For many years now, the hopes of Australian Formula 1 fans have rested solely on the shoulders of Mark Webber. We have consistently risen at ungodly hours in the hope that he will one day edge out Sebastian Vettel for the world championship crown.
However, as the curtains draw on Webber’s long stint in the sport, attention is now shifting toward a lively, 24-year-old from ‘Down Under’, who is currently vying for the most sought-after seat in Formula One. He’s the next big thing in Australian Motorsport, but who exactly is Daniel Ricciardo?
He was born in Perth, Western Australia, on the 1st of July 1989. At just nine years old, the enthusiastic youngster commenced his long journey through the ranks of Australian motorsport. Throughout a seven-year karting career, Ricciardo’s talent started to turn heads in entry level motorsport, as he claimed victory in numerous state and national karting championships.
In 2005, he stepped up to compete in the Western Australian Formula Ford championship, albeit in an uncompetitive 15-year-old Van Diemen. He did, however, manage to steer it to an impressive eighth position in the championship by the season’s end. In the same year, Ricciardo also tried his hand in the national Formula Ford category at Sandown Raceway, however in an equally uncompetitive chassis; he scored a best result of 16th across the three races that weekend.
Despite grappling with an aging and comparatively sluggish entry, the Western Australian’s talent earned him a scholarship with Eurasia Motorsport in the 2006 Formula BMW Asia Championship. Nineteen starts later, Ricciardo had notched up two race wins, twelve podium finishes and one pole position, prompting him to enter the Formula BMW World Final with Fortec Motorsport as well as a round of the British Formula BMW Championship.
The following year, Ricciardo switched to compete in the Italian and European divisions of Formula Renault. After contesting 14 races in the Italian championship, he managed to end the season in sixth place overall. He continued in Formula Renault throughout 2008, during which he won the Western European championship and finished second to Valtteri Bottas in Eurocup Formula Renault.
Carlin Motorsport was Ricciardo’s home throughout 2009, where he contested the British Formula Three Championship. The Australian achieved victories at famed circuits such as Oulton Park, Silverstone, Spa Francorchamps and Brands Hatch, proceeding to win the championship by an impressive 87 points in a field including Max Chilton and Nick Tandy.
Success in 2009: Ricciardo romped to the British F3 title and went on to earn himself a spot in the ‘Young Drivers’ F1 test session at Jerez – he impressed all by finishing quickest!
In the same year, he also tasted competition in a single round of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, however it was a disappointing endeavour after he retired from the first race and finished 15th in the second. He was, however, invited to drive for Red Bull in the young driver test in Spain, where he topped the time sheets by lapping the Circuit de Jerez over a second faster than his closest rival.
Ricciardo commenced full-time competition in the 2010 edition of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series for Tech1 Motorsports. He finished the campaign a frustrating 2 points behind the eventual champion, Mikhail Aleshin, after being overtaken by the Russian on the penultimate lap of the final race of the season. However, Ricciardo was well on track to gain a berth in Formula One with another impressive showing in the young driver test for Red Bull Racing, as well as holding down the reserve pilot position for the Milton Keynes based team.
A narrow miss in 2010: Ricciardo missed out on the 2010 Formula Renault 3.5 title by just two points, but earned another outing with Red Bull Racing in the ‘Young Drivers’ test at Abu Dhabi.
The Western Australian intended to contest another full time season in the 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 Series for ISR Racing; however a seat in Formula One loomed ever closer as the year progressed. Ricciardo gained valuable time behind the wheel of the 2011 Scuderia Torro Rosso entry in pre-season testing, and also matched it with stable mate Sebastian Buemi in free practise for the 2011 Australian Grand Prix. Ricciardo continued to gain priceless experience behind the wheel in each free practise session for the opening eight rounds of the season, and eventually out-performed Buemi in a wet practise session for the Turkish Grand Prix.
