After landing a seat at Red Bull Racing for 2014, Australian Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo might want to keep an old saying in mind: Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true.
That’s because the 24-year-old driver will not only spend next year going up against one of the top drivers in F1, but will also have to do it in a team built around young phenom Sebastian Vettel.
When asked about the road ahead, Ricciardo was quick to admit that going into a season with the talented German on the other side of the garage won’t be easy.
“He has achieved a hell of a lot in his career,” Ricciardo said.
“To put myself up against him I think is a great challenge for me and I will learn I’m sure very quickly. I want to be put up against the best and really see if I can mix it up with Seb and the top guys in the world. I know it’s going to be a challenge, but there’s no better guy to have as my teammate.”
And, some teammate. With eight races to go in the season, including this weekend’s Italian Grand prix at the famed Monza Circuit, the reigning three-time world champion looks to be well on his way to becoming the first driver in the history of the sport to win his first four titles consecutively.
Now there’s no doubt that Ricciardo is quick, but being fast alone doesn’t stack up well against Vettel, who is one of an elite group of drivers on the grid recognized as the best in the world. He not only fast, he’s cunning and ruthless, as evidenced by his disobeying team orders early this year to pass teammate Mark Webber for the win in Malaysia.
His drive to win delivered three championships fighting against one of the most talent-laden grids in the history of the sport. Indeed, three drivers behind him in points going into Monza this weekend are world champions who are among the best to have ever raced in a grand prix: Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, and Lotus driver Kimi Räikkönen.
The numbers don’t look good for Ricciardo either. By the time Vettel was 24, like his new teammate is now, he already had a world championship in his pocket and was on his way to a second consecutive title. He also had taken 17 victories and 21 poles. The driver from Heppenheim also broke several records along the way, becoming the youngest driver to score an F1 point, take a pole, be on the podium, notch up a victory, and win a world title.
Against that daunting resume, Ricciardo has never finished better than seventh in a grand prix driving for the Toro Rosso squad for the past two seasons. To make matters worse for Ricciardo, Vettel’s star was born in a jaw-dropping, rain-soaked victory for that same Faenza, Italy,-based outfit at the Monza Circuit in 2008.
On top of all that, there’s no doubt Ricciardo will be under a microscope in 2014. But for now, he’s going to concentrate on the rest of his season with Toro Rosso and start thinking about goals once the racing is done in 2013.
“For sure I am going to have to put up with a lot more scrutiny or whatever gets thrown my way,” he said.
“There is going to be more pressure now and people are going to expect results and they aren’t going to wait forever. I’m ready for that. I’m not here to run around in tenth place – I want to get the best results for myself and the team.”
And although he will likely need to push hard in 2014 just to keep his head above water, the young Australian will be thrown into the deep end when the season begins next March.
In addition to lining up on the grid with a megastar teammate, his first race with the big team will be at home in Melbourne in the 2014 Australian Grand Prix.
“How will I feel in Melbourne? For sure very excited,” he said.
“The couple of times I have been there as an F1 driver now it’s been pretty hectic and obviously I’ve gotten lots of attention but I don’t think I’ve seen anything yet. Next year when I go there, it’s going to be on another level.”
Dixon wants race director fired
Speaking of unwise wishes, an angry Target Chip Ganassi driver Scott Dixon called for IndyCar to axe its race director, Beaux Barfield, after a controversial Labour Day weekend in Baltimore.
It’s difficult to blame Dixon for leading the fire Barfield contingent since the New Zealander always seems to be on the receiving end of bad calls. It all began last year when race control, headed by Barfield, gave Dixon a drive thru penalty for a jumped restart in Milwaukee last June. The only problem was that race control made their assessment based on the wrong replay.
Things got heated again when Dixon was penalized last month after hitting one of Penske’s pitcrew during the race in Sonoma, Calif. While there’s no doubt there was contact, Dixon believed the crewman deliberately walked towards his car on purpose to make it difficult for him to exit his pitbox. At the time, Dixon was fighting with Penske driver will Power for the win.
Last weekend in Baltimore, Dixon and Power then tangled on a late restart and the Ganassi car was damaged in the incident. But Barfield refused to allow the car to be towed back to the pits for repairs, something that cost Dixon valuable points.
And while it’s easy to have sympathy for the Ganassi driver who has seen his championship hopes diminish over the past two races, he also must realise that Barfield’s departure would likely mean the return of the loathed Brian Barnhart to race control.
Considering Barnhart’s long history of inconsistent calls and questionable judgment in race control, nobody really wants to see him back. So, perhaps Dixon might want to think about another old saying: Better the devil you know.
Tag back in sports cars
Canadian Alex Tagliani starts his second race in with AIM Motorsport Racing this weekend with co-driver Jeff Segal in the Continental Tire Sports Car Festival at California’s Mazda Raceway.
Tagliani hopes to have better luck in California after a dominant performance in the No. 61 Ferrari went for naught in Kansas last month when a sticky fuel nozzle in the final pitstop pushed the team from first to sixth at the finish.
“I am very excited about being back,” said Tagliani, who was pushed out of his IndyCar ride with the Bryan Herta squad in late July.
“This is kind of a dream come true to be able to be in the Ferrari family and go racing. I am very passionate about the brand.”
For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone