Daniel Ricciardo is back in F1, after only ten races away.
The Aussie lost his seat with McLaren after a dire 2022 saw him fall even further behind teammate Lando Norris, and looked set to be sidelined for at least a year as he contemplated a future return to the sport.
After just ten races of the 2023 season, however, he is back. Ricciardo took up a test driver role with his old team of Red Bull for 2023, and has completed a loan move to their sister team AlphaTauri for the remainder of the season. He will be on the grid for next weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix, replacing Nyck de Vries with immediate effect.
Red Bull have previous form for pulling off unexpected driver swaps, having binned Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly from their senior team mid-season in past seasons.
It does not make the ruthless axeing of de Vries any less tough, however. F1 legend and ex-Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel spoke on the matter this week and said that, though he was delighted to see his old friend Ricciardo back in F1, he was not keen on the "brutal" nature of de Vries' sacking.
Daniel Ricciardo: Ex-teammate questions one element of AlphaTauri return
Daniel Ricciardo's return to F1 will undoubtedly have many fans excited, but the removal of Nyck de Vries from AlphaTauri to make space for the Australian driver has rankled many in the racing community.
De Vries signed for AlphaTauri after an impressive sub performance for Williams at last year's Italian Grand Prix. The Dutch driver - who won the 2019 F2 championship, and the 2020-21 Formula E world championship - partnered Yuki Tsunoda, but struggled in the first ten races of 2023. He remains one of only two drivers to have zero points thus far.
— Scuderia AlphaTauri (@AlphaTauriF1) July 11, 2023
Given Red Bull's history for making ruthless decisions, it is perhaps not a surprise to see 28-year-old de Vries cut mid-season - but the heartless nature of it has not gone down well with many, including four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. De Vries was not even mentioned in social media posts announcing Ricciardo's return to the grid from the AlphaTauri team.
Vettel, who retired at the end of the 2022 season, drove for AlphaTauri in its previous guise as Toro Rosso, and won his four championships with Red Bull. Despite his links to the team, he criticised the decision to axe de Vries in such a "brutal" manner, and said that de Vries was a far better driver than his 2023 F1 performances had shown.
Speaking to ITV at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, Vettel said:
I've to be honest, it's obviously a shame for Nyck, the way it came to an end.
I think he got given a great chance, maybe things didn't happen for him the way he expected or people expected - but it's also a bit harsh when it comes to a very sudden stop. It's brutal.
Maybe those five, 10 races, wheatever...didn't go according to how good they could have been. We don't know why, first of all from the outside and sceond he is still a very good driver.
I have to also sympathise with the fact that...you know, it's very harsh on him, and I hope that people don't see that.
He won the F2 championship, he won international championships, so he's well recognised and I hope that this doesn't put a dent in his confidence. That's why people shouldn't look [only at his time in F1], because people tend to do that and that's not right.
It's hard to imagine Nyck de Vries making a quick return to F1 after his underwhelming performances for AlphaTauri, but it cannot be denied that his departure from the sport could have been handled far more graciously by the team.
Daniel Ricciardo will make his first appearance of 2023 at the Hungarian Grand Prix next weekend.