Since late June when Mark Webber announced his decision to retire, one of the most intriguing stories in F1 has been the question, who will replace him? The list of applicants is long, and allegedly includes Fernando Alonso, but the list of candidates is short: Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen.
Some recent quotes from Ricciardo’s team mate Jean Eric Vergne and from his Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost shed some light on the considerations and deliberations going on behind the scenes and why Vergne was cut from the original short list of three to replace Webber.
“Red Bull is the world champion team and it needs a driver who is going to score points at every race, to win the title,” said Vergne in L’Equipe. “If you look at the results this year, I’ve scored more points than Ricciardo, but he’s finished all the races, I haven’t.. I have a label on my back. Even if it’s false, in the paddock Ricciardo is seen as consistent and I’m not.
“The choice is complicated; Horner isn’t the only one making the decision. Adrian Newey has a say, as does Dietrich Mateschitz and Helmut Marko. I understand the risks they take, hiring a young driver like Daniel or me. And seeing a driver who doesn’t finish half his races unsettles them.”
Vergne said that most of his retirements, Australia excepted, were not his fault and added, “If you look at the races where I don’t have a problem, I blew my team mate away! He doesn’t exist!”
Vergne has been told by Marko that despite not making the short list for Webber’s seat, his seat at Toro Rosso is secure for 2014. Jaime Alguersuari could point out that he was told something similar at the end of 2011, only to find Vergne sitting in his car instead at the start of 2012.
Apart from his poor finishing record, Vergne’s main problem appears to be pure speed in qualifying – in 30 races together he has been outqualified by Ricciardo 22 times and often by significant margins. Since the start of 2012, Vergne has only twice got into Q3, to Ricciardo’s eight times (including the last three Grands Prix).
Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost spoke to F1.com last week about the deliberations over the second Red Bull seat and said, “Analysis has shown that Daniel is going strong so far – especially in qualifying – that he has raised his game continuously and there is still half the season go where he can gain even more experience.
“He must never forget one thing: he would be moving to Red Bull Racing – the three-time world championship team – which means that the bar is pretty high. To race alongside Sebastian (Vettel) you better have what it takes if you are not planning to drown. And I think that Daniel – should Red Bull point at him – has it.”
As for Vergne’s prospects, Tost said, “Nothing has been decided yet, even if Jean-Eric was never really in the shortlist of Red Bull Racing. As far as I know. Daniel has 13 races more under his belt – and that does make a difference.” (Ricciardo did half a season in 2011 with HRT)
Tost sounded as though he’s been giving Ricciardo plenty of encouragement, “I told him that he’s got six months now – if Red Bull Racing picks you – to prepare for 2014 and never forgetting along that way that in 2014 you will be the team mate of a three-time champion. Prepare mentally…”