Red Bull’s turbulence: Implications for Ricciardo in F1 drama

Photo of Daniel Ricardo linked to the Red Bulls turbulence.

Much like the cautionary tale of Icarus, Red Bull finds itself responsible for its own decline in 2024, with the once highly successful F1 team experiencing internal turmoil that has led to a significant downturn.

Although this decline hasn’t directly impacted Red Bull’s performance on the track, where it continues to excel, the team has been plagued by off-track issues. The ongoing saga involving Christian Horner, alongside controversies surrounding allegations of misconduct, has resulted in a dramatic narrative centered around Max Verstappen.

This internal strife has had broader repercussions, unsettling Red Bull’s star driver, Verstappen, who is now reportedly contemplating an early departure from his contract, set to run until 2028. The uncertainty surrounding both Horner and Verstappen has dominated discussions within the F1 community, particularly as the sport progresses into its third race of the season in Melbourne.

Having secured three consecutive drivers’ championships and seemingly poised for a fourth, Red Bull now finds itself under intense scrutiny. The team is facing a turbulent conclusion to its era of F1 dominance. Amidst this upheaval, the question looms: does this align with the envisioned conclusion to Daniel Ricciardo‘s Formula One career?

Ricciardo has openly expressed his desire to rejoin Red Bull, the team he departed from in 2018, feeling overshadowed by Mercedes’ dominance at the time. In hindsight, it’s clear that his departure wasn’t the best decision. Ricciardo acknowledges this, but remains optimistic that a final chapter in his career could make up for lost time.

Although Red Bull required some convincing, they were intrigued enough by the idea to offer Ricciardo a reserve driver role following his exit from McLaren. Subsequently, they secured him a full-time drive with Visa Cash App Racing Bulls.

Several factors need to align for Ricciardo to reclaim his ideal seat: he must perform well, surpassing his teammate Yuki Tsunoda, while Sergio Perez’s performance needs to decline. Additionally, Red Bull’s management must maintain interest in Ricciardo’s return and dismiss any potential late contenders.

However, this plan hinges on the current situation at Red Bull, which could change rapidly. Key figures at Red Bull who supported Ricciardo’s return are uncertain about their own futures, let alone Ricciardo’s. Primarily among them is Horner, who remains in a state of uncertainty as the team principal, awaiting the outcome of an appeal filed by his accuser.

Although an independent investigation cleared Horner, the findings were kept confidential until a series of alleged text messages purportedly from Horner were leaked to the media. Despite the controversy, Red Bull has remained loyal to Horner, while the accuser has been suspended from duty with full pay.

The upcoming developments are cloaked in uncertainty as the prolonged waiting game extends the controversy well into the season. Ricciardo asserts his unwavering focus on his responsibilities at VCARB and affirms that he is not allowing himself to be distracted.

During the driver’s press conference on Thursday, Ricciardo declined to speculate when asked about the potential impact of key personnel leaving Red Bull on his own plans. Reflecting on his past experiences, he remarked, “I believe when the sport was nearly taken away from me… a year ago, there was no assurance I would return here. That sort of long-term thinking isn’t where I am presently.”

He stressed his current concentration on the immediate task at hand and expressed his determination to excel before contemplating future options, saying, “I aim to perform exceptionally well and then let fate guide me.” However, even the most steadfast driver would likely find it challenging to disregard the upheaval nearby.

While expressing sympathy for Horner, with whom he shares a strong bond, Ricciardo may also contemplate the potential ramifications for his own future. A potential reunion with Red Bull could require support from Horner, who played a crucial role in bringing Ricciardo back to Milton Keynes on a reserve driver contract.

Despite initial criticisms of Ricciardo’s departure in 2018, the relationship between Horner and Ricciardo has remained positive, proving advantageous for the Australian when he needed a career lifeline. Continued support from Horner would be a considerable asset for Ricciardo as he pursues his desired “full circle” moment at Red Bull.

Another influential figure within the team is the head of motorsport, Helmut Marko. Marko’s position on Ricciardo is currently unclear. Ricciardo climbed through Red Bull’s junior ranks under Marko’s guidance to replace Sebastian Vettel, only to later become unsettled by the team’s – and Marko’s – shift towards Verstappen.

The dynamic within Red Bull swiftly changed with the rise of the Dutch prodigy, whose exceptional talent as a teenager resonated with a globally recognized brand always eager to push boundaries. Marko remains a staunch supporter of Verstappen, recently comparing driving alongside him at Red Bull to sitting in an “ejector seat.”

“None of his teammates can match Max, and it can become disheartening quickly,” Marko commented. He also urged Ricciardo to “come up with something soon” after a slow start to the 2024 season. However, it’s conceivable that Marko would consider Ricciardo’s return if he could replicate the form that initially impressed him at Red Bull.

This is why speculation surrounding Marko’s departure could also present a challenge to Ricciardo’s plans. Marko, another long-serving figure at Red Bull, has been linked with an exit this year due to the turmoil surrounding Horner. Reports suggest that Red Bull was investigating Marko for media leaks since the inquiry into Horner’s conduct began. Marko revealed he was at risk of suspension, adding to the upheaval within Red Bull.

Following Marko’s disclosure, there were further reports indicating that Verstappen could terminate his Red Bull contract if Marko were to leave. Verstappen has emphasized his desire to retain “the key figures” at Red Bull for the duration of his contract. “I am content within the team, and it’s essential that we retain the key figures within the team for an extended period,” he told reporters on Thursday.

While Verstappen confirmed his commitment to fulfilling his Red Bull deal, he didn’t rule out the possibility of switching to Mercedes. When asked about joining the Silver Arrows, Verstappen quipped, “Well, which year?” “I’m unsure about the future. Beyond 2028, my plans in F1 are uncertain, whether I’ll continue or pursue a new contract remains undetermined.”

This response contributes to the employer’s unease. The atmosphere within Red Bull has somewhat calmed since Jos Verstappen, Max Verstappen’s father, made provocative comments in the Daily Mail, suggesting that Christian Horner should step down.

“Tension persists as long as he remains in his position,” Verstappen conveyed to the publication. “The team is at risk of falling apart. The current situation is unsustainable, on the verge of eruption. He portrays himself as a victim when he’s the one causing the issues.” More recently, Jos Verstappen called for “calm” but acknowledged a “power struggle” at Red Bull.

“We’ll see, I can’t reveal too much. I hope peace returns soon, and they focus back on racing because that’s what matters. But this is concerning,” he stated to Sporza. Regardless, it’s apparent that the Verstappens and Helmut Marko wield significant influence within the Red Bull organization.

While winning races can alleviate many concerns, Ricciardo must weigh the implications and assess whether it’s a suitable environment to conclude his F1 career. For now, Red Bull’s handling of the situation remains a contentious topic.

It also offers opportunities for competitors. Verstappen might not have entertained Toto Wolff’s call from Mercedes last year, but recent speculation suggests otherwise. Additionally, there are rumors of Ferrari poaching key Red Bull personnel, potentially including the highly regarded aerodynamicist Adrian Newey.

Despite sustained success, Red Bull faces scrutiny. Barring any major setbacks, the team is expected to triumph again this weekend at Albert Park. However, as the murmurs persist, it’s evident that the belief that “winning solves everything” is being challenged.


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