The dream came true for the young Australian at the 2011 British Grand Prix, with Red Bull allowing their protégé to drive for the Hispania Racing Team alongside Vitantonio Liuzzi. A delighted Ricciardo proclaimed “It’s a dream come true for me – for the first time on an F1 starting grid! I had to pinch myself a couple of times to be sure that it’s real. I’m excited and can hardly wait to drive at Silverstone. It’s a new challenge, a new experience, a new team, but I’m ready and will give of my best in any event."
The eager rookie easily steered his HRT entry to within the required 107% of the pole time, and finished the Grand Prix in 19th behind his more experienced team mate.
Ricciardo contested the remaining events in the 2011 season, achieving an equal best result of 18th at the Hungarian and Indian Grand Prix’s. He also managed to out-perform his team mate, Vitantonio Liuzzi, on five occasions throughout his very first season in the category.
As Toro Rosso cleared their decks for the 2012 season, Daniel Ricciardo was signed by the Red-Bull owned outfit in what would be his first full season contesting the world’s top motorsport category. “This is a really big deal for me and something I have wanted ever since I was driving for Toro Rosso on Friday mornings at the races in the first part of last season” said Ricciardo. He would, however, face stiff competition from his French team mate, Jean-Eric Vergne, in the sister car.
Ricciardo started the 2012 season brilliantly, scoring points in his first outing for Toro Rosso at the Australian’s home Grand Prix. However, the following ten rounds were miserable for the energetic pilot, failing to score any points and he accordingly sat lower in the drivers’ standings than his French team mate.
The slightly younger Frenchman was less consistent, however nabbed eighth place in four races that year, which created a 6 point deficit over the Australian by the season’s end.
There was no wielding of the axe at Toro Rosso in the 2013 pre-season, with the Faenza based team retaining Ricciardo for another full-time tilt at the premier category. Knowing the make or break nature of the 2013 season, he explained “Everyone’s a rival and someone I want to beat… Just try and tear them all apart really.”
Prior to the opening race in Melbourne, he acknowledged that the goal of simply making it to Formula One would not be enough, and the fiercely competitive instinct within his charming personality began to surface.
In a wet qualifying session for the opening round in Melbourne, Jean-Eric Vergne out qualified Riccardo by three tenths of a second, and the Australian was immediately on the back foot as he had been through much of 2012.
It was the same story in the race, with Vergne steering his STR8 to 12th while Ricciardo limped out of the Grand Prix with a mechanical issue. The second round in Malaysia saw Ricciardo fall further back from his team mate after an exhaust problem forced another retirement, his second for the season. Pressure was mounting on the cheerful Australian.
Meanwhile, speculation began to grow in relation to the future of Ricciardo’s compatriot, Mark Webber, at Red Bull Racing. A tense Malaysian Grand Prix prompted Webber to holiday in Australia mid-season to contemplate his future in the sport.
Vultures circled, and eventually Webber declared his intention to retire from the world’s premier motorsport category in order to pursue sports car racing with Porsche. Consequently, Ricciardo is now in the fight of his life to convince Red Bull Racing to grant him a drive in Formula One’s premier team.
Inspired by the opportunity, he pilot snared eighth position in the British Grand Prix, and every race that the young Australian competes in serves as an audition for the 24 year-old to fortify his place in the team next year. As recently as yesterday, Red Bull Racing team principal, Christian Horner, declared the fight for the second Red Bull Racing seat was “essentially” a two-horse race between Daniel Ricciardo and Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen.
Yesterday, the laidback STR pilot drove the Red Bull RB9 and the Toro Rosso STR8 at Silverstone during Day 2 of the ‘Young Drivers’ Test, putting in a stellar performance to finish first and third on the timesheets, claiming the unique honour with his quickest laps in the respective cars.
He’ll have to do plenty more to demonstrate why he deserves to steer an entry prepared by the most dominant force in modern day Formula 1. Ricciardo’s 15-year journey to the top of world motorsport has reached its most crucial phase, and he needs to deliver.
Should Daniel Ricciardo succeed in landing a full-time drive with the Milton Keynes team, the Western Australian is every chance to become Australia’s third Formula One world champion, a feat that Mark Webber has unfortunately never achieved. May the late nights continue!