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Ricciardo smiles...but scrutiny will be tough

The Australian will replace countryman Webber for 2014 and will pair with already three-time (maybe four by then) champion Sebastian Vettel, not an easy task.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013

September 4th, 2013 (F1plus/P. Godley).- So, The Smile joins The Finger. Daniel Ricciardo becomes the second graduate from the Red Bull Junior Programme to sign with the Austrian outfit's works team. He succeeds compatriot Mark Webber in partnering triple World Champion Sebastian Vettel for the 2014 campaign. Right, that takes care of that. Let's move on to the gritty stuff.

Driving for a team who have already won three consecutive Drivers' and Constructors' Championships - and who could be on their way to making that four - brings with it a whole new level of scrutiny. His bosses have stated they expect him to be challenging Vettel from mid-season onwards. No pressure there then. It appears like he'll be allowed time to 'ease' in, if there is such a thing at this level. But there will surely be expectations to race at or near the front on a regular basis, right from the get go.

We know his performances are going to be scrutinised to the nth degree, particularly against his team mate. But something I'm looking forward to analysing will be his performances and results compared to Mark Webber's, relative to those of Sebastian's. We all know now how Mark has fared against his German team mate, with the two having been paired together for the past five seasons. But how will someone new compare? The comparisons against Vettel are inevitable and will quite rightly happen, but just keep an eye on the smiling Australian's performances relative to those of his fellow countryman.

Ricciardo arrives at a time when the team is well and truly on top. The team knows they belong at the front, and with that comes the expectation to deliver from the outset.

Things were slightly different when Vettel arrived in 2009. The team had relatively little success, with just a smattering of podium finishes to their name, and had strangely just come off the back of a season where they finished behind Toro Rosso in the Constructors standings. Are there now different levels of pressure and expectation to succeed, both on and from the team?

The decision to go with Ricciardo vindicates not only the Junior Programme, but the value of having Toro Rosso on the grid as well. It gives the young drivers a platform to show what they can do in Formula 1, and if they perform well then the opportunity to progress forwards is there. Of cause, as is the case with many things in life, timing is crucial.

We've seen a couple of notable cases where young drivers have been shown the door despite impressing. If you've been in the junior team for a couple of years, but there are no opportunities in the main team (as has been the case since 2009), then what happens? There are only two seats per team, but significantly more than two drivers fighting for them. Some can consider themselves a little more than unlucky to be out, but circumstances just weren't in their favour. It further highlights the problems having a junior programme can have on the future of young drivers, and for that matter, teams.

But Daniel has been chosen. He has progressed through the ranks and now has the opportunity to show exactly what he can do. Scour Twitter when Formula 1 is being discussed and you'll quickly see a recurring theme. People want to see young drivers given a chance at the front. They want to see progression, they want to see performances being noticed and rewarded. This is exactly what has happened to Ricciardo. It's fantastic to see.

Yes, they could have gone for a more experienced option, a safer bet you may say. Making the decision to go with potential over a known quantity could be more fruitful, particularly long term. You have the chance to mould, nurture and develop a driver into your way of thinking and one that could ultimately prove as successful as Sebastian.
Sebastian's success is something I've discussed before. For all the positives, there are inevitably some negatives. Young drivers coming through the same programme will always - rightly or wrongly - be compared to Vettel. His success will be almost impossible for anyone to replicate, particularly at the speed the German achieved it. So what can young drivers such as Ricciardo do? Try their absolute best at all times.

It's a brilliant opportunity with unknown and untold potential. New pressures. New demands. New expectations. That is top level motor racing. That is Formula 1. He has the drive he's always desired, 2014 is the time to show why he deserves it. There is no hiding at the front. But one thing there is sure to be, is one heck of a smile! Well done, Daniel.

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