Because rather than returning to the kind of race-winning RB19 machines it shone with in this week’s Silverstone tire test, it will battle against a car that has left AlphaTauri currently bottom of the constructors’ standings.
But worse than that, the Aussie will also have to deal with a critical weakness in the AT04 that lies in the very area that pained him so much during his two years at McLaren.
Ricciardo is well known for being someone who likes cars that are strong under braking and on corner entry.
Give him something that works with those characteristics and his genius shines through, as has been seen many times with his late braking overtaking manoeuvres.
But, as was exposed during his time at McLaren, if the car he drives doesn’t give him the confidence he wants on corner entry, then things can quickly spiral out of control.
As he told F1 Beyond the grid podcast last year on the corner entry problem: “It all starts there.
“If you’re struggling with a corner on the way out, it’s normally the product of what happened in the corner that put you in, say, a difficult position on the way out. Most of the difficulty starts with the starter – maybe not all of them, but most of them.
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing
Photo by: Pirelli
So it’s probably not ideal for Ricciardo to know that one of the main issues that Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck de Vries have struggled with this year is a limitation of the late entry phase into corners, which triggers a back instability. This is not good for driver confidence.
Speaking recently before Ricciardo’s decision was made, AlphaTauri Ground Engineering Manager Jonathan Eddolls was open about this critical issue for which the team was looking for a solution.
“The late entry, let’s say the backside instability, which was the biggest weakness, that’s the area we worked on,” he said. “We improved it, but it’s still a weakness I would say.”
The AlphaTauri problem seems to be triggered because when the car slows down a lot, the rear ride height lifts as the downforce lifts off. This then triggers an aero imbalance.
Speaking earlier this year, technical director Jody Egginton said: “That’s one of the goals we didn’t quite hit in pre-season…and we had no doubts what we wanted TO DO.
“We were looking to improve rear loading at high rear ride heights in a very basic sense. And it’s the load drop from those ride heights right now that’s causing our instability.
“If we’ve improved the rear load on the entry phase, if you have more rear load, you have more stability. And we’re working to try to bring that further into the corner, so the rider can push stronger towards the top of the late entry.”
With the current generation of ground effect cars proving quite difficult to find a configuration compromise that can cope with a variety of different cornering speeds, Eddolls admits that the consequences of a problem in one area of a tower can spread elsewhere.
“With the late entry, and with that part being a weakness, to try to address that, you end up slowing down other areas of the car,” he said.
“For example, let’s say you wanted to add aero balance for high speed, which improves balance but also gives you more load.
“If your low-speed entry is a limitation, it can limit the amount of flaps or aerodynamic trim you can add. So a weakness in one area can actually have implications everywhere.
“Obviously we try to find a compromise that gives us the overall best lap time. But that’s really the compromise we make every week.
AlphaTauri’s series of updates to the British GP aimed to improve this area, but they didn’t receive Tsunoda’s ringing endorsement.
However, the work is ongoing, and as Eddolls said, it will likely take the team some time to figure out the best way to extract the performance.
“You change the aerodynamic development, and there’s like inertia, it takes time for those parts to get to the car,” he said. “But from now on, we should start to see the effect of the target change in this area of the map.”
How quickly AlphaTauri can get the upper hand could be key to Ricciardo’s fortunes for the rest of the campaign.
But, for the Aussie himself, he may feel that having had a bad corner entry experience at McLaren, he is in a much better position to know what it takes to make things right this time- this.