Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri, Interlagos, 2023

2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #17: Daniel Ricciardo

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As Daniel Ricciardo competed in only seven grands prix through the 2023 season, his ranking takes his reduced participation into account

In a Formula 1 career that had left him among the most successful drivers of the modern era not to have won a world championship title, Daniel Ricciardo had never endured a season like 2022.

If his first campaign with McLaren in 2021 was a disappointment, then year two was no short of a disaster. As Lando Norris was fighting off faster cars and almost always finishing inside the top eight, Ricciardo only secured four top eight finishes all season long. The 85 points between them at the end of the season was not a gap, but a chasm. As universally beloved as Ricciardo was in the paddock, few could argue McLaren’s decision to cut him loose two years into his three-year deal wasn’t fully justified.

Cast out from his race seat, Ricciardo sought sanctuary in his original home of Red Bull, which was more than happy to welcome home one of the most charismatic and marketable drivers of his generation, and one capable of much more than he’d shown at McLaren. As much as Ricciardo embraced the opportunity to be free from the everyday pressures and stresses of being a grand prix driver, he was soon itching for a return to the cockpit and was very open about that desire. He would not be left waiting long.

Following the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in early July, rookie Nyck de Vries was unceremoniously jettisoned from his AT04 by executive decision of AlphaTauri’s Red Bull overlords. In his place, they chose not to give young Liam Lawson his first opportunity in Formula 1 but, instead, send their recently reacquired Ricciardo back to the Faenza factory he which has been his home in 2012 and 2013.

Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri, Zandvoort, 2023
Zandvoort crash derailed Ricciardo’s return
As thrilled as fans and paddock dwellers alike were to see the ‘Honey Badger’ back on the grid, Ricciardo had a lot to prove following his poor performances at McLaren. However, over three days of his first grand prix weekend back in a Formula 1 car, he did much to banish the memories of the last two years. Driving an unfamiliar car with an experimental tyre allocation format which limited his ability to gather experience on all three compounds as usual, Ricciardo still got through to Q2, unlike team mate Yuki Tsunoda, securing 13th on the grid. Despite being hit from behind at the start, he brought the car to the finish 15 seconds ahead of Tsunoda to instantly prove Red Bull right for picking him over De Vries.

The sprint weekend at Spa-Francorchamps was more humbling. He was knocked out of Q1 on Friday after losing his best lap for a silly track limits violation at Raidillon, but fared much better on sprint race Saturday to record a top ten finish after making the right call to switch to intermediates on the opening green flag lap. In the grand prix, however, he was clearly the second-best AlphaTauri driver and finished well outside of the points while Tsunoda scored a top ten finish.

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Daniel Ricciardo

Best Worst
GP start 4 19
GP finish 7 16
Points 6

Just as Ricciardo was getting back into the swing of racing once more, disaster struck. After a frustrating four weeks waiting to return to the cockpit at Zandvoort, Ricciardo was rounding Hugenholtzbocht in Friday’s second practice only to find Oscar Piastri’s crashed McLaren sitting in his way. Slamming on the brakes, Ricciardo speared into the same TecPro barrier as Piastri, the steering wheel snapping in his hands as his car made contact. His left hand absorbed much of the energy and one of his metacarpal bones was fractured. Although he was able to climb out of the car unaided, his freshly-broken hand put him out of action for another two months as Lawson was finally given the opportunity to make his grand prix debut in his place.

When he returned at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Texas – practically a second home round for him – AlphaTauri were beginning to find pace. Unfortunately, his comeback in America was not as strong as Hungary and he was hampered by damage from debris in the grand prix to finish well behind Tsunoda, who finished in the points.

Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2023
Ricciardo was back to his best in the Mexican Grand Prix
But the following weekend in Mexico was a flash of vintage Ricciardo from years gone by. He not only secured a stunning second row start in qualifying, Ricciardo’s race pace was truly formidable and he came across the line in seventh – AlphaTauri’s best result of the season.

The final three rounds were solid if unspectacular for Ricciardo as he failed to add any points to his team’s total in their late bid to try and poach seventh place from Williams. Although he outperformed Tsunoda in Las Vegas, he was unable to beat his younger team mate in Abu Dhabi, while his Brazilian Grand Prix was ruined through no fault of his own when he was caught out by a quirk in the red flag rules after his car was damaged at turn one, leaving him a lap down for the rest of the race through no fault of his own.

Suddenly, the season was over. Having raced in seven grands prix during the second half of the year, Ricciardo admitted he wasn’t ready for the season to end and had so much more energy still to burn. Now, he can spend that energy over the winter on preparing to hit the ground running for 2024 – a year many expect will serve as an audition to return to the Red Bull senior team once more.

