Daniel Ricciardo has secured a contract extension at AlphaTauri alongside teammate Yuki Tsunoda for 2024.
The new deal guaranteed Ricciardo a 14th season in the sport and cements his F1 comeback after six months on the sidelines following the disintegration of his McLaren career at the end of last year.
It also opens the door for the 34-year-old to resume his seat at Red Bull Racing in 2025 after Sergio Pérez’s contract expires at the end of next season.
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Along with the freshly re-signed Oscar Piastri, the West Australian’s confirmed return will mark the first time two Aussies have appeared on the grid in back-to-back seasons since Ricciardo and Mark Webber in 2011–13.
“Following the progress we have already made and the plans for the future, it’s an exciting time for the team,” Ricciardo said in a statement released by AlphaTauri.
“We are building and it is a great feeling.
“There is a lot of work to do but we are heading in the right direction and there is a lot to look forward to.”
Ricciardo’s retention at the team has long been foreshadowed. The team was sufficiently impressed by his simulator work and a one-off tyre test at Silverstone in July to switch him in for underwhelming rookie Nyck de Vries for the Hungarian Grand Prix shortly before the mid-season break, where he immediately outperformed incumbent Tsunoda.
Though his follow-up race in Belgium was trickier, the eight-time race-winning Australian made an immediate impact that has secured him a longer stay.
“Pretty much straight away you could feel the quality of the feedback, not only the feedback on the handling of the car.” said AlphaTauri chief race engineer Jonathan Eddolls.
“Obviously he‘s got a wealth of experience and he’s driven many different cars and experienced many different ends of the performance spectrum, so having that feedback on our car was extremely valuable for us.
“But also I think the other things that were impressive and reminders of what experience can bring were how he could understand the race, the feedback that he could give live and how he thought the tyres were behaving — was it a one-stop or a two-stop, or if there was a safety car, could he reheat these tyres or would we need to fit a fresh set?
“A lot of the time we‘re making those decisions from the pit wall based on data, but when it’s not clear cut, having someone with that experience can really, really make a difference.”
AlphaTauri has struggled badly to generate momentum under the new regulations. With the team targeting a much closer technical relationship with sister squad Red Bull Racing, a known quantity like Ricciardo would be an invaluable asset in making the most of the minnow’s opportunities.
RICCIARDO’S COMEBACK LIKELY TO BE DELAYED
But the 234-race veteran has been absent from the cockpit since last month, when he broke his hand during practice for the Dutch Grand Prix, just his third race back.
Though he was in the paddock in an engineering capacity at the Singapore Grand Prix, he’s yet to commit to a return date, with a delay until the United States Grand Prix late next month appearing increasingly likely.
“He’s still going through that recovery phase,” said Eddolls. “I’d say we’re still talking a while away, so I wouldn’t want to put a target on it.
“The recovery is going well. We’ve got some simulator work planned before a return, and I think from our side and his side there’s no rush to get him back too early.
“The worst thing would be to come back before it’s properly healed and cause any issues. Watch this space.”
Eddolls said Ricciardo’s simulator session would function as a fitness test, with the grip in his left hand being the limiting factor following surgery for several breaks in his fifth metacarpal.
“It’s a very good representation of the car, all of the loads et cetera,” he said. “I think the final decision is more than likely going to come from him rather than from us. He will know better than anyone how’s the pain, how’s the recovery.
“We’re not putting him under pressure to come back. We’ve got a pool of three good drivers at the moment, and there’s no big rush.
“The focus is on him making a full recovery so that when he comes back it’s not a point that’s even talked about.”
TSUNODA GETS TICK OF APPROVAL
Tsunoda’s renewal for a rare fourth campaign at AlphaTauri is testament to the Japanese driver’s marked upturn in form this season.
The Japanese driver started the year under threat of the sack after two fast but ultimately unconvincing campaigns alongside Pierre Gasly and with Formula E world champion Nyck de Vries joining him in the sister car.
Management expected De Vries to assume the leadership role, but Tsunoda stepped up to the plate beautifully with a long run of consistent and competitive performances that put him at the centre of the Faenza team and ultimately forced his teammate out of the sport.
Tsunoda had scored all three of the team’s points before the Singapore Grand Prix and has been a regular Q2 qualifier despite racing what has been the slowest car on the grid for much of the season.
Ricciardo’s arrival complicated matters, as did Liam Lawson’s strong work substituting for the Australian during his rehabilitation, but Tsunoda’s incumbency has counted for him at a time AlphaTauri is desperate to haul itself off the bottom of the championship table.
Tsunoda’s connections to engine supplier Honda are also likely to have been influential, though the Japanese marque’s impending defection to Aston Martin in 2026 means it was unlikely to be decisive.
LAWSON LEFT IN THE LURCH
AlphaTauri’s decision to retain its driver line-up leaves reserve driver Liam Lawson without an easy route onto the grid for 2024, with only Logan Sargeant’s Williams seat unaccounted for.
Lawson has been linked to the seat, with Sargeant failing to fire in his rookie season and Williams said to be considering its options.
“Red Bull have a number of drivers but just two seats,” Williams team principal James Vowles told Sky Sports. “It will be interesting to see where they go with that decision-making now.”
Christian Horner appeared to leave the door open to a possible loan deal when asked if Williams were an option.
“He‘s in the Red Bull family,” he said. “If there was a seat … we’ve done that in the past when, for example, Carlos Sainz went on loan to the previous Renault team.
“But no, I think if he‘s not sitting in a grand prix car next year, then he’s going to have plenty on his plate with other stuff to do.”