Opinion: What Daniel Ricciardo's return to Formula One means for Kiwi hopeful Liam Lawson

ANALYSIS: Does Daniel Ricciardo's return to Formula One with AlphaTauri hurt the chances of Kiwi hopeful Liam Lawson? Not at all.

Red Bull have made the decision to swing the axe on Dutchman Nyck de Vries, after a season that's seen him as one of two drivers yet to score a point in this Formula One campaign.

De Vries, 28, was picked for AlphaTauri - the sister team of Red Bull - late last year, after impressive displays filling in for Williams, when Alex Albon was unable to race.

The move saw de Vries promoted ahead of any Red Bull junior drivers, notably Lawson, despite his ties to title rivals Mercedes, where he was a reserve driver.

On the other hand, Ricciardo was axed by McLaren, who decided to invest in Australian talent Oscar Piastri to partner Lando Norris from 2023 onwards. Ricciardo was quickly snapped up by Red Bull as a reserve driver this year, before being sent to AlphaTauri. 

At 34, Ricciardo hardly fits the brief of AlphaTauri, seen largely as a talent pool for Red Bull to develop their drivers, before advancing to the senior Formula One team.

On the current grid, reigning world champion Max Verstappen and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz are among those to have driven for AlphaTauri - at the time Toro Rosso - before moving on.

Ricciardo has been backed at AlphaTauri until the end of the season, but what happens after that is anyone's guess.

Should the Australian prove to be up to standard of performing in what appears to be a poor AlphaTauri car this season, Red Bull would certainly have no issue in keeping him in the seat for 2024.

With teammate Yuki Tsunoda's deal also expiring at the end of the season, AlphaTauri may need to find two new drivers next year.

Daniel Ricciardo.
Daniel Ricciardo. Photo credit: Getty Images

Lawson, 21, currently racing in Japan's Super Formula series, is by far the outstanding candidate from within Red Bull ranks.

Already, the Kiwi has won two of five races this season - including his debut at Fuji - to sit second in the championship.

Going from Japan to Formula One is hardly unseen as well - Pierre Gasly made the same move, before securing a place at then-Toro Rosso, moving on to Red Bull and now Alpine.

This year, Red Bull head of development Dr Helmut Marko put Lawson's name forward to replace de Vries long-term, should they lose patience.

Earlier this month, AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost did the same.

Lawson is currently the reserve driver for AlphaTauri in Formula One, balancing those commitments with his time in Japan.

From the outside, it might appear negative that Lawson wasn't immediately put into AlphaTauri over Ricciardo. Why would Red Bull want to develop a 34-year-old, who has already been part of their programme and left, over a driver that they could one day use to partner Verstappen?

The answer is because they can afford to, for now. 

Red Bull's senior team have won every race this season and could continue until the end of the year.

Liam Lawson and Formula One world champion Max Verstappen.
Liam Lawson and Formula One world champion Max Verstappen. Photo credit: Getty Images

They don't need to worry about what happens at AlphaTauri, which seems to have become a tool to help take points off rivals, ahead of developing talent.

A new season in 2024 will almost certainly mean a fresh start for the Italian side, with one or even two new drivers to work with.

Nothing in motorsport is ever certain, especially in the ever-volatile world of Formula One, but while Ricciardo's return might appear short-sighted, Red Bull will almost certainly be thinking long-term.

If anything, Lawson being overlooked to finish his season in Japan without distraction is the best thing for the young Kiwi.