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Will Wood
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14 comments on “2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #17: Daniel Ricciardo”

  1. Interesting.
    I rated and ranked him higher; certainly above Zhou, Bottas (whole year) Tsunoda*, probably Hulkenberg, and fighting for a spot with Gasly, Ocon, and Sainz.
    Notwithstanding a possible higher ranking this season, it is still lower than what I expected and hoped for.

    *Tsunoda is of course the most interesting comparison. There was little between the two of them when racing against each other. But Tsunoda scored lower in the races against the other team mates.

  2. It’s telling that Liam Lawson will be ranked above him.

    I know Ricciardo has his fans, and he’s incredibly likeable – but he has shown himself time and time again to be unable to adapt to difficult circumstances. Very good when everything comes together, very, very ordinary when it doesn’t.

    1. He’s not the first driver to find a change in regulations too much to adapt to, and he won’t be the last.

      Somewhat ironic that he made his name by beating Vettel after a regulation change, and his career was ended by another (lets be honest, his stint at McLaren was the end, Alpha Tauri is a footnote).

      1. Ricciardo was resoundingly outpaced by Norris in both 2021 and 2022, which makes it all the more emphatic as it happened in two very different cars.

  3. Daniel deserves this placement. It might even be slightly generous to rank him this high.

  4. This confirms the race by race rankings aren’t reliable to predict the end of season ratings this year, or at least when it comes to the drivers who had only few races. Maybe this is slightly too harsh on ricciardo, but not overly so.

    1. Agreed. IIRC, Russell has scored higher than Hamilton in those race by race averages. That is a sign that Hamilton has consistently been scored too harshly and those race by race ratings are not reliable enough.

      1. The band for good races is too small in a 1-10 scale that reserves the 9s and 10s for historic performances, and considers everything 5 and below as a weekend with a notably bad performance. So a driver with one bad weekend, which tends to get a 4, will take ages to claw back the average because normal races are inevitably ranked 6 or – rarely – a 7.

        An A+/A/A-/B+ etc. system offers much more variety, as a truly F-worthy performance is quite rare in F1, and the 1-10 scale reserves half of its options for a nuanced look at fail/bad weekends, which is unnecessary.

  5. Erik Seedhouse
    13th December 2023, 20:44

    Ricciardo will always go down in history as an athlete who made the worst career decision ever – not only that, but he walked away from a fight in Red Bull. No athlete does that. He’s washed up and outperformed by his team-mate. Highly likely he’ll be ditched by the summer.

  6. The 17th worst driver on the grid was able to qualify 4th in the Alpha Tauri….

    Big hmmm on that one.

    1. Get over it. The driver ranked #20 won two races.

      1. In the best car… Clear distinction…

        Get over as in? Thought my comment was quite reasonable pointing it out.

  7. Coventry Climax
    14th December 2023, 1:22

    Where the tone of Ricciardo’s driver’s season review still sounds quite positive and promising, the ranking he gets does not underline that. And I think that’s correct and justifiable. His performances have not really convinced me that he’s ‘back’ at all, failing to downright annihilate Tsunoda who most regard as a so-so driver. Then where the article talks of misfortune in Zandvoort, I think it was just rather clumsy to begin with.
    Is Tsunoda then a better driver than we all give him credit for? He’s quick sometimes, but that’s also the problem; it’s sometimes. Being consistently inconsistent, that shows me he has trouble setting up his car right, which shouldn’t happen a few years in and aspiring to move up.
    But Ricciardo wasn’t consistent either, which seems a continuation of how he performed at McLaren.
    Maybe the Alpha Tauri is a difficult car, but even then I’m still rather underwhelmed.
    While Lawson wasn’t truly outstanding in F2, he did quite well in his few F1 weekends. Maybe the car suits his style, and the number of races he did may not give the full picture, but he showed more consistency and seemingly did a beter job getting out of the car what was in it. I’m also impressed by how he handled the rookie pressure and kept a level head. I commented at the time about that already, and also that, like any rookie, he would make mistakes at some point. He did, but none too grave, and I still think he did an overall better job than both Tsunoda and Ricciardo.
    This was #17, so maybe Lawson is next? But then Bottas’ season wasn’t all that impressive either. We’ll see. For Ricciardo, this seems about right.

    1. Probably the least significant rating of the bunch. I can’t remember the last time a driver had such a discontiguous season and for my judgement there were too few races to judge his current potential other than it’s clearly still lower than peak.

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