Does anyone out there think there is any chance Daniel Ricciardo will not fill the spot for an occasionally-fast, often-unpredictable but always easy-going Australian at Red Bull next year? Despite the sincere attempts of this column to put Jenson Button in the frame for the drive, Ricciardo seems to be making his way over to Milton Keynes largely unopposed. Even Kimi’s candidature seems to have foundered on the not unsurprising matter of the fat fee he’s likely to require.
Daniel Ricciardo seems to be the man, which means that Toro Rosso squad is doing what it’s supposed to do; incubating and finishing talents and getting them set for a start with the first team. But is anyone else unconvinced by Ricciardo? Has he really earned a ride in the car that could well give him a crack at the championship next year?
It doesn’t take Jedi-like skill to recognise the strength of ‘the force’ (or ‘the fast’) in an apprentice racer. We all knew how good Senna, Prost, Schumacher, Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton all were from the get-go — in Hamilton’s case from the very first corner of his very first Grand Prix. Sensational drivers tend to do something sensational very early on. Some impressive qualifying performances and that first young driver test aside, charming young Danny just hasn’t. Nor did he exactly knock it out the park when he was re-united with a ‘proper’ Red Bull at this year’s young driver test.
So how has the equally charming Jean-Eric Vergne driven himself out of this particular picture? After all, he beat Ricciardo in last year’s championship and is, at half way through this year’s competition, on track to do it again. He seems the more consistent racer, the man to get the job done and in the absence of any great fireworks from Ricciardo, you’d think would have done enough for at least a quick conversation with Christian Horner.
Are Red Bull’s standards dropping? Ricciardo has comfortably out-qualified Vergne 7-3 and has made it to the last ten minutes of qualifying five times so far this year. (Vergne’s managed it twice, yet it’s Ricciardo’s fifth at Silverstone and sixth at the Nurburgring that stick in the mind). It’s also worth noting that Vergne has racked up no less than four retirements this year, not all of them unavoidable. But if Ricciardo is worthy of a crack at Webber’s seat, so is Vergne. Based on scoring, is either driver good enough?
And that’s possibly the real story at Toro Rosso this year. As a part of the slightly amorphous system that is Red Bull’s driver academy, it seems to lack the ability either to make drivers better, or make its mind up to try someone different. An awful lot of young men with apparent talent seem to have lost their way inside Toro Rosso, totally unable to shine in what is always just another ordinary midfield car. This year’s Toro Rosso STR8 is somewhere between the middle of Q3 and the middle of Q2, and the last with a Ferrari engine. Next year the team will run Renault turbos, possibly in a bid to catch some of Adrian Newey’s stardust. They need something…
The terrible technical funk that has the gripped almost all teams in the pack behind Red Bull in the last four years doesn’t just corrode today’s racing. If it means we struggle to find the next Hamilton, Alonso or Vettel, it will soon start to take the shine off the races yet to come.
Half term grades
Toro Rosso: B minus
Ricciardo: B plus