Australian Daniel Ricciardo will replace compatriot Mark Webber at Formula One world champions Red Bull next year, the team announced on Monday.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said the 24-year-old, who will partner Germany’s triple champion Sebastian Vettel under a multi-year agreement, was “going to be a big star of the future”.
The decision ended speculation about Lotus’s 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen moving to the team, as well as wilder talk that Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso could be in line for a switch.
The focus will now be on Felipe Massa at Ferrari, and whether the Brazilian can keep his seat, and Raikkonen’s future with Lotus keen to retain him.
“It’s fantastic to confirm Daniel as the team’s race driver for 2014. He’s a very talented youngster, he’s committed, he’s got a great attitude and in the end it was a very logical choice for us to choose Daniel,” Horner said in a statement.
“He’s got all the attributes that are required to drive for our team: he’s got a great natural ability, he’s a good personality and a great guy to work with. Daniel knows what the team expects from him.”
Ricciardo, who was Red Bull reserve in 2010, is currently with Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso and is 14th in the championship after 11 races with 12 points.
The seat became available after 37-year-old Webber announced in June that he would be leaving Formula One to race for Porsche in their Le Mans sportscar programme.
Webber had already told reporters at last month’s Belgian Grand Prix that Ricciardo had got the job, although Horner denied a decision had been made, and confirmation came as no real surprise.
Horner said Red Bull, who have won the last three drivers’ and constructors’ titles and are on course to win both again this season, were taking a “medium to long-term view” in Ricciardo’s development.
The Perth-born Australian, the driver with the biggest smile in the paddock even without Monday’s announcement, made his excitement evident.
“Since joining F1 in 2011, I hoped this would happen and over time the belief in me has grown; I had some good results and Red Bull has decided that this is it, so it’s a good time,” he said.
“Next year I’ll be with a championship-winning team, arguably the best team, and will be expected to deliver. I’m ready for that,” added the driver, who has recently moved to Monaco from Milton Keynes in England where Red Bull are based.
“It will be a great challenge to be up against Sebastian Vettel, I’m looking forward to that.”
Red Bull had narrowed the choice down to Raikkonen and Ricciardo but they triggered speculation by delaying any announcement even after the Finn’s manager had said his driver would not be racing for Red Bull.
Horner told reporters in Spa that the team wanted time because Webber’s were big shoes to fill and some other surprising candidates had emerged.
Adrian Newey, Red Bull’s chief technical officer, said they could have gone for a more experienced driver but concluded it was better to take on a younger man and develop him.
“From Red Bull’s point of view that also fits well because the driver that Christian and I feel is the most promising is part of the Red Bull young driver programme,” he added.
“The decision actually reminded me a little bit of a similar situation we had when I was at Williams. Nigel Mansell was leaving and we needed someone alongside Alain Prost.
“We could stick with Riccardo Patrese or take a punt on a young driver called Damon Hill who was our test driver at the time. I think it’s good to bring young blood in and give promising drivers a chance.” (Reuters)