via Imago

Everybody knows how ruthless Red Bull is with underperforming drivers. Sergio Perez, the ‘second driver’ on the main team, rarely gets a moment of peace. Helmut Marko won’t even give the Mexican a contract lasting more than one year. This is happening to a driver who is second in the Drivers’ Championship. What will happen to Daniel Ricciardo, who has been relegated to being the second driver to Yuki Tsunoda in the junior RB team? The new addition to this drama is Liam Lawson’s surprise contract clause, revealed by F1 Journalist Joe Saward.

When the 2024 F1 season began, Liam Lawson outrightly stated that he would explore contracts with Red Bull’s rivals in 2025 if the Milton Keynes outfit doesn’t give him a permanent seat. Turns out, Christian Horner & Co. can’t even stop him from doing so, as his contract protects him. “The thing about Lawson is that his Red Bull contract stipulates that he must be given a race drive in 2025 or he can walk away to a rival team,” Saward revealed in his blog.

“Some other teams are interested, so Red Bull must decide what to do and logic suggests that they might as well sign him for next year and start training him up straight away, hoping that he will score more than the two current drivers,” Saward added. And why wouldn’t other teams be interested, especially after the New Zealander’s phenomenal cameo in 2023, where he replaced an injured Ricciardo in AlphaTauri for five races?


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Lawson made his F1 debut at the Dutch GP and qualified in 20th. But in a race that saw undulating weather conditions, the 22-year-old held his nerve and crossed the line in a commendable P13. With another good showing at the Italian GP, where he started in P12 and finished in P11, his best outing came at the challenging Marina Bay Circuit in Singapore. Besides being a street circuit, the humidity levels make the Singapore GP all the more difficult. But if there was a race that proved that Lawson deserved an F1 seat, it was that.

Not only did he qualify in P10 (after knocking out reigning champion Max Verstappen in Q2), but he also scored his first points with a P9 finish. To make it all the more special, that was AlphaTauri’s best finish of 2023 until that point. With two more reasonably strong outings, he handed the AT04 back to Ricciardo at the Circuit of the Americas. But with the car, he also gave the Honey Badger something to think about… and put a target on his back.

Although Daniel Ricciardo did get back into the groove by the end of the season, he couldn’t consistently outperform Yuki Tsunoda. That trend continued into 2024, making F1 pundit Richard Bradley even say, “At the moment, I haven’t seen anything that convinces me that Ricciardo deserves to stay in that seat instead of Liam Lawson.” This massively increases the pressure on Ricciardo. And Yuki Tsunoda has out-qualified Ricciardo four out of five times this year. And here are some interesting stats.

via Imago

In the first three races of 2023 (when Tsunoda had Nyck DeVries as his teammate), the Japanese driver was 0.421s faster on average than the Dutchman in qualifying. Over the same three races in 2024 (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Australia), Tsunoda was 0.446s faster than Ricciardo. When you have a car like the VCARB 01 that isn’t very competitive, qualifying is all the more crucial. And Ricciardo just hasn’t been able to find the pace his teammate so effortlessly does (well, barring the Chinese GP, where the Honey Badger seemed more at home).

For context, Red Bull and AlphaTauri showed Nyck DeVries the door after 10 races last season. And with the Australian underperforming this year, his “fairytale ending” is already slipping away. To add to that, Christian Horner is more likely to give the 22-year-old Kiwi a seat alongside Tsunoda than wait more for Ricciardo to improve.


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Christian Horner pressurizes Daniel Ricciardo to end his poor run

Ahead of the Chinese GP, Ricciardo’s VCARB 01 was equipped with a new chassis. It could’ve been a placebo to regain his confidence, but it worked anyway. The 34-year-old Aussie finally out-qualified teammate Tsunoda after four races. Ahead of the weekend, Christian Horner had even warned Ricciardo, which elevated the stakes.

via Reuters

“Well, look, I think it’s really in Daniel’s hands, and he needs to get his season going,” the Red Bull boss told Sky Sports. “He’s had a tough start to the year, but he needs to turn it around, and no better place than here on a Sprint race weekend. So, you know, he knows that. He’s a big boy; he knows the pressures that are involved in F1 and, obviously, within the Red Bull team.”


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Unfortunately, the Aussie couldn’t take home any points in China, not unlike the previous four race weekends. Bad luck prevailed as Lance Stroll crashed into him, ending his race. Per Richard Bradley, Ricciardo might be axed after the Miami GP, making way for Lawson. An eight-time Grand Prix winner is fighting for a seat against a rookie. Times indeed change quickly in F1.

Written by

Yash Kotak


One take at a time

Yash is an F1 writer at EssentiallySports. With a strong passion for communicating through written word and a keen interest in the world of motorsports, he thoroughly enjoys being a fan of F1 and covering it for other fans. Ever since he watched the 'INSIDE TRACKS' episode covering the 2018 German Grand Prix, he has fallen in love with the intriguingly complex world of F1.
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