Following the departure of Mark Webber from the #2 seat at the front running Red Bull team, Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo was on a short list of contenders to replace him. His current drive is with Red Bull sister team, Scuderia Toro Rosso and STR has essentially been viewed as the stepping stone for new drivers to go to Red Bull.
Ricciardo’s promotion makes him the second driver to do this, following on from current three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. Other contenders included Lotus Renault driver Kimi Raikonnen, himself a world champion (in 2007) and allegedly, Fernando Alonso (though this rumour was based on his manager being seen meeting with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner; Alonso’s manager also manages Carlos Sainz, a young Red Bull academy driver). Ricciardo’s French team-mate, Jean-Eric Vergne, was quickly discounted as a prospect for the seat.
This is good news for Formula 1, Australians in F1, and for Red Bull. Red Bull need to consider their long term options; Vettel’s contract is up at the end of 2014 and if he decides to move to another team (perception these days is that winning a title, let alone many, in one team is more about machine than man so Vettel will wish to remove any doubt), Red Bull need a driver who knows the team, the machinery, and can manage the transition. Red Bull also need to justify the money poured into their young driver program and Toro Rosso; at the end of 2011, two solid drivers in the form of Jaime Algesuari and Sebastian Buemi were ditched in favour of Ricciardo and Vergne.
For Formula 1, Webber’s seat was seen as a key to the driver market. I’ve never thought Alonso would leave Ferrari. Yes, he has a contract in place but so did Kimi in 2010 so that’s not as iron-clad as one might expect; but simply, I think we’re all expecting that Alonso will stop outdriving the machine and the machine will give him something to work with. An Alonso WDC title seems inevitable, especially now James Allison has joined Ferrari.
Similarly, Kimi leaving Lotus seems doubtful. For one, the level of sponsorship engagement seems perfect for him. The Finn doesn’t care for anything but the racing, so the occasional ad and no appearances is right up his alley. One can only imagine that he would have hated playing second fiddle to anyone.
So now we know there’s a vacant Toro Rosso seat for next year, and whilst it seems likely to go to Carlos Sainz it’s not a given yet. There might be some changes at Sauber, with the young Russian driver Sergey Sirotkin allegedly being fast-tracked in last year; and Massa’s future at Ferrari has to be unstable. If he goes, one imagines Nico Hulkenberg moving to Maranello to fill that seat.
I’m glad it’s settled; I have a Red Bull racing team shirt and with an Australian in the seat, there’s no reason for me to ditch the shirt or stop supporting the team!