The build-up the 2014 Formula One season took an exciting step today as four-time champions Red Bull Racing unveiled its latest challenger, the RB10, at an early morning launch in Jerez.
Ahead of the most anticipated four days of pre-season testing in recent history, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo drew the covers on the car with which Sebastian Vettel will challenge for a fifth title in a row.
There is, however, some way to go before that can happen, admitted the defending champion, who said the team must first understand and develop the package they’ve brought to Jerez.
“It’s a big change for all the teams, including ourselves, so it’s difficult to have any sort of expectations,” said Vettel. “The most important thing, once we get going, is to understand the car and hopefully build on that. Therefore, expectations are fairly low, but once you realise you have a good car (hopefully!) you want to make sure you race in the same area that you did in recent years.”
As with Ferrari, much interest surrounds Red Bull’s driver 2014 line-up, in which Daniel Ricciardo has replaced WEC-bound Mark Webber. And although Vettel conceded that this season could prove challenging for Ricciardo, he is sure the young Aussie will quickly establish himself at the team.
“The first year might be difficult for him and the team just to get to know each other, so I may have an advantage there, but he’s very talented and bright and I’m sure he will adapt quickly and the team will help him, so in the end we are the strongest team that we can be,” added Vettel.
Team Principal Christian Horner, though, has no doubts that Ricciardo is capable of delivering in his maiden season with the Milton Keynes outfit.
“Daniel is going to be on a steep learning curve and he’s going to be rated against Sebastian, which will be tough,” said Horner. “However, he’s approaching it with just the right attitude. He’s looking to learn and benefit from how Sebastian operates and fundamentally Daniel is very fast. I think he could throw up some surprise results this year. I think he has the real potential to be a star of the future.”
For Ricciardo himself, the step up to a bigger team comes at the perfect time in light of the regulation changes and he is relishing this opportunity.
“The season ahead is going to be very challenging, but very exciting,” said Ricciardo. “It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a few months now; my whole life in a way as well. It’s another big step in my career. With all the rule changes, it’s exploring new ground, so it’s challenging for everyone, but I’m sure we’re all ready and excited. I think it’s a good time to change team what with all the changes happening in F1 in 2014. I think it’s going to level things out and give me the best chance possible to shine – I hope!”
As he did at Toro Rosso, Ricciardo will again race with a helmet featuring a graphic of a honey badger, a creature he feels he has much in common with.
“It’s supposed to be the most fearless animal in the animal kingdom. When you look at it, he seems quite cute and cuddly, but as soon as someone crosses his territory in a way he doesn’t like, he turns into a bit of a savage and he’ll go after anything – tigers, pythons – he turns very quickly, but he’s a good guy.”
Today offers teams the first chance to learn about their new machine. At this point, however, performance will be an afterthought, with reliabile running likely to be the key target. And for Horner it is the imponderable of the new power unit that raise the biggest concern.
“It’s a clean sheet of paper and an opportunity for the design team to get their teeth into a new challenge. The biggest challenge is in the power unit and that’s where we rely heavily on our engine partner Renault to make sure that we have a power unit that is competitive with our rivals. We have every confidence they will have.
“This year the reliability of the power unit is going to be critical. Whoever has the most powerful and reliable power unit will probably come out on top, so it’s a game changer in many respects, but we look forward to the new challenge.”
Much of Red Bull’s success since 2010 has been attributed to Adrian Newey. In 2014, with more restrictions on aerodynamic performance, Newey reiterates the consensus of reliability being the first obstacle to overcome.
“The early races could see quite a few upsets in the order,” said Newey. “Reliability is naturally the most obvious concern. The power unit is tremendously complicated and while road car manufacturers make some quite complicated hybrid cars, those cars have had the luxury of years of development before they come to market. We’ve got three tests, around 12 days, and then we’re off to the first race.”