Ricciardo is a product of the Red Bull young driver program, having been invited to a young driver test in Jerez in December 2009. He impressed with a time one second quicker than anyone else on the final day of the test and was appointed as a Red Bull ‘family’ test driver alongside his 2010 Renault World Series team mate, Brendon Hartley.
At the following end of season young driver test, Ricciardo was confirmed as the sole representative of the Red Bull team. Upon hearing this announcement, Ricciardo commented, “I can’t wait to get another crack at driving Red Bull Racing’s amazing Formula One car.
The test was in Abu Dhabi following the final F1 race of the season. Daniel dominated the test and delivered a lap 1.3 seconds quicker than Sebastian Vettel had done in the previous weekend’s F1 qualifying session.
The following season in 2011, Ricciardo was offered regular FP1 practice sessions with Toro Rosso, and team principal Franz Tost remarked, “having a hungry youngster on the books will keep our current driver pairing nice and sharp.” His comments were directed at the Toro Rosso race drivers Jaime Alguersuari and Sébastien Buemi.
During that season, Red Bull facilitated the replacement of HRT driver with Ricciardo and the Aussie made his full F1 debut at the British GP. Then in December of that year, Toro Rosso announced they were replacing both their F1 race drivers with Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne.
In the span of a single season, Daniel Ricciardo rose through the F1 driver ranks from being an also-ran in Toro Rosso, to being considered as a future world champion F1 driver with Red Bull. His undeniable pummelling of Sebastian Vettel in 2014, in addition to his 3 race wins, put the Ricciardo name on every one’s lips in the paddock.
Despite the disappointments of this year, Daniel has remained loyal and positive about his Red Bull team and family, refusing to criticise the team but also not engaging with the war of words between Red Bull and Renault. Ricciardo knows his roots and knows who he has to thank for his current position.
But now, there are signs that the young Australian is starting to lose faith in the Red Bull dream and in Sochi he openly admitted considering an alternative future in Formula One. Dietricht Mateschitz has now set and end of October deadline to resolve the Red Bull engine crisis, so the threat of him withdrawing his two teams from the sport is now perilously close to being realised.
“I haven’t thought about the negative potential outcome of it yet”, revealed Ricciardo last Thursday. “I’m still pretty positive. It’s good that Dietrich has set a bit of a deadline because we have got to know what we are doing and if we are going with ‘X’ engine then we have got to start designing the car and all the rest of it.
“We can’t wait until Christmas, so we will see in a few more weeks if we get a decision or an outcome. I’m still positive as long as we have still got time on our side. It’s not the end of October yet, so I’ll remain positive and if we get to the end of October and nothing has been sorted then I’ll for sure start having my eyes and ears a little bit more open about what else is going on.
“I think we will get something that is decent enough to convince us to stay in the sport and that means giving us a chance to win.”
By Friday, Daniel was being more candid.
“Obviously I want to be racing, I want to be on the grid, but if someone said you’re going to be racing but you’ll be running 16th, then maybe I don’t want to be racing. If they [Renault] can prepare something better than they have this year to give us a chance to fight further up the grid, it is one of the better options for now.
We still can’t rule out anything, but we do want something competitive… just to run around and make up numbers is not what we are about and as a driver I am not really interested in that. A few manufacturers keep saying no, so obviously the options are getting less and less.
It is getting more difficult now [but] we will try and find a solution. Of course I want to be racing and it will be a shame if we are not racing. I am still optimistic we can find a solution but it seems like nobody wants to give us an engine.”
However, should Red Bull and Toro Rosso withdraw from the sport, Ricciardo’s options appear limited for 2016. There is the second seat partner Romain Grosjean at the new Haas team up for grabs and if Lotus survive in some form or other Danny could partner Pastor Maldonado.
A Ricciardo/Grosjean pairing would be indeed a coup for Gene Haas, though there is the matter of 3 car teams to be considered also.
That said, when 3 car teams were flavour of the month this time last year, the consensus appeared to be a decision would have to be made by the end of October were this to be a feasible proposition.
Sauber might fancy a driver of Ricciardo’s qualities, though it is questionable whether he has the big financial backing that current drivers Nasr and Ericsson bring. Then again given Sauber’s deteriorating performance this year, the Ferrari backed Haas may look a better place to be.
Of course if Matechitz does press the button marked ‘red’ and take the nuclear option, a young Max Verstappen becomes available too. The question is whether Max’s momentum puts him ahead of Riciardo’s experience – and in the end a winning smile only goes so far.