began his F1 career for Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s sister team, back in 2012. After two seasons with Toro Rosso, Ricciardo moved to Red Bull for the 2014 season, and recorded his first F1 Grand Prix victory at the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix. Later that season he would notch back-to-back victories, first at the Hungarian Grand Prix, and then in the Belgian Grand Prix.
Ricciardo finished third in the Driver’s Championship at the end of the 2016 season, behind both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes. That year, Ricciardo only notched a single victory, at the Malaysian Grand Prix, but his seven podium finishes saw him come in third behind the Mercedes duo when the season ended.
During the 2018 campaign with Red Bull, Ricciardo scored a pair of victories early in the season, winning the Chinese Grand Prix in April, and then the Monaco Grand Prix a few weeks later at the end of May. But a host of DNFs down the second half of the season saw Ricciardo land in sixth position in the Driver’s Championship, his lowest finish since placing eighth in 2015.
It was also his first finish behind Verstappen, since the younger driver joined the team in 2016.
That 2018 campaign would be Ricciardo’s last with Red Bull, as he made the decision to leave the team for Renault for the 2019 season. In two seasons with Renault, Ricciardo never won a race, managing just a pair of third-place finishes during the 2019 campaign.
Ricciardo made another move for the 2020 season, sliding over to McLaren. But the wins and podiums did not return. Ricciardo scored just a single podium finish over the past two seasons, a victory at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix.
In August, it was announced that Ricciardo and McLaren would “mutually part ways” just 18 months into a three-year deal. McLaren secured the services of another Australian, rookie Oscar Piastri, to race alongside Lando Norris for the 2023 campaign. Piastri came through the driver’s academy at Alpine and served as their reserve driver, but McLaren was able to beat out Alpine for Piastri’s services.
That left Ricciardo on the outside looking in for the 2023 grid. He was linked with AlphaTauri for 2023, and there were seats available at Haas and Williams. But AlphaTauri ended up going in a different direction, signing Pierre Gasly and Nyck de Vries, and Ricciardo decided not to pursue options with the other two teams.
Now he is coming home, as the reserve driver behind his former teammate in Verstappen, and a former rival in Pérez. This move was the worst-kept secret around the paddock, as Ricciardo hinted at the switch during the season’s final race, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But the team and the driver made it official on Wednesday.
Red Bull Team Principal and CEO Christian Horner had this to say about his return: “It is great to bring Daniel back in to the Red Bull family. He has enormous talent and such a brilliant character; I know the whole factory is excited to be welcoming him home. In his role as test and third driver, Daniel will give us the chance to diversify, assisting in the development of the car, aiding the team with his experience and knowledge of what it takes to succeed in F1.”
For Ricciardo, his face said it all:
The smile says it all, I’m truly excited to be coming back home to Oracle Red Bull Racing as their Third Driver in 2023. I already have so many fond memories of my time here, but the welcome from Christian, Dr Marko and the entire team is something I’m sincerely appreciative of. For me personally, the ability to contribute to and be surrounded by the best team in F1 is hugely appealing, whilst also giving me some time to recharge and refocus. I can’t wait to be with the team and support with simulator work, testing sessions and commercial activities. Let’s go!
The team also released a video of Ricciardo announcing the move:
The “commercial activities” portion of Ricciardo’s statement might be a critical part of the move. Ricciardo remains one of the most popular F1 drivers, due in perhaps equal parts his success on the track during his previous Red Bull stint, and the Netflix documentary “Drive to Survive.” The first season of the Netflix show featured Ricciardo prominently, as he pondered his role with Red Bull, the rise of Verstappen, and a potential switch to a different team.
In a recent ranking of the most marketable athletes in the world, eight F1 drivers ranked in the top-100: Hamilton and George Russell of Mercedes, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz of Ferrari, Fernando Alonso with Aston Martin, Verstappen and Perez with Red Bull, and Ricciardo.
All seven have seats on the grid for the 2023 season. Ricciardo is the only reserve driver among them.
Back in May, Ricciardo was featured in a story from GQ, calling him “America’s First Formula 1 Superstar.” That story described his popularity, particularly in American, this way: “Ricciardo’s appeal to the producers of Drive to Survive and, in turn, their audience of newly-minted F1 fanatics is pretty straightforward: he’s a hard-charging, fun-loving Australian dude in a sport filled with awkward 20-year-olds, jaded veterans, and rich weirdos.”
The story also dives into Ricciardo’s popularity due to Drive to Survive:
When Drive to Survive was first filming, the two top teams on the grid, Mercedes and Ferrari, refused to participate in the series, meaning millions of new fans were introduced to the sport through the guy who drinks champagne out of his shoes rather than through, say, defending world champion Lewis Hamilton. “With the first season, I was happy to give a bit of time, and I was excited about the project,” says Ricciardo. It paid off: Netflix has rewarded Ricciardo with dedicated episodes and storylines in all four seasons of the show, while other drivers complain about lack of screen time on the sport’s most valuable promotional tool. (They also complain, Ricciardo hints, about a lack of compensation.) There was no strategy on his part, Ricciardo says: “I was just being me, and letting them in a bit. I think that encouraged [Netflix] to run with it.”
This popularity in America might also be a reason for the addition. With F1 set to hold three races in the United States next season — the most ever during an F1 season — the sport continues to grow in the States. Tapping into Ricciardo’s popularity seems a shrewd move for both Red Bull, and the driver himself.
And who knows what the future holds? Other drivers have found their way back to the grid after some time away, including most recently Nico Hülkenberg, who will return to a full-time rule next season with Haas after serving as a reserve driver the past few years. Something tells me it will not be long until Ricciardo has a full-time seat of his own again.
Until then, expect to see a lot of him around the F1 world.