Fresh from his impressive test performance at Yas Marina Circuit last week, Red Bull protege Daniel Ricciardo has been given a testing role with Toro Rosso, which will see him running in Friday practice at all 20 rounds of next year’s F1 world championship.
Second it justifies the existence of Toro Rosso as it is the proving ground of young drivers. Again, Vettel came up via this route. Red Bull can finally say they have proven the concept.
Third it gives Ricciardo a chance, as Vettel had in his early days, to run on Fridays with the regular F1 drivers, get to know the tracks and the scene without too much pressure. Rather than stand around like a spare part he will have something positive to focus his efforts on. Outside of this opportunity he will also be trying to win the Formula Renault 3.5 series next year having narrowly missed out on it last year. The pressure will be on there.
Finally it will put some real pressure on the existing Toro Rosso racing drivers, Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari. Both had difficult moments in 2010. Alguersuari seemed to be steadily improving as the season reached its conclusion, while Buemi by that stage seemed to be going backwards and he’s the one standing on the trapdoor at the moment.
“I am sure that having a hungry youngster on the books will keep our current driver pairing nice and sharp!” said Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost.
Ricciardo’s presence in the team, with direct comparisons in lap time on the F1 circuits, will stimulate competition and should get the best out of the drivers, Neither of them are rookies any more, they’ve learned the ropes and now it’s time to show that thay have the quality to step up to Red Bull Racing, should Mark Webber’s seat become available for 2012.
“My main priority for 2011 is to win the Formula Renault 3.5 championship, but my ultimate aim is to be a full-time Formula 1 driver and this new role has to be the best step towards achieving that ambition,” said Ricciardo.
Toro Rosso seem to like to give drivers two years to prove themselves or be moved on; we’ve seen it with Tonio Liuzzi, Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Speed, all of whom were dispensed with when they didn’t cut the mustard in year two. So 2011 is a big year for Buemi in particular, and to a lesser extent Alguersuari as he started mid season in 2009.
It’s possible that Ricciardo could step up to replace one of them during the season, but Alguersari showed how hard that was in 2009. At least Ricciardo would have had some time in the car before being thrown in the deep end. But there is evidence that throwing drivers in too young can harm them, rather than help them.
That said, Toro Rosso has been one of the teams willing to be ruthless in dropping drivers suddenly in recent years; just ask Speed and Bourdais.
With all the talk of how hard it is for young kids to break into F1, this is a positive story for the sport, albeit underlining that you need to commit to Red Bull, or one of the big corporates, to achieve anything. After years of pouring money into the sport in vain, now everything seems to be all about Red Bull.
We will watch Ricciardo with great interest. The indicators so far look very promising.