Why pressure on Ricciardo is high – F1 Q&A before Chinese GP

Formula 1
Graphic showing the F1 drivers for this season

Formula 1 returns to the Shanghai International Circuit for the first time since 2019.

It’s the fifth race of the season and the first sprint race weekend of the year.

The BBC’s F1 correspondent Andrew Benson answers your questions before the Chinese Grand Prix.

Which cars will be best suited for China?

The Red Bull – it’s the best car. Full stop. Having said that, China should give Ferrari another reasonable chance of being close to Red Bull, as they were in Australia.

Shanghai is what is known as a front-limited circuit – ie the grip at the front of the car is the key definer of lap time – because the long corners put a lot of stress on the front tyres.

As a result, it is also expected to generate graining on the front tyres, where the surface tears, reducing grip.

Ferrari have proved strong recently at circuits where there are high levels of graining – think Las Vegas at the end of last year and Australia this year. They seem to suffer less from this than Red Bull do.

That should bring the two leading cars closer together. Whether it is enough for Ferrari to beat Red Bull in a straight fight is a different question.

As for the other leading teams, McLaren are worried about China, because their car does not work well in corners with long entries – where the car is braking and turning for a long time. So they may be less competitive relatively as a result.

Why aren’t F1 teams choosing young drivers? Why choose experience over enthusiasm? Max Verstappen proved youth and patience works.

F1 teams are primarily interested in one thing from their drivers – speed. This is why Fernando Alonso is still in demand. Yes, he will be 45 by the time his new Aston Martin contract expires, but he is still operating at a level beyond all but a very few other drivers in F1.

Why, in that situation, would you pick youth over Alonso’s pace and experience? It would make no sense.

Beyond that, it’s simply not true to say that teams are not choosing young drivers – Charles Leclerc, George Russell, Lando Norris and, as the questioner points out, Verstappen all came in young and were immediately quick. As, quite some time ago, was the case with Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.

They’re just not picking any young drivers – they’re trying to pick the right ones. And only when they think they are a better option than the existing ones.

Oliver Bearman, after his appearance as a substitute at Ferrari for Carlos Sainz in Saudi Arabia, is likely to have an F1 seat next year, most probably at Haas. And Mercedes seem increasingly likely to promote their 17-year-old protege Andrea Kimi Antonelli when Hamilton leaves for Ferrari.

Looking at the form of some drivers, do you expect any mid-season driver changes?

This can happen any season in F1 and the people most at risk at the moment are Daniel Ricciardo at RB and Logan Sargeant at Williams.

Ricciardo has had a difficult start to the season and Red Bull are notoriously unforgiving with their drivers. Since returning to F1 midway through last year, the Australian has gone from being talked about as a potential replacement for Sergio Perez at the senior team, to apparently being at risk of being dropped in favour of reserve driver Liam Lawson at the junior outfit.

If Ricciardo’s performances don’t improve soon, the pressure on him – already high – will become intense. No one would be surprised if Lawson was in the car sooner or later in that scenario.

Daniel Ricciardo and Liam Lawson in conversation during the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix

Getty Images

Williams have had a difficult start to the season on a number of levels and Sargeant’s performances in comparison to team-mate Alex Albon are far from their main concern. But they are a concern.

Having said that, there doesn’t seem to be any desire to change things around mid-season, so Sargeant will probably survive until the end of the year, when he will likely be dropped if he has not upped his game.

Is Alex Albon being wasted at Williams? And would a move back to Red Bull be a good move for him after what happened last time?

The driver market is in flux at the moment, even after Fernando Alonso’s decision to commit to Aston Martin. There are seats available at Red Bull and Mercedes, as well as most of the teams in the second half of the grid.

It’s hard to predict how things will pan out. “Wasted” is a subjective assessment. What you’re basically saying is should Albon be in a better car given his level of talent?

Would he win races in a winning car? Yes. Is he better than the drivers already in the top five teams, to the extent that those outfits would look at him as an option? That’s for them to say and his name is not being bandied around that much, it seems.

Would it be a good move for him to go back to Red Bull? If Max Verstappen stays, probably not – it did not work out well last time, although doubtless Albon would say that he would be better equipped to deal with it a second time around now he has more experience.

Mercedes are the other top team with a seat open, but I don’t hear Albon’s name being mentioned there. After that, he might feel staying at Williams, where team principal James Vowles rates him highly, and growing with the team was about as good an other option as there is.

Audi/Sauber might seem a better bet on paper, but they seem to be aiming primarily for Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg, with Valtteri Bottas also an option.

What options does Felipe Drugovich have now that Alonso has signed a new deal at Aston Martin?

Drugovich, the 2022 Formula 2 champion, is Aston Martin’s reserve driver again this year. The Brazilian has no hope of a drive there – Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll will stay on there in 2025.

His options are to look elsewhere in the lower half of the grid and persuade a team owner to take a chance. But he’s not a name you hear being discussed that much. Interest in him seems to be low in F1. He might be better advised pursuing a racing career elsewhere, such as IndyCar, Formula E or endurance racing.

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