As the dust settles on Daniel Ricciardo’s shock announcement that he will be leaving Red Bull for Renault at end of season, the big question on everyone’s lips as F1 enters its summer shutdown is ‘Who will replace Daniel Ricciardo?’
Such is the significance of this move, the list of candidates is pretty much endless really with names like Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly, Fernando Alonso and Lando Norris all available.
Therefore, we are going to take a look at some of the stars who Christian Horner and Helmut Marko should consider when making the decision on Ricciardo’s replacement.
Before looking anywhere else, Carlos Sainz has to be top of list given that he only joined Renault on loan with view for Red Bull seat, if one of the drivers leaves after this season which has now become reality.
When announcing Sainz’s loan move to Renault last Autumn, Marko said; “This will give Carlos a different challenge and we will be keenly watching his progress there as he remains part of the Red Bull family.”
That was a strong indicator that perhaps Red Bull wanted to see how the Spaniard got on at a bigger team against a stronger driver.
The answer to that question is yes because he has given Nico Hulkenberg some good battles, even if he has scored half of what Hulkenberg has so far.
I therefore believe that Sainz could well be the simple answer for Red Bull and if wanted to, could even make the switch now as be a straight driver swap and allow both teams to start preparations early for next season.
If Sainz’s relationship with Verstappen proves to be an issue that Red Bull don’t want, Pierre Gasly would be the next suitable candidate.
Since arriving at Toro Rosso at back end of last season, Gasly has impressed despite a few teammate switches during his settling in period.
Pierre has since gone on to show his potential by comfortably dominating Brendon Hartley, as highlighted by two impressive races in Bahrain and Hungary.
Like Sainz, Gasly could however prove not to be the no.2 teammate that Red Bull want, having once fought Oliver Rowland at Dams for the no.1 role rather than be a wingman for the Brit.
Deciding which junior driver gets the seat therefore could become quite difficult so could we see an experienced driver brought in to guide Verstappen?
Want someone with experience, knows all about the wingman role and still fast?
Kimi Raikkonen ticks all those boxes and with his Ferrari days looking numbered, he would be the ideal partner for Verstappen.
For past few seasons, we have seen Kimi produce a brilliant job in helping ex Red Bull champion – Sebastian Vettel take race victories. One notable example was during 2017 Monaco GP when he pitted early to unleash Vettel out front to a comfortable win.
Another reason why Raikkonen should be considered is because he can be very consistent when it comes to points, currently being the only top driver to finish on podium in each of last five races.
If there is an argument against hiring Raikkonen then it probably will be his commitment to fulfilling the backup role, as highlighted during this year’s German Grand Prix.
When asked to move over and let Vettel through, he seemed reluctant to do so and said; “Do you want me to let him go? Basically just tell me!”
That radio message perhaps highlighted his frustrations in not being allowed to go for the win, which he actually deserved after playing a blinder to somehow trump Vettel’s strategy.
With that, it does raise questions about whether he has had enough of being the no.2 driver and wants equal treatment as his teammate.
Unfortunately he won’t find that here so expect Kimi to be low on Ferrari’s list of potential candidates.
If Raikkonen doesn’t fit the bill then Fernando Alonso will be keen for one last top team drive, before hanging up his steering wheel.
As seen over recent years, Alonso still has the speed and hunger despite McLaren’s struggles as proven on several occasions, particularly under Honda power who will be supplying Red Bull from next season.
Honda’s arrival at Red Bull is worrying given their reliability issues but if want a driver with prior Honda experience, Alonso would be the best candidate because he knows Honda inside out after three miserable years under their power so can offer critical feedback to help improve car and power unit.
The Spaniard however is used to having teams built around him though as seen over the years at Renault, Ferrari and McLaren, so would he be happy playing second fiddle to Verstappen?
If not and any of the other options above don’t satisfy what Red Bull want in a partner for Verstappen, perhaps its time to look at some F2 stars.
Having already tried to sign him for Toro Rosso, Red Bull will surely be looking at signing Lando Norris on a free if McLaren don’t exercise their option on him by October.
Currently fighting Mercedes’ George Russell for the F2 title, Lando has demonstrated amazing consistency in points as well as his ability to fight way through field from the back.
Those qualities would surely make him attractive to Red Bull given that they need drivers who will be able to do those sort of things.
Like Verstappen, Norris has also shown high quality in wet racing as recently demonstrated by his stunning drive in a wet first half of Hungarian Feature Race.
It therefore wouldn’t be a surprise if we don’t get an announcement on Ricciardo’s replacement till November time or once McLaren has decided on Norris’ future.
Should McLaren choose to retain their young star, perhaps Red Bull could trawl back through their list of released juniors because one of those names has started to prove his talent.
Having made remarkable progress since Red Bull released him from their junior programme after 2012, Alexander Albon will be hoping to have caught his former employers’ attention now.
Currently impressing in only his second season of F2, Albon has shown major improvement in his performances to find himself third in championship surrounded by F1 team backed drivers and in title hunt.
Red Bull therefore should perhaps consider him because he would be the perfect backup to Verstappen, especially given that he knows how special it is to race for the team so wouldn’t cause much trouble for Verstappen.
If Ferrari bring in Leclerc as their no.2, Albon would definitely be worth a punt with his knowledge of racing the Monegasque in GP3 as teammates potentially proving useful, if they were to find themselves racing one another whilst trying to help Verstappen or Vettel get a strong result.
Albon is however probably unlikely to be considered but has started to show his raw talent, which might just be tempting if maintain their ideology of promoting youngsters.
Of course, there are always bound to be some wildcards who many wouldn’t consider for Ricciardo’s seat like those below.
Artem Markelov – Has shown amazing progress over last five seasons and knows how to pull off overtakes when needed. He however feels that Marko ‘ruins the careers of young drivers’ so is a extremely unlikely candidate.
George Russell – Currently linked to Williams seat but could Red Bull tempt the Mercedes junior away even if on loan?
Sergio Perez – With rumours of a Force India takeover seeing Lance Stroll moving, Esteban Ocon would be the obvious candidate to remain so Perez would be worth considering with his talent.
Dan Ticktum – Since receiving a two year racing ban (second year suspended), Ticktum has rebuilt his career and is currently linked to Toro Rosso for 2019 if can win F3 title to get his super license. Something impressive would have to realistically happen for him to get Red Bull seat next season.