What Daniel Ricciardo Can Learn From Alex Albon’s ‘Year In Exile’

Daniel Ricciardo could learn a lot from Alex Albon's stint as a Red Bull reserve driver.

What Daniel Ricciardo Can Learn From Alex Albon’s ‘Year In Exile’

Daniel Ricciardo’s absence from the Formula 1 grid next year will be keenly felt – by both fans and the man himself. But all is not lost for the Australian driver: he just needs to take a page out of Alex Albon’s book.

Daniel Ricciardo has just been signed as a reserve driver for Red Bull for the 2023 F1 season, with ‘The Honey Badger’ preferring this third driver deal instead of opting for a full-time drive with a backmarker team like Haas or Williams (which could have been on the cards for him).

It’s a decision that’s befuddled many Danny Ric fans, although Ricciardo is adamant that it’s the best thing for his career. We’re not so sure – but there’s some hope to be had if we look at what happened to Alex Albon.

The Thai-British driver has similarly had a rocky few years in F1. After just half a season as a full-time F1 driver with Red Bull junior team Toro Rosso (now called AlphaTauri), Albon was promoted to the senior team, replacing Pierre Gasly. Albon had a very mixed 18 months with the team, after which he found himself without a drive for 2021, being demoted to Red Bull’s reserve driver.

It seemed like Albon’s F1 career was over before it had begun… But then the young gun secured himself a seat at Williams for 2022, where despite substandard machinery and a year away from the sport, he’s impressed with his driving chops – leading many insiders to suggest that a stint at a top team could once again be back on the cards for Albon.

So what can Ricciardo learn from Albon’s year away from the sport as a Red Bull reserve driver?

Max Verstappen and Alex Albon do a bit of sim racing in 2020. Image: Puma

Albon knuckled down during 2021, putting in long hours in the simulator and keeping his eyes open whilst spending time at Red Bull.

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“I’m seeing what goes on at the factory behind the scenes, the development work and seeing the things we work on in the simulator go to the track,” he said during an interview last year.

“It’s very rewarding. Of course, it’s not what I want to be doing long term, but it’s interesting to see… Whatever I can do for the team, [I want to] show my worth, show what I can give to them.”

Alex Albon

That 2021 interview has plenty of nuggets for wisdom which Ricciardo can and should learn from.

“You can’t lie and say it’s easy,” Albon said of his demotion and year away from the sport. “If you could say [2020] was tough mentally, [2021] is equally as tough if not tougher as you’re going to circuits not racing. It’s a different feeling. You want to be out there, you want to be driving. We’re all born racers and we want to be out there so it’s tricky.”

“A lot of it this year is about getting motivated, pushing hard trying to see if there is a chance to come back next year,” Albon explained – which is exactly how Ricciardo needs to treat 2023.

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Albon was also quick to point out how one year away from the sport can be fine, but more than that can truly scupper your career.

“F1 moves relatively quickly. More than a year out, the car gets tricky. A year’s break is as much as you can do. That’s what Esteban [Ocon] did. Fernando [Alonso] is a different example, but Fernando is Fernando!”

“The car evolves so quickly, technology is improving… You can’t jump around and do different things. So it’s one year [out] maximum.”

Alex Albon

Again, Ricciardo should pay close attention to Albon’s wise words. Only truly exceptional drivers like Fernando Alonso or Kimi Räikkönen can return to the sport after multiple years away and succeed in a meaningful way. The fact that Nico Hülkenberg is making his return to the grid next year after several years away is nothing short of surprising, for example.

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But unlike Hülkenberg – or even Albon, for that matter – Ricciardo is a proven race winner. Sure, he’s not a former world champ like Alonso or Räikkönen, and his form slump since leaving Red Bull in 2018 is a worry… But if he takes his 2023 ‘sabbatical’ seriously and makes all the right moves to get himself in an advantageous position for 2024, we could see Danny Ric back in a competitive seat.

Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull team boss Christian Horner share a moment after the former announced his return to his old team. Image: Red Bull

Of course, Albon’s tale of redemption isn’t as impressive as it could have been. Sure, he’s back on the grid, but Williams is still the least competitive team in the sport.

Perhaps Pierre Gasly is a better example. Gasly was demoted by Red Bull after only 6 months, being sent back down to Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri… But after solidly cementing himself as that team’s #1 driver and recording some impressive performances (including his maiden F1 victory at the 2020 Italian Grand Prix while at the team), he’s now landed himself a seat with the now-competitive Alpine.

Anyway, the point still stands: things might look bad for Ricciardo now, but if he takes full advantage of 2023, he’s not done for. There’s hope yet.

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