Is Daniel Ricciardo truly in danger of losing his seat?

We are three races into the Formula 1 season.

While much remains the same from 2024 — Red Bull is leading the Constructors’ Championship and Max Verstappen is atop the Drivers’ standings — recent events have shaken the field up a bit. Mercedes is floundering, McLaren is strong, and Ferrari has certainly closed the gap to Red Bull.

Then there is a fascinating fight shaping up in the midfield, one that has Visa Cash App RB F1 Team in front at the moment thanks to a strong drive from Yuki Tsunoda in the Australian Grand Prix.

With so much on the line, and a short break until the Japanese Grand Prix, this is a good time to take stock of where each team stands at the moment. But rather than a simple review, we’ll look at the biggest question facing each team right now.

Earlier this week we took a look at Alpine, asking how quickly progress will come for a team desperately needing a step forward. We also asked whether Sauber can fix a pit stop issue that has plagued them in each of the season’s first three races.

Already today we asked whether Williams would be facing a hangover after everything they went through in Australia, and whether Haas had truly eliminated their biggest gremlin from last season.

Now we turn to the sixth-place on the grid, Visa Cash App RB F1 Team. But as things tend to be in the Red Bull family, the focus is mainly off the track.

VCARB: Is Daniel Ricciardo truly in trouble?

Death, taxes, and Dr. Helmut Marko issuing ultimatums.

Last year it was rookie driver Nyck de Vries — in the seat currently occupied by Ricciardo — who caught Marko’s eye. As de Vries struggled out of the gate, Marko continually turned up the heat on the driver, at one point issuing what he called the “yellow card” in stating that de Vries needed to improve his form, or else.

“Nothing will happen in the next three races,” Marko confirmed to last season. “We have spoken to de Vries and he is of the same opinion as we are: He has to improve. The gap to team-mate Yuki Tsunoda, who is doing a great job, is too big.

“To use footballer’s language: Nick got the yellow card, but not the red one yet. If he improves, a change of driver will not be an issue.”

The red card eventually came and the rookie driver was sacked mid-season, in place of Ricciardo. In his return to the grid Ricciardo finished 13th at the Hungarian Grand Prix, and then 16th at the Belgian Grand Prix. Then in practice ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix Ricciardo turned into the wall to avoid Oscar Piastri ahead of him in practice, and suffered a broken bone in his hand that required surgery.

That surgery sidelined him for the next five races and opened the door for Liam Lawson to get his first taste of F1 action. Lawson performed very well in relief, scoring his first F1 points with a ninth-place finish in the Singapore Grand Prix,

But Ricciardo returned to action for the United States Grand Prix, and scored an impressive seventh-place finish in the Mexico City Grand Prix the very next week. The team confirmed that he, along with Yuki Tsunoda, would be the two drivers for the newly-minted VCARB outfit for the 2024 season, with Lawson a reserve driver.

However, the results have not followed for Ricciardo yet this season. While Tsunoda has out-qualified him in each of the three races, and scored the team’s first points with a seventh-place finish in Australia, Ricciardo has yet to even see Q3 this season, his best starting spot on the grid dual P14 starts the first two weeks.

Entering Australia, the seat seemed to be hot under Ricciardo. Following the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Marko addressed the Australian’s slow start. “Ricciardo has to show something quickly. There is work to be done,” said Marko to Motorsport following the race in Jeddah.

Ahead of his home race, Ricciardo addressed the “stories” regarding his form and his future, noting he was focused on results more than anything else.

“But the more you get caught up in that stuff, then that starts taking focus away from my job and that’s driving as fast as possible. I know we do a lot of other things during the course of a race weekend but that’s why we’re here ultimately, to push the car to the limit and try to make it as good as it can be,” stated Ricciardo during the FIA Press Conference in response to a question from David Croft of Sky Sports F1.

“So this weekend it’s something I look forward to obviously being here racing at home, but yeah, as you said, after the first two races it hasn’t been amazing. but it’s not a concern I think it’s two races out of 24 and there’s a lot of new people in the team,” added Ricciardo. “So it’s very early, but I do definitely want to have a strong weekend and yeah, do well.”

That strong weekend did not come. Ricciardo struggled in qualifying — failing to get out of Q1 for the first time this year — and while he picked up a number of spots in the race (two retirements and a late-stage accident from George Russell certainly helped) he finished outside the points.

And four places behind Tsunoda.

Following the Australian Grand Prix, it seemed the situation at VCARB had reached a boiling point. A report from the NZ Herald on Monday indicated that Marko had issued an “ultimatum” to Ricciardo, that either the driver improve his form by the Miami Grand Prix, or he would see Lawson take his spot.

While subsequent reporting indicated that such discussions were “premature,” and Lawson’s own representatives denied any knowledge of such a switch, Marko did go on record following the Australian Grand Prix.

Speaking with Sky Sports Germany, Marko declared that Tsunoda enjoyed a “perfect” weekend in Melbourne. “Yuki ran perfectly from the first lap on Friday and set very consistent and good times in today’s race. When [Haas driver Nico] Hülkenberg attacked, he immediately countered,” said Marko. “I think we have confirmed that Yuuki is an absolutely mature driver.”

He then turned his thoughts to Ricciardo.

“He’s struggling, we’ll have to see. There were some good signs in the Bahrain test, but the last few races haven’t been going too well,” added Marko. “I think Ricciardo needs a safe and confident car. I hope the team can give him that so he can at least be on par with Yuki.”

If this sounds to you like the situation with de Vries from last season, you are not alone.

A few things can be true. Marko may have put the heat on Ricciardo, the team may be contemplating a switch to Lawson at some point, and Lawson and/or his management team has not been made privy to such discussions. All of those are possible.

But what is clear is that to this point, Ricciardo has lagged behind his teammate. As an organization Red Bull is notorious for a lack of patience with drivers, de Vries being the most recent example. The team also has a number of drivers waiting in the wings, not just Lawson. It is worth noting that at the Japanese Grand Prix next weekend Ricciardo will be sidelined for the first practice session, replaced by Ayumu Iwasa. Iwasa is another of Red Bull’s rising stars, who finished fourth in F2 a season ago. Iwasa has moved to Super Formula for this season, and finished in the points in his debut last month.

This means that VCARB will have a pair of Japanese drivers participating in the first practice session at Suzuka.

Whether an ultimatum has been issued is truly beside the point.

The point is that Ricciardo has to improve, and given the team’s history, he might need to improve quickly.

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