There is much anticipation over Sergio Perez's position in Red Bull, as he enters a pivotal season following the dominance of his team-mate Max Verstappen on the way to his third title.
It is known that Perez already had a contract extension in his pocket, having signed a two-year extension in 2022. Beyond 2024 he is effectively a free agent, with his performance on track being a key factor in his future at the team.
Alex Albon, Daniel Ricciardo and Liam Lawson have been touted as potential replacements, with Ricciardo in pole position to replace Perez. Why? Because he is driving at the sister team Visa Cash App RB and could fill the Red Bull seat at any time.
Red Bull is also keen to show they have priority over the Australian, after Helmut Marko said recently that Ricciardo is not available to replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes because he has a long-term contract.
But is it advantageous for Red Bull to consider Ricciardo? Since leaving the team that helped him into F1, his career has been hit-and-miss. We take a look at the situation.
Joining the family
Ricciardo has been part of the Red Bull family for a long time, rising through the junior formula ranks adorning their distinct livery before being given a shot to join HRT in 2011.
It's the classic move for any prospective talent not wanting to draw attention; join an underperforming back marker team and then impress by finishing higher up than expected. He joined Toro Rosso in 2012, before making the big switch to Red Bull in 2014 after Mark Webber retired.
Known for his daredevil overtaking, Ricciardo won seven races at Red Bull. But any chances of a title were squandered when Renault's V6 hybrid failed to match the superior Mercedes. There was also another important factor: the rise of Verstappen.
The Dutchman became his team-mate in 2016 and was instantly a headache for the Australian. Red Bull was investing long-term in the Dutchman having fast-tracked his rise to F1, and tensions only grew between the pair as they both competed for the rank of top driver within the team.
Ricciardo conceded at the end of 2018, and left to join Renault, just when Red Bull elected to switch to Honda power.
Ricciardo would spend two seasons with the French factory team, managing the occasional podium but largely amidst the midfield teams as Renault couldn't get anywhere near the big three. McLaren looked like a lucrative alternative for Ricciardo in 2021, but it would ultimately prove to be another difficult pairing.
A return to winning form at the Italian Grand Prix that year led to Ricciardo exclaiming: "For anyone who thought I left, I never left. Just moved aside for a while" over team radio, but this proved to be the exception to Ricciardo's time at McLaren.
Unable to gel with the car, he cut a broken figure towards the end of 2022, when the team agreed to part ways and he stepped back for a planned year off.
But after replacing Nyck de Vries at AlphaTauri in mid-2023, Ricciardo immediately found himself courting Red Bull once again.
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The real comeback kid
A hand fracture at Zandvoort threw a spanner in the works, forcing Ricciardo to watch five races from the sidelines owing to a lengthy recovery.
Shades of his former self came to light in Mexico, when he qualified fourth and finished seventh. It was convenient that Ricciardo managed to improve in the heavily updated AT04, but is it enough to show that he is worthy of a top seat again?
The Australian is still potentially a driver who can challenge for wins, but he has often lacked consistency.
This is precisely what Red Bull is looking for to back up Verstappen: consistency. Pierre Gasly and Albon were unable to consistently be the perfect second driver, with Perez only just achieving the historic one-two in the Drivers' Championship this year.
That being said, there are a number of other reasons why he might be suited to rejoining his former stable. He knows Verstappen well and understands their way of working better than an outsider would. He also has the backing of Marko and Team Principal Christian Horner.
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Is Ricciardo still a top driver?
Furthermore, there are also signs that Ricciardo is blossoming again in the Red Bull family. The smiles are back and Ricciardo has indicated in interviews that he really feels at home again. If Visa Cash App RB has built a rocket that suits the Australian, then expect the talk to quickly turn to his Red Bull ambitions.
But is Ricciardo considered a top driver? In among Norris, Russell, Oscar Piastri, Charles Leclerc, and Carlos Sainz, those have arguably shown more qualities in their time finishing on the podium last year.
Does Red Bull have many other options if they want to replace Perez that suit their criteria? No.
Sainz does not seem to be an option because of his past at Red Bull and for Lawson, it is probably too early.
It could be that Red Bull chooses Ricciardo again in 2025. It will be up to whether he can deliver on track and if Perez struggles up against Verstappen again.