One of the most poignant thoughts to arise from the promotion of Daniel Ricciardo from Toro Rosso to the Red Bull team is the role that timing and opportunity play in a driver’s career.
The announcement from Mark Webber in June that he was to retire at the end of 2013, created an opportunity at Red Bull, the first since the end of 2008.
In the intervening period a number drivers have been through the Red Bull young driver programme – some have done a spell at Toro Rosso – and then headed for the exit with no promotion in prospect.
One wonders what Jaime Alguersuari in particular musy be feeling today. The Spaniard won the British F3 championship, sweeping aside Sergio Perez, now a McLaren driver and was continuing his development when he was dropped into Toro Rosso at just 19 years of age, when they suddenly dropped Sebastien Bourdais days before the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Alguersuari has since said himself that he was not ready for F1, but as you never know when a chance may arise again you never say no to an offer to race. He struggled initially, but by his second year, 2011, he was developing into an impressive racer.
He scored 26 points that season in a Toro Rosso car that, like this year’s, was capable of qualifying in the top ten from time to time. He did that several times, like Ricciardo has done, and from Canada onwards he was in the points 7 times in 13 races, with outstanding drives in Italy and Korea and strong runs in Canada, Valencia and India. He scored 63% of his team’s total points, which is another strong sign.
You have to improve as a Grand Prix driver and he just got better and better to the point where you had an eye on him in every race in the second half of the season, as he took the improved Toro Rosso and made some bold strategies work for him.
He had the right approach for the Pirelli tyres; the key was his strong pace on worn soft tyres, which he pushed for long middle stints. Because this site goes into depth on race strategies, with the UBS Strategy Reports strand, we could see close up what he was doing. Rival midfield teams’ strategists would often comment on it admiringly.
But the problem was that there was no opening in the senior team; Webber and Vettel were a strong pairing at Red Bull, so the opportunity for promotion simply wasn’t there. He had an offer from Lotus, but having been told at the final race of the year by Helmut Marko (above right) that he was safe for 2012, he figured he would do another year there and see if Webber decided to retire. A call at Christmas time telling him he was no longer wanted ended his F1 career.
18 months year later Webber called time on his F1 adventure and Red Bull found themselves with an opening. And so it is now Ricciardo who finds himself in the right time at the right place. Good luck to him, that’s life.
So far Ricciardo has scored 12 points this year, one less than his team mate, but Red Bull has seen enough of his speed in testing and on the simulator to believe they know what they are doing.
I’ve not seen as much from the likeable Aussie yet as I did from Alguersuari that year, but his qualifying speed is undoubted and his drive through the field to 10th in Spa hinted at the quality in races which he will need to mix it with the big beasts like Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel and Raikkonen at the front.
So is Alguersuari the one who got away? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s academic now.
The point is that had Mark Webber decided to retire in summer 2011, Alguersuari would probably have been in the same position Ricciardo is in today.
Daniel deserves his chance and it’s positive to see young drivers getting an opportunity to make a name for themselves.
Such are the twists of fate and fortune in sport.