In July Daniel Ricciardo made the jump from Toro Rosso test driver to HRT race driver and has now competed in three grand prix. As Formula 1 begins its summer break, the Australian rookie has been reflected on the transition, and already his sights firmly set on the sport’s top prize.
“I would like [my name] to be remembered; I would love to be World Champion one day and have my name on the list. That is the real dream,” says the 22-year-old. “I think I am at a good age and very motivated to really have that as my long term goal.”
Of course, all dreams need to start somewhere, and for Ricciardo, it was at the British Grand Prix. He had already been a regular participant in the first eight races of 2011, but only during FP1 as he took to the track in a Toro Rosso for the Friday morning session each weekend.
“I think it was really special to have my first race at Silverstone, with all the history that surrounds it,” he said. “Personally, I would have picked Australia as my first race but I have always said that if it wasn't there, then Silverstone would be the perfect place to make my debut.”
Ricciardo is part of the Red Bull Young Drivers Programme, and has spent much of his short F1 life within Red Bull and sister-team Toro Rosso. It was Red Bull who persuaded Colin Kolles, team principal at HRT, to parachute their young prodigy into the car that was up to that point occupied by Narain Karthikeyan.
“I didn't really know any of the personnel [when joining HRT], everybody was new to me,” recalls Ricciardo. “I spent last year with Red Bull and a bit of this year with Toro Rosso so I was quite enclosed with them and therefore didn't really know many other people in F1. Coming here was a new experience and my knowledge of the team was very limited.
“They were really nice and helpful,” he added. “Silverstone wasn't going to be easy but they made it as easy as they could for me. There was no tension and they let me build into it, everybody was welcoming. I noticed that last year there were a few driver changes so I guess they were used to having a new driver in the car. They made it easy for me which was very nice.”
Ricciardo was 0.575 seconds off the pace of new team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi for his first qualifying session and started his first F1 race from the back of the grid. However, he took advantage of retirements to bring the car home in nineteenth, albeit three laps behind race winner Fernando Alonso.
Two weeks later in Germany, Ricciardo was most closer to Liuzzi in qualifying, just 0.025 seconds off the more experienced Italian around the NÃ¼rburgring. Again, Ricciardo brought the car home in nineteenth. A week later in Hungary and Ricciardo out-qualified Virgin Racing driver Jerome d’Ambrosio and finished the race in P18.
As Ricciardo explains, these results were obtained in car that is not particularly easy to drive. “I like high speed corners but with the F111 it is taking a little time to build up to that. Tonio has been quicker in the high speed sectors in the first few races. That is a part that normally I am strong at so I expect to get better. As for the rest, I am quite a smooth driver and not too erratic; I think I drive with quite a lot of finesse. I guess that is what has got me here.”
In Liuzzi, Ricciardo has a competitive team-mate who appears to be getting the most out of a car that is clearly one of the worst on the current grid. In fact, Liuzzi scored HRT‘s best ever F1 finish of thirteenth in Canada back in June. Ricciardo understands that the Italian, veteran of 73 grand prix starts, will be difficult to beat.
“I think the result in Canada was really good, Tonio has proved he is a very capable driver and I think he will be tough to beat,” Ricciardo acknowledges. “In Silverstone I was quite off his pace.
“It was very clear to me that I have a strong teammate. It is going to take my best efforts to really try and get in front of him and to push for a personal best result for the team. I don't think it is going to come through luck; it's just going to be hard work for now.
“I really have to soak in as much information as I can to try and become the driver I want to be and, hopefully, the one who maybe gets a personal best result for HRT one day.”
Obviously being world champion is the big target for Ricciardo, but he also has a slightly more realistic goal for the remainder of 2011. “The target is to continue learning,” he says. “I think that will come with time in the car. If I could manage to sneak out a personal best result or edge out Tonio and the Virgins in a few races that would be a strong result. I have to aim high because it is only going to help me for the future. I think that for the last few races of the year I can really start to push and aim for it.”
With the possibility of a seat at Toro Rosso or even Red Bull in 2012, Ricciardo will be hoping to impress over the final eight races of the season. The 2009 British Formula 3 champion has been tipped by many as a star of the future, and his career in F1 should be followed closely.