Daniel Ricciardo Is Back, And Formula 1 Is Better For It

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary - Previews
F1 Grand Prix of Hungary - Previews / Bryn Lennon/GettyImages

The Honey Badger is back on the Formula 1 grid, and all seems right with the racing world.

After a half-season absence from competition, Daniel Ricciardo has returned to the field, replacing Nyck de Vries with AlphaTauri. He's joining the team with perhaps the worst car on the circuit, and not much is expected results-wise but, still, it's great to have the wisecracking Aussie back.

Ricciardo joined Red Bull as an alternate driver this season in what seemed like a move to keep his personality in F1. He's a wildly-popular driver with the kind of magnetic personality that's difficult to find in motor racing. Red Bull brought him officially as the team's third driver, but utilized him far more in an ambassadorial role, leveraging his enormous popularity for the good of the team and the circuit. He's so well-liked that despite not even being in the field this year, the 34-year-old has been used to promote the sport and Netflix's Formula 1: Drive to Survive -- which has made him a fan favorite.

Ricciardo joining Red Bull had a homecoming feel. He raced for the company's secondary team, Toro Rosso, in 2012 and 2013, proving himself enough to get a call-up to the big squad. He drove for Red Bull from 2014 through the 2018 season, and had a ton of success. He finished third in the standings twice, was in the top 10 each season and scored seven wins and 29 podiums.

His contract was up a the end of the 2018 season, and with Red Bull investing heavily in teammate Max Verstappen, Ricciardo decided to bolt for a big payday at Renault. He spent two seasons with the French team, finishing ninth in 2019 and fifth in 2020. Midway through the 2020 season news leaked that he was leaving to join McLaren. He signed a three-year deal with his new team and lived through a disastrous two seasons of racing. Other than a shocking win at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix, Ricciardo never looked comfortable in the McLaren. Things got so bad that midway through the 2022 season, the team announced it was cutting ties with the Aussie with a year remaining on his contract.

Without an attractive seat available for the 2023 season, Ricciardo opted not to pursue competition and returned to Red Bull in a backup role. After De Vries failed to score a point in his first 10 races -- and following a successful Pirelli road test at Silverstone -- Red Bull offered Ricciardo a seat on its secondary team, AlphaTauri (formerly Toro Rosso).

Ricciardo will be back behind the wheel of an F1 car this weekend at the Hungarian Grand Prix, and already it seems everyone is excited. He's not just popular with fans, he seems incredibly popular with his fellow drivers. That was evident by the line of competitors waiting to congratulate him after his Italian Grand Prix triumph in 2021. The way many on the grid reacted to McLaren's treatment of him last season -- and his return -- made that even more clear.

Again, big results aren't expected from Ricciardo in AlphaTauri's back-marking car, but he does have a chance to show what he can do in an inferior machine. How he preforms relative to teammate Yuki Tsunoda will be worth watching. If he can improve the team's performance, he'll almost certainly put pressure on Verstappen's teammate, Sergio Perez.

Perez has struggled after a great start to the season. A string of poor qualifying results and missed podiums has Red Bull questioning his future. The team has, by far, the best car on the grid for the second season in a row and should have both drivers on the podium almost every week. Perez hasn't been up to the task for several weeks now. Despite being second in the drivers' standings, he'll start feeling the pressure with Ricciardo in his rear-view mirror.

Perez's seat is almost certainly secure for 2024, but his contract will be up after next season and Red Bull will have some decisions to make. And fan support for a Ricciardo return to the big team should be massive. Drama could be on the horizon. All of that is for another day, though.

For now, Daniel Ricciardo is back in the Formula 1 field. And the sport is better for his return.