Plum F1 seat awaits 24-year-old Aussie
It seems certain now that Daniel Ricciardo will be confirmed this week as the replacement for fellow Australian Mark Webber in the world’s top Formula One team, Red Bull Racing.
If correct, the 24-year-old from Perth will have a plum drive in a car designed by the genius Adrian Newey for the new era of turbocharged V6 engines that should enable him to become Australia’s fourth grand prix winner.
In doing that he would join a 'club' comprising Sir Jack Brabham, Alan Jones and Webber, who is departing F1 at the end of this season for sports car racing with Porsche.
Germany’s Sport Bild publication has reported that Red Bull has decided on Ricciardo and that the announcement will be made at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.
“Unfortunately, I cannot say any more than that we will make an announcement at Spa,” said Red Bull’s all-powerful motorsport consultant and ex-F1 driver Dr Helmut Marko.
That announcement is most likely to come on Thursday night, Australian time, before the track action gets underway the next day.
For whatever reason, it seems that Kimi Raikkonen has opted not to become the new teammate to Red Bull’s 26-year-old triple world champion, who in all probability will be a four-times champion by the time next season starts.
Raikkonen’s name is still being linked to a return to Ferrari, for which he was the last world champion in 2007, in place of Brazilian Felipe Massa and as teammate to Fernando Alonso, who also was touted to have been on Red Bull’s shopping list but is under long-term contract to Ferrari -- even if he's frustrated that it has been unable to give him a car to compete with the Red Bulls and now Mercedes and Lotus.
While it now appears that Ricciardo’s progession through the Red Bull junior driver development program will be completed with promotion to its premier team, F1 is always capable of a last-minute surprise.
Italian magazine Italiaracing has claimed that it will be Raikkonen at Red Bull alongside Vettel next year, with Ricciardo replacing the Iceman at Lotus.
What is clear is that it will be Ricciardo moving on from Red Bull’s junior team, Scuderia Toro Rosso, rather than his French teammate Jean-Eric Vergne.
Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost has already alluded to 22-year-old rising Portuguese star Antonio Felix da Costa being in line for Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso seat next season.
Vergne has accepted that he won’t be Webber’s replacement, even though he scored more world championship points than Ricciardo last year, 16 points to 10, and heads him in the championship again this year, 13 points to 11.
If indeed Ricciardo has been anointed as the new Red Bull Racing driver it will be on the basis of having outqualified Vergne 80 per cent of the time they have been teammates and his extra half a season of F1 experience, having begun with the now-defunct Hispania Racing Team, aided by Red Bull sponsorship, in mid-2011. Red Bull and Toro Rosso always have been impressed by Ricciardo’s technical feedback on race weekends and in the limited testing allowed in F1 these days.
Another factor may be that data, particularly from Toro Rosso, may have indicated that at times he was on course for better race results that did not eventuate due to mechanical problems or team strategies.
Tost already has warned Ricciardo to “be prepared for a rough ride” if he lands the Red Bull seat.
There will be high expectations on him to perform from the outset – and to win races if Vettel can’t, either through mechanical failure or accidents.
Red Bull has made it known that it wants a second driver who can score 200 points a season.
The always-smiling and unpretentious Ricciardo has always made it known that his ambition was not simply to make it to F1 but to win GPs and become world champion – something Brabham did three times (in 1959, ’60 and ’66) and Jones achieved in 1980, but which has eluded Webber (although he twice has finished third, in 2010 and ’11, and has won nine GPs).
Ricciardo likely would enjoy a better relationship with Vettel than Webber has, in part because he would start out accepting that he was very much the No 2 driver in the team.
“Of course (I would not expect equal status) at the start of the season,” Ricciardo said recently.
“But I’m in Formula One to be the best.”
Niki Lauda, the triple world champion now involved with the greatly-improved Mercedes factory team, has said that Raikkonen would have been “the better short-term solution” for Red Bull but that Ricciardo is a longer-term option.
“They (Red Bull) can take a risk in their driver choice, but not Ferrari (which has faded recently rather than narrowed the gap to Red Bull and other teams),” Lauda said.
“If Raikkonen doesn’t go to Red Bull then Ferrari should try to get him on board in order to have a counter-weight to Alonso.
“After six years without a title Ferrari is under great pressure.”
Lauda discounted suggestions that Spanish dual world champion (with Renault) Alonso would have been the man for Red Bull if he could have been unlocked from his Ferrari contract.
“That would only bring trouble to the (Red Bull) team,” Lauda said of the Spanish dual world champion (with Renault in 2005-06), who had a tumultuous 2009 season at McLaren with Lewis Hamilton, now with Mercedes.
“With probably four world championship titles with Vettel (by the end of this season) Red Bull has the luxury of weighing Raikkonen and Ricciardo in peace.”
If Sport Bild has it right, and there is every chance it does, the decision has been made – in Ricciardo’s favour.
Moffat gets contract extension with Nissan
V8 Supercar driver James Moffat’s contract with Nissan Motorsport has been extended in what has been called “a multi-year deal” – which probably means two years.
Moffat, son of the legendary Allan, lies 15th in the V8 Supercar Championship, two places behind the best of Nissan’s four drivers, Rick Kelly.
He has had seven top 10 finishes in the 24 races so far, ahead of this weekend’s Winton 360 in northern Victoria, and Nissan Motorsport chief executive John Crennan highlighted that “he has passed more drivers in race conditions than any other this season”.
Meanwhile, new V8 Supercar chief executive James Warburton is pushing for the first of the two 250km races at the Sydney 500 to be run in the twilight.
“The appeal of a late afternoon start, especially on a Saturday summer’s evening in Sydney, is one we believe will be highly successful,” Warburton said.
Warburton’s plan is that the racing car headlights would provide enough illumination rather than the expense of lighting the track, perhaps not possible at such short notice anyway with the Sydney 500 on the first weekend of December.
Negotiations are said to be continuing with the NSW government for a renewal of the contract to stage the event at Homebush, thought unlikely until recently after falling short of the projections made for it when the former Labor government funded most of the establishment costs.
A better day for Ambrose in NASCAR
Marcos Ambrose made up 20 places in the latest round of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, the Michigan 400, to finish sixth.
That moved him up a spot in the championship to 22nd – ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya, who at the minute is out of a drive for next season.
Ambrose’s Ford Fusion finished behind the victorious Ford of Joey Logano, the Chvrolets of Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Paul Menard and the Toyota of Clint Bowyer.
Veteran Mark Martin ran out of fuel three laps from the finish, handing the victory to Logano.
Thirteen drivers led the race.
It was the first Cup win this season for Roger Penske’s team that won the title last season with Brad Keselowski driving a Dodge, a marque that quit NASCAR when it could not find a suitable replacement team.
This victory was in Penske’s “backyard”.
“This (Michigan) is my home state, home track (he owned the two-mile, 3.2km oval for 16 years until 1999), and Detroit is my city,” Penske said.
Series leader Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet engine blew at quarter-distance and his high-profile Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Junior hit the wall and he was classified 36th – four places ahead of Johnson.
Earlier over the weekend Ambrose finished seventh in a round of the second-tier Nationwide Series at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course while fellow Tasmanian Owen Kelly was 23rd – although he was on course to be third until running into the gravel on the last lap.
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