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Why Ricciardo could be a threat to Vettel [Opinion]
Tuesday 03rd September 2013, 22:35 by Daniel Chalmers
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Fans may be disappointed not to see Kimi Raikkonen alongside Sebastian Vettel next year, but don’t underestimate Daniel Ricciardo’s chances against the current three times champion.
At first glance it may seem that Red Bull have chosen to give Vettel a new bridesmaid, rather than have two brides in the same team. However on further investigation there are plenty of reasons why Ricciardo could pose a threat to Red Bull’s current number one.
Firstly Daniel has proven this season that over a single lap he is insanely quick. He is very similar to Seb in that respect. A few of the Aussie’s qualifying performances so far this year are very reminiscent of some of Vettel’s qualifying laps in the latter stages of his Toro Rosso career.
He qualified sixth in Silverstone (which became fifth after Paul Di Resta’s exclusion). He was also sixth in Germany and eighth in Hungary. Let’s not forget his incredible sixth place on the grid in Bahrain back in 2012. To get those grid slots he has had to out-drive his car and beat faster cars. The talent and speed is there.
It’s certainly true that his race pace is weaker compared to his one lap pace. However driving a race at the front of the grid is very different to driving a race in the middle of the pack. In the midfield it’s much easier to get involved in an incident or have your strategy wrecked in traffic.
It’s always much easier to get big results when you start at the front. Often races are much more straight forward in the leading pack. With what will surely be another strong Adrian Newey car Ricciardo will get that opportunity.
Points may be awarded on a Sunday but how well you do in qualifying often dictates how well you do in a race. Seb’s incredible qualifying record is the foundation that his great success has been built on. Daniel could be the same.
If he can out qualify Seb then he can get away with a slight disadvantage in race pace (which will surely improve with time). It’s very difficult to overtake a driver in an identical car in F1. Therefore he would have a good chance of being able to hold his position ahead of his team mate on the track.
Generally Red Bull’s policy in races has always been that the leading driver gets first refusal during the pit stop phase. So that’s another advantage that Ricciardo would get if he gets himself ahead of his team-mate on the track
There is no doubt Daniel has the speed to do that and therefore cause his new team-mate problems. It won’t be easy of course but it’s not impossible either.
He may have no top team experience or done much running at the front but that’s not necessarily a debarring thing. Other drivers have moved from midfield to top teams in the past and have got results very quickly.
Kimi Raikkonen was only two points short of the world championship in 2003 in his second year with McLaren. Fernando Alonso won his first Grand Prix in his first year with Renault. Jacques Villeneuve and Lewis Hamilton made their F1 debuts in front running teams and both came close to the championship in their first year.
Vettel himself also hit the ground running when he made the switch from Toro Rosso to Red Bull in 2009. He won his first race for the team at the third round in China.
There are many who think Sebastian got to choose his team-mate like Michael Schumacher did at Ferrari.
If that were true then it’s more likely Vettel would have chosen Jean-Eric Vergne. He would have been less of a threat because he doesn’t have the blindingly quick qualifying pace that Seb’s new Aussie team-mate possesses. Therefore Seb would always have had the advantage of grid position, and therefore would likely stay ahead in races.
If Red Bull were just looking for a number two driver Vergne would have fitted the bill better for those reasons. In Ricciardo they have chosen the quickest candidate of the pair.
Of course everyone wants to know whether he will indeed get equal treatment? Emotionally, at least, Webber has been the number two at Red Bull for the last few years.
What has to be remembered is that there is a huge difference between the pair. Mark wasn’t a product of the Red Bull young driver programme, whereas Daniel is.
One of the main reasons why Vettel has always been perceived to be favoured over Webber is that Red Bull would rather have a product of their own programme winning titles, rather than a driver who was not. You could almost say Mark is an outsider within the team. Helmut Marko (the man who oversees the young driver programme) and Webber certainly haven’t had the best of relationships.
It probably would have been considered an embarrassment for Red Bull’s star pupil to be beaten to the title by the older journeyman driver (although an extremely quick journeyman it has to be said). On the other hand Daniel has a very good relationship with Marko so that is a very important box ticked.
However from next year it doesn’t matter which driver comes out on top in the team. They are both products of the Red Bull young driver programme. Marko ought to be happy with whoever comes out on top in the team.
Furthermore he will be keen for Ricciardo to make an impact to demonstrate that Vettel isn’t the only product of a programme, which has had millions poured into it over the years.
Many drivers have passed through the programme and fallen by the wayside. Analysts and pundits have accused Red Bull of damaging the well.
Jaime Alguersuari is a good example of that. He had a very promising season in 2011, yet Red Bull decided that he wasn’t good enough. He hasn’t been able to get a F1 seat since. He was a driver who had the potential to turn into a great driver had he been given the chance to grow. Too much is expected of young drivers too soon these days.
If Ricciardo could win the championship with Red Bull it would answer many critics. They will then have had two world champion drivers coming up from their programme, which would certainly paint it in a better light.
Daniel emerging as a top talent would be great news for Red Bull in the long run too. It means they would have a natural successor to Vettel when he eventually leaves the team.
The likeable Aussie’s main problem could be whether he has enough competitive edge to do well in a top team. He is one of the happiest drivers on the grid and it’s very rare to see him without a smile on his face. Whilst that’s great and endears him to the fans you need to have a bit of a ruthless streak in you to beat the top drivers to a world championship.
Although his great personality could end up being a great plus for his chances within the team. If fans worldwide really take to him he could become a great marketing tool for Red Bull. They won’t mind him beating Seb to the title if it ended up being a good thing for business.
In conclusion if Vettel thinks it will be business as usual with his new team-mate next year he might just end up getting a bit of a shock.
There is no doubt he will start as the overwhelming favourite in the team, but Ricciardo will have some very strong weekends next year.
We could yet see the Red Bull team mate battle that we have been longing for during the 2013 silly season.
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