Daniel Ricciardo - The man from Down Under is on the up

 

Since the Belgian Grand Prix at the very start of September we've seen a definite upturn in form and fortune for Toro Rosso and in particular Daniel Ricciardo. The 23-year-old Australian, now in his second season of Formula 1, has really started to show what he is capable of in a Formula 1 car. So who exactly is Daniel Ricciardo?

Like many Formula 1 drivers, Daniel has a successful background in single seater racing. He won the Formula Renault WEC championship in 2008, having previously raced in Formula BMW around the world. He then graduated to British Formula 3, winning the championship in his first and only season. Notable past winners of that particular series include Jackie Stewart, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello. For 2010 he moved up to Formula Renault 3.5, finishing as runner up in first season.

In 2011 Toro Rosso appointed Ricciardo as their test driver. He quickly made an impact by being faster than then driver Sebastian Buemi in his first practice session in the car. Half way through the season Red Bull paid for Ricciardo to be move to HRT and drive for the Spanish outfit for the rest of the year. He again made an instant impact in the opening few complete race weekends he took part in, not only competing with his more experienced team mates Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan, but beating them as well.

When it was announced that Toro Rosso would be replacing both Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastian Buemi for the 2012 season, it had many up and down the paddock scratching their heads, especially given the way they and the team had ended the 2011 season. We know that Toro Rosso is basically there to build future stars for their sister team Red Bull, but to replace both drivers at the same time seemed a little extreme. Jaime Alguersuari in particular must have felt a bit let down by the whole fiasco. Still, the two drivers that replaced them, Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo, arrived with a lot of promise and raw talent. Much was expected of both, but could they deliver?

The season started well with Ricciardo finishing inside the points at his home race in Melbourne before team mate Vergne followed that up with an 8th place in Malaysia just one week later. Unfortunately for the team and its two drivers, that was really as good as things got for a long period of the season. The car just wasn't quick enough to compete with its rivals, the likes of Force India and Williams, and became the 9th fastest car on the grid for much of the mid season. Whether having two inexperienced drivers had something to do with that, I'm not sure, but changes were made. Red Bull drafted in some new faces behind the scenes and changes were made to the management and running of the team. Possibly the biggest and most important change came with the appointment of James Key, a key man (pardon the pun) previously at Force India and Sauber. Key is highly respected in the paddock and this appointment is one that can only be good for Toro Rosso, both short and long term.

The team finally returned to the points at Spa, with Vergne coming home 8th, just ahead of Ricciardo. It was vital that the team took advantage of the chaos at the first corner, an incident that eliminated many of the front runners, and that's what they did. A double points finish for a team that hadn't scored since round 2 of the championship was a great result. That race really seems to have spurred Ricciardo on, and he's since gone on to score points in 3 of the following 4 races, making it 4 times in the past 5 races all together. His last 5 results of 9th, 12th, 9th and 10th and 9th show very good consistency and that he does have the ability to drag a result out of the car, even if it's not necessarily capable of always fighting for points. The car's performance has definitely improved over recent rounds, which has given him this chance to fight further up the field, and it appears to be something he's relishing. Had it not been for an issue with the car late on Korea, Ricciardo would have finished in an excellent 8th place (which would have been a career best result), but instead came home just behind his team mate in 9th. What made that drive even more impressive was that he started the race from 21st on the grid.

There are two other important factors that I think are worth noting, particularly when it comes to comparisons with his team mate. The young Australian appears to be a stronger qualifier than his French counterpart and has dropped out of qualifying in Q1 just once, compared to the 6+ times Vergne has. It appears that he is able to deal with the pressure of a last minute one lap run better than his team mate, something which has proved vital given the car's lack of performance for the majority of the season.

To follow on from that, Ricciardo has retired from a race on just one occasion this season, compared to Vergne's three. It shows that even with a relative lack of experience, young drivers can bring a Formula 1 car home in one piece after 300km of racing. Not only does he bring the car home, but he does so by racing, not just driving. He knows how to race, he knows how to race cleanly and he knows how and where to defend his position. We saw this at Suzuka when under pressure from the great Michael Schumacher that Ricciardo knew just where to position his car to not only keep his position, but to keep his level of speed too. He's shown a really impressive level of maturity for a driver that has only been in Formula 1 for just over a year; and at the moment appears to have the beating of his team mate, though I still think the two are very evenly matched.

These recent drives would appear to have secured Ricciardo's future with the team for the 2013 season, but what about beyond that? You'd have to think that 2013 will be Mark Webber's last season with Red Bull, maybe even his last in Formula 1. So is Ricciardo in the prime seat to replace Webber? Could it be one Australian replacing another in 2014? Obviously it's too early to say, it's hard enough to predict what'll happen in 2013! But you'd have to think that if the 23-year-old can keep up this recent form then he's in with a great shout. Having that said, I was thinking the exact same thing about Jaime Alguersuari 12 months ago and look what happened to him. He's certainly got a bright future and definitely one to watch out for.

What do you think? Have you been impressed with Ricciardo and the job he's done, given that the car hasn't always been there for him? Could he one day end up at Red Bull? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below!

Image Source:Daniel Ricciardo

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