Daniel Ricciardo is ready to progress from being the ‘other Australian’ on the Formula 1 starting grid to the only one next year, but in his ideal world it would be at champions Red Bull as replacement for compatriot Mark Webber, who announced on Thursday that he will be leaving the sport at the end of the season.
Ricciardo and Toro Rosso team mate Jean-Eric Vergne are both part of the Red Bull young driver programme, the same one that saw triple world champion Sebastian Vettel graduate from Toro Rosso to the main team at the end of 2008 with sensational consequences.
Both are under consideration to replace Webber, although Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen – the 2007 world champion – is seen as a frontrunner by much of the paddock.
Ricciardo’s challenge is to produce convincing evidence that he is the right man for the job, starting at this weekend’s British Grand Prix.
“Unfortunately I’ve had a pretty poor run in the last few races so that’s definitely my concern. My priority now is to get some results back on the board,” said the Australian, who has not scored a point since Spain in May.
“I haven’t really come off a strong few [races] to give me bragging rights to say ‘That’s mine, everyone,'” added the ever-smiling Perth native, who turns 24 on Monday.
“So I’ve definitely got to focus on the next few weekends to remind everyone that I’m here to be successful.
“I think ideally, in the perfect world, [Red Bull] would love one of us juniors to go through and to do what Seb did. I think that’s the real philosophy of the programme. I think they would love to see one of us really start to shine.”
Ricciardo was 15th in the previous race in Canada and retired in Monaco after being shunted out by Lotus’s Romain Grosjean.
Vergne, on the other hand, has arrived at Silverstone on the back of two strong scoring finishes.
Asked whether he felt he had time to convince Red Bull, Ricciardo – who made his F1 debut in 2011 with the now-defunct HRT team – hoped so.
“I’ve got to really make sure I get the next few races the way I want them to go,” he said.
“And then at least I can say I’ve done all I did. If it comes off or if it doesn’t, whatever. I’m sure there will be another opportunity maybe further down the track.
“The chance is definitely there. If I can get Silverstone, Nuerburgring, Budapest…if I can get three great results, maybe exceed the expectations of the team then I don’t see why it wouldn’t put me in a good position for it.
“As long as I do all that and tick pretty big boxes…then I think I’ve got it all in my control.”
Webber, Australia’s main focus in Formula 1 for more than a decade, will be missed by the next big hope who can expect to line up in Melbourne next year as the only home driver in the race.
Ricciardo acknowledged his debt to the Red Bull veteran.
“He has helped me out,” he said. “When I first stepped into an F1 car, he called me the night before my first test and gave me some advice and just eased me into it a bit.
“To hear from him, and I was still a young kid and he was an idol of mine, definitely motivated me. And once I got into F1 two years ago here, he came over and had a bit of a chat and just made life a bit easier for me.
“Not only myself but Australia will miss him on the grid. But then that’s my job to try and keep Australia still cheering for someone. We’ll see what happens there.”
Ricciardo got his first day at Silverstone off to an impressive start by topping the timing screens at the end of the rain soaked FP1 and sixth in FP2, each time ahead of Vergne. (Reuters)
Subbed by AJN.