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Daniel Ricciardo

Why replacing Ricciardo for Suzuka FP1 makes little sense

Daniel Ricciardo will be replaced for first practice next week at the Japanese Grand Prix by Red Bull junior driver Ayumu Iwasa.

Ricciardo Australia
To news overview © XPBimages

Intriguing news that surfaced in the days following the Australian Grand Prix was that Daniel Ricciardo will be replaced in the first practice session of the Japanese Grand Prix by Red Bull junior Ayumu Iwasa.

Rookie drivers being used for FP1 is not something spontaneous for F1, as all teams are required to host two rookie practice outings during the season as per the regulations.

However, the eyebrow-raising part of the situation is that Suzuka is not a circuit where rookies are typically introduced, given how key confidence behind the wheel is at the iconic venue.

Although the outing will allow Iwasa to have an outing in front of local support, track time is currently the most important element for Ricciardo.

The eight-time race winner has made a woeful start to 2024 and is yet to score a point, whilst team-mate Yuki Tsunoda has scored six following a strong Australian Grand Prix last time out.

Tsunoda has been stronger than Ricciardo in the grand scheme of operations this year, despite the fact the 23-year-old finished behind the Australian at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Why Suzuka?

Why would RB allow Ricciardo to miss first practice in Japan? That is the million-pound question. The timing of it is truly bizarre and was discussed by lead editor Ian Parkes and this author in a recent F1 Update.

If Ricciardo was aware ahead of the season that he would miss the first practice at Suzuka then any confusion can be dropped, as it would end speculation that it could possibly be down to the driver's form.

Iwasa's position within the Red Bull organisation has naturally allowed him to take the outing on home soil, but the timing could not be worse for Ricciardo.

As of now, Ricciardo presents himself as a similar figure to the one who was done with racing at McLaren in 2022, rather than the confident, upbeat figure that ended 2023 in a strong position with AlphaTauri.

A major story heading into the 2024 campaign was whether Ricciardo would deliver the necessary results to complete a fairy-tale return to Red Bull alongside Max Verstappen.

Now, however, the story has shifted to whether his F1 career is on the cusp of an imminent end.

Ricciardo appeared strong in the VCARB-01 during pre-season testing and in parts during the Bahrain Grand Prix, but has looked uncomfortable ever since.

He simply is not delivering what was expected of him, to the extent that his qualifying deficit to Tsunoda across the opening three rounds is greater than Nyck de Vries' was last year.

In de Vries' case, he was dropped by Red Bull's sister team after just 10 races, and replaced by Ricciardo. The big difference is that de Vries was a rookie, whereas Ricciardo is a veteran of the sport.

Does that mean Red Bull will impose stricter guidelines on him?

Suzuka unpredictability

One of the reasons why making the most of all available track time at Suzuka is so important is due to the unpredictable weather, which is currently forecast to be wet all weekend.

It currently appears that it would come as no shock if only first practice and the race were dry, a scenario which could kill Ricciardo's chances of a decent result in Japan.

Drivers must commit at Suzuka to find crucial extra tenths of a second, but it is a confidence-focused track that punishes those not prepared to go to the limit. The margin is so tight at the high-speed venue that overstepping that limit, even just a little bit, can mean curtains.

On a weekend that could be crucial in Ricciardo's F1 career, the driver has not been helped by his team, who could well already be preparing for life without the Australian.

Already under scrutiny, the pressure is on Ricciardo to deliver in Japan. But before the weekend has even commenced, the 34-year-old is facing a mammoth task to deliver a strong result.

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