March 4th, 2014 (F1 Plus/J. Polychronis).- The 2013 season showcased the most anti-competitive contest for a Drivers’ Championship since 2004, if not in the entire modern era of Formula One. Needless to say, this has left many yearning for change in the hope that it will deliver greater excitement.
And no, double-points is not what the F1 community had in mind I’m afraid, lads at the FIA. In fact, that decision is nothing short of a cataclysmic embarrassment to our sport – however, we must save this issue for another day.
It is change amongst driver line-ups which have many people regenerating their excitement for this year, and rightly so.
The showdown between world champions Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, at Ferrari is the key feature of intra-team struggles in 2014. Although, the pairing of two Red Bull Junior Team graduates is most certainly noteworthy. I speak, of course, of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo.
The promotion of Ricciardo to the coveted seat at Red Bull sees the Australian arrive at the final checkpoint of his pre-determined progression as a member of Red Bull Racing: A progression which has taken him through a variety of Formula, and now 3 separate F1 teams. Ricciardo’s appointment is well deserved, a sentiment which has been endorsed by his new team-mate Vettel.
“He's talented enough, he's earned his place and I'm sure he'll give me a hard time” said the four-time world champion.
Ricciardo’s predecessor, Mark Webber, echoed comments from Vettel during the pre-season.
“He thoroughly deserves the seat — you don't get a seat like that from not putting the yards in,” said Webber.
“He's achieved arriving in Formula One, he's earned his stripes, and now he's in a top team where he can show to everybody, including himself, what he's really capable of.”
Webber continued to heap praise on his compatriot, stating that “he’ll win grands prix this year.” A strong vote of confidence, but is such high expectation fair on Ricciardo?
High hopes for Ricciardo
Expectation of Ricciardo is likely to exceed what is realistic due to desire. Underdog victories are favourable in sport (and life in general) and at the same time, many F1 fans are growing dissatisfied with the predictability of Vettel’s success. Subsequently, people such as Webber, are backing Ricciardo in for a competitive year – it’s what they want.
In reality, Ricciardo will most likely act as Vettel’s proverbial mop to wipe the floor with for the majority of the season.
Harsh? Perhaps. Although, Vettel’s predictable stronghold over the intra-team battle is not to say that Ricciardo will have a disappointing season. In fact there is so much experience available for Ricciardo to consume this year, while the Australian also has little to lose (bar any unexpected career implosion).
Furthermore, there is indeed a chance that Ricciardo can claim a Grand Prix victory - should Vettel have an off race. Winning the final 9 GP and 13 out of 19 last season, it appears there are precious few lapses for the German though.
What will be acceptable?
There is little precedent which allows us to determine what will be an acceptable season for Ricciardo. Few drivers, who have continued to become the best in the modern era, have had to endure their first season in a competitive car alongside a multiple world champion who’s in their prime.
For example, Michael Schumacher joined Benetton with an out-going Nelson Piquet Jr, Vettel was promoted to Red Bull with Webber and Kimi Raikkonen joined Ferrari who had Felipe Massa.
A complete annihilation for Ricciardo this year may be an acceptable result – who is to say?
The only circumstances potentially contesting this theory was Lewis Hamilton’s outstanding performance in his 2007 rookie season against Alonso, and Ayrton Senna’s upon his switch to McLaren in 1988. Alonso’s 2007 season however, was hampered by a fractured relationship with McLaren. As for the Senna example, well, I can tell you right now: Ricciardo is not Senna.
Expectations of Ricciardo for 2014 must remain restrained. Development is the key for the 24 year old this year, not victories over his team-mate.
If you still find it difficult to hold some faith within the lad, consider this: Ricciardo is the first driver to reach the culmination of the Red Bull program since, well…Vettel. Many have fallen along the way, such as Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi and Karun Chadhok.
The bottom line
So what should we actually expect from Ricciardo this year? Will he, now driving for Formula One’s premier team, rock the foundations of Vettel’s dominance? Hardly.
Will the Australian snatch the occasional pole position, potentially carrying on to a maiden Grand Prix victory? Possibly.
Can we expect, however, Ricciardo to continue his natural progression as a Formula One prodigy and develop into one of the sport’s top drivers?