July 18, 2023, 2:13 pm
This week sees the return of Daniel Ricciardo to the grid, providing some much needed intrigue to a season that has been without a championship fight since Sergio Perez started to slump. Ricciardo replaces the struggling Nyck de Vries at Alpha Tauri and, whether or not you believe de Vries was given enough time to prove himself in F1, it’s hard to argue against the fact that Ricciardo’s arrival has raised some interesting questions:
Will Ricciardo return to form after a tough two years at McLaren?
Will Ricciardo be able to match or even eclipse new teammate Yuki Tsunoda?
Will Ricciardo’s presence motivate Sergio Perez at Red Bull or shake Perez’s confidence further?
Will Ricciardo replace Perez in the highly coveted second seat at Red Bull either this year or next?
And finally, for our purposes, will Ricciardo be a viable option in F1 Fantasy?
Ricciardo debuts with the same price tag with which de Vries bowed out ($4.5M), making him the second cheapest driver on the grid along with Logan Sargeant. Only Nico Hulkenberg is less expensive than Ricciardo at $3.8M.
Ricciardo will be in one of the slowest cars on track, but at $4.5M he is worth taking a flier on this week. Not only will he be extremely motivated to perform well in his first race back, but as a fan favorite he will undoubtedly be in the running for Driver of the Day, which brings with it a 10-point bonus.
If you have Zhou Guanyu locked in at a low price, you may not want to make the switch, but if you’ve been shuffling budget drivers in and out of your lineup on a weekly basis and are faced with the choice of Hulkenberg, Sargeant, or Ricciardo, then you may want to take a chance on Danny Ric to see if he’s still got a little magic left in his tank.
After all, Sargeant has been wildly inconsistent this year, as evidenced by his last three drives (-19, 19, and 6), and he has totaled the fewest fantasy points of any driver currently on the grid (6). And Hulkenberg has been a victim of his own qualifying success. Every week that he shows himself to be the qualifying hero, he ends up as the race’s zero, giving back all the points he garnered on Saturday (and then some) with race positions lost and DNFs on Sunday.
Also, if Ricciardo does perform well at Alpha Tauri over the next couple of weeks, will the impulsive powers-that-be at Red Bull promote Ricciardo to the senior team before the end of the year? And if they do that, will you have a driver in F1’s fastest car suddenly locked in for under $5.0M for the rest of the season? There’s no telling if that will happen – both on track and in F1 Fantasy – but even the slightest chance of it makes Ricciardo an even more attractive get at this price point.
The other burning question this week concerns McLaren’s resurgence: have they suddenly vaulted themselves to second fastest on the grid with their latest update? Whether or not their pace was track specific remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that McLaren has lifted themselves out of the midfield and into the top tier. They will likely be fighting Mercedes, Aston Martin, and Ferrari for podiums from now until the end of the year, and so that begs the question of how attractive they are as fantasy assets.
As a constructor, McLaren is currently $10.8M, significantly less than Mercedes ($25.3M) and Ferrari ($22.9M), but still more expensive than Aston Martin ($9.0M). McLaren did outperform Aston Martin in Silverstone, scoring 68 points to Aston’s 22, but the upcoming race at the Hungaroring, with its low speed corners, should favor Aston. You may want to hold off a week before making the switch to McLaren, not only to see if their pace is real, but also to wait until Formula 1 returns to a high-speed track at Spa.
As for the two McLaren drivers, Lando Norris remains in a kind of no man’s land at $12.9M, well behind the top tier drivers who are all priced between $28.1M and $17.4M and above the mid-field drivers who are all below $10M. The only other driver in that price range is Fernando Alonso, who is currently $11.4M, but who many of us got when he debuted at only $8.3M. Swapping Norris in for Alonso at that price point is not recommended at this juncture, but if you have a build that does not feature triple Red Bull, Alonso, and Aston Martin, then you may want to consider Norris going forward, especially with the Belgian Grand Prix on tap next week.
While Norris garnered all of the headlines in Silverstone, his teammate Oscar Piastri is perhaps the more intriguing possibility in F1 Fantasy. Piastri was on for a podium finish before a late safety car saw Lewis Hamilton take third place in his home race. Piastri finished fourth behind Hamilton, but scored 20 fantasy points for the second week in a row. At $8.0M, Piastri has suddenly entered the mid-field driver conversation that has been dominated all season by Lance Stroll and Pierre Gasly. If you’re frustrated by Stroll’s inconsistency and concerned about Gasly’s dip in form lately, you may want to give Piastri a chance. He is, of course, likely to perform better in Spa next week than at the Hungaroring this week, but he can certainly be considered for both.
McLaren’s revival will undoubtedly make for more exciting racing behind Red Bull, but it does cloud the Limitless Chip picture quite a bit. For a while there, it was looking like Mercedes was in the ascendancy, but after not bringing any significant upgrades to Silverstone it seems as if the Silver Arrows are turning their focus to 2024. A Limitless team of triple Red Bull, Mercedes, Alonso, Hamilton, and George Russell, the top scoring constructors and drivers on the grid thus far, no longer looks like the safest choice. Now the trio of McLaren, Norris, and Piastri have to at least be considered for a spot on your Limitless team, depending on which round you choose to apply it. And as much as they’ve struggled on the year, you still can’t count out Ferrari, who is the third highest scoring constructor this season, and who is reportedly still developing the SF-23. In a tight fantasy year such as this one, where the majority of teams are rostering the same drivers and constructors, the difference between winning and losing your league may come down to chip use, and that just got a lot more difficult to determine.