What has been generally accepted for weeks is now official: Daniel Ricciardo will drive for Red Bull alongside Sebastian Vettel in 2014. The 24-year old Australian will take the place of Mark Webber, who leaves Formula One at the end of 2013 after a 12-year career including seven seasons at Red Bull.
Ricciardo is the recipient of what is truly the chance of a lifetime. He will race alongside arguably the top current F1 driver at the current top F1 team. He will have the opportunity to win races and compete for the world championship. On the other side of the coin, he will have no valid excuses should he fail to perform.
Ricciardo is the second product of the Toro Rosso team to be signed for Red Bull – Sebastian Vettel himself was the first. Toro Rosso exists partly as a training ground for Red Bull drivers, and so far the system has worked well, albeit briefly. Vettel won a race for Toro Rosso in 2008, to-date the only Toro Rosso victory, before replacing the retiring David Coulthard at Red Bull in 2009 and taking that team’s maiden victory at the 2009 Chinese Grand Prix.
Daniel Ricciardo has not had the same level of success as Vettel did at Toro Rosso, but that is understandable considering that the team is not as competitive as it was back in 2008. Nonetheless, Ricciardo is highly rated and expected to excel in his new team next season.
Red Bull’s new driver is understandably thrilled at being signed to drive for the world champion team. Ricciardo said after the announcement:
“I feel very, very good at the moment and obviously there’s a lot of excitement running through me. Since joining F1 in 2011, I hoped this would happen and over time the belief in me has grown; I had some good results and Red Bull has decided that this is it, so it’s a good time.”
Ricciardo made it clear that he knows what is expected of him as a Red Bull driver, saying, “Next year I’ll be with a Championship-winning team, arguably the best team, and will be expected to deliver. 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.”
Despite his excitement, Ricciardo remains focused on the task of securing results for his current team, Toro Rosso, in 2013: “My aim is to finish this season as strong as possible, for myself and Scuderia Toro Rosso. Then, once the off-season is here, I’ll be fully focused on next year and the next stage of my career.”
With just over an hour to go to qualifying at the Hungaroring, there is no clear favourite for pole position. That’s quite unusual for 2013, a season in which all of the 9 pole positions so far have been taken by Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton (evenly shared with 3 each).
Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber set the pace on Friday for Red Bull, but did not feature at the front in FP3 this morning. That in itself is not an indication of a lack of pace – they could simply have been running more fuel than their rivals – but it does raise the question: have they sacrificed qualifying pace in favour of race pace, perhaps assuming qualifying supremacy beyond what is realistic?
In FP3, Romain Grosjean topped the times with the fastest lap of the weekend so far, 1:20.730, half a second quicker than Vettel went yesterday. Grosjean is looking perhaps a little bit quicker than team-mate Kimi Raikkonen this weekend, at least on short runs. Raikkonen’s strength this season has been his race pace, which is quite difficult to gauge in practice. Lotus are, nonetheless, in the hunt for pole position. Grosjean has never had a pole position in F1, and Raikkonen has yet to top qualifying since he returned to the sport at the start of 2012. Can they break those two ducks today?
Ferrari are also looking quick. Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa have both been within a few tenths of the front-runners throughout the weekend. Massa did not appear to get the maximum out of his Ferrari in FP3, but Alonso was on top of his car as ever. He set the second fastest time in FP3, just 0.168 seconds behind Grosjean, and will be looking to carry that speed into this afternoon’s qualifying session.
The big question mark for qualifying is over Mercedes. Both drivers struggled in Friday practice, but Lewis Hamilton seemed to have rediscovered his confidence this morning after some overnight setup changes. He set the quickest time in FP3 on medium tyres, but could not hold onto the top spot when the soft tyres went on. Could Mercedes have been hiding more pace in Hamilton’s car? He went just 8 tenths quicker on the soft tyres, while those around him improved by over a second in many cases. It could be that Mercedes know they have found some speed in Hamilton’s car, but they are choosing to hide it until it counts in this afternoon’s qualifying session.
A pole-sitter from any team other than Red Bull, Lotus, Ferrari and Mercedes would be a massive surprise. The top four teams are sufficiently far ahead of the rest to be quite sure of front-row dominance. But it is close at the front. Any one of the 8 drivers from the top four teams could be on pole in Hungary.
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:21.264||34|
|2||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:21.308||0.044||42|
|10||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1:22.304||1.040||41|
|11||14||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:22.526||1.262||39|
|20||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||1:25.065||3.801||36|
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:22.723||19|
|2||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:22.982||0.259||24|
|7||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1:23.390||0.667||20|
|18||14||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:24.608||1.885||21|
|20||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||1:26.808||4.085||25|
Normally it’s difficult to predict who will take pole position for a Grand Prix. Typically this season, there have been at least four drivers in with a chance of the top spot in qualifying. But at the German Grand Prix, it seems quite clear that Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have a clear advantage.
In final practice, Vettel finished up three quarters of a second clear of second-placed Nico Rosberg. While it’s possible that fuel loads had something to do with the gap, it seems unlikely that it would explain the entire difference. Vettel has found performance the rest of the field does not have, and he will be hoping that his car continues to perform at its current high level.
But Vettel will have his challengers. Mark Webber in the other Red Bull has yet to outqualify his team-mate this season, which is not a record he will want to keep going. He has the same car as Vettel, so it is all about setup and driver performance to make up the gap to Vettel.
Mercedes will also be going all-out for pole position. Nico Rosberg has been second quickest in all three Free Practice sessions this weekend, and is well-placed for a strong challenge for victory tomorrow if he can keep up his pace into qualifying. But to challenge Vettel, he will have to find some more speed in his Mercedes.
Lewis Hamilton in the other Mercedes has had a tough weekend, battling for rear-end grip in his Mercedes. He finished FP3 over a second down on Vettel’s pace, which will be extremely concerning for Mercedes. They will be working flat out in the break between FP3 and qualifying to try to extract some more performance from Hamilton’s car.
Behind Red Bull and Mercedes, it’s a battle between Ferrari and Lotus for the third and fourth rows of the grid. There could be some surprises – McLaren, Force India and Toro Rosso are all looking reasonable and could make a challenge reasonably high up on the grid. They are, however, unlikely to challenge for pole position.
Further back, it’s all about saving face. Williams will be hoping to get both cars into Q2, something they haven’t managed very often this season. Tomorrow’s German Grand Prix will be the Williams team’s 600th Formula One race, and they would dearly love to celebrate it with strong qualifying and points in the race.
|1||1||Vettel||Red Bull Racing||1:29.517||19|
|3||2||Webber||Red Bull Racing||1:30.211||0.694||18|
|13||14||Di Resta||Force India||1:31.733||2.216||21|
|21||21||van der Garde||Caterham||1:33.964||4.447||21|
|10||14||Di Resta||Force India||1:31.797||1.381||40|
|20||21||Van der Garde||Caterham||1:33.804||3.388||40|