Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne have today been discussing what life will be like at Toro Rosso after the team yesterday announced them as the race drivers for next season.
Ricciardo, when asked how it felt to be given this job, seemed pretty pleased: “It feels amazing!” exclaimed the Australian. “It's nice coming into next season knowing what I'm doing and being able to focus solely on that. I am looking forward to working with a good group of people that I already spent a lot of time with this year. So there's plenty to look forward to in 2012.”
“I was actually at home, it was after dinner and the phone call came,” he added. “It was short, sharp and to the point, but it contained all the news I wanted to hear. It was an awesome Christmas present and a big relief. I was with Mum and Dad at the time and I came out of my room and told them the news and it felt pretty special.”
“Until something is done you are always going to be a little bit concerned [that you might not get a drive], but I know everyone at Red Bull is looking after my interests and I felt I had done a good enough job this year for them to try and find me a seat for 2012. I had faith something would come through.”
Ricciardo has spent 2011 around the Formula 1 paddock. The early part of the year was spent at Toro Rosso, where the 22-year-old completed some Friday practice session for the team. From the British Grand Prix onwards, he was driving for HRT.
“Looking back at the whole year, I did more travelling than ever before in my life and I found out it can be really tiring and can take it out of you,” he said. “So I learned how important it is to be on time and to manage my time as efficiently as possible and to rest when I can.
“There was so much to take in this year and from the driving point of view, as a reserve driver you can see everything the job involves, but until you are actually racing, you do not realise the demands it puts on you, so that was another important lesson. I learned to get my priorities right and not waste my energy elsewhere.”
Ricciardo already knows new team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne ‘pretty well’. “We were signed up as part of the Red Bull Junior team on the same day and we were team-mates back then, in the Renault 2.0 series,” he explains. “I spent some time with him at his house in France, going karting together.
“We had a pretty good relationship by the standard of racing driver team-mates. As we progressed, the rivalry got stronger between us, but the important thing is that we respect one another. We both want to beat each other more than anyone else and it's been like that since we first raced together. It's a good thing and means we will get the maximum out of the equipment we are given. Next year will be a proper test for both of us. “
The Australian also talked about his plans for the winter. “I have spoken to Laurent (Mekies, Chief Engineer) and we are putting together a pre-season programme now,” he said. “I imagine that very early in the new year I will have to abandon the beautiful Australian summer and head for freezing Italy and get down to business, making sure I am as well prepared as possible.
“My trainer told me I could take it easy until Christmas, but once I heard I got the drive I wanted to go out and bash myself up in the gym.”
Verne was celebrating the news of his drive by working in the team’s simulator. “I think it's a good thing to be working today, just a few hours after hearing that I have the drive with Toro Rosso next season,” said the French rookie. “It helps me keep my feet on the ground, but in any case, I love the work, driving either the real car or in the simulator. It also makes a difference knowing that the work I'm doing in the simulator is now for my own benefit on track and not just for other drivers.”
“I was at home in Paris when I got the call,” he said. “I was very excited and keen to tell everyone, but I did not dare phone anyone until the team told me that it had put out the official press release. Once I knew it was out there, I started calling my parents and my family of course and my trainer and others who have helped me along the way. After that, I could not make any calls because people were ringing me nonstop.”
As the 21-year-old revealed, there have been plenty of people who have helped him reach the pinnacle of motorsport. “Obviously, Red Bull is top of the list and without them I would not be in Formula 1; maybe I'd still be in college,” he said. “After that, I have to say that the FFSA, the French motor sport federation has been a great help, backing me ever since I was racing karts. Then I won a Federation championship called the Autosport Academy, so they got me on my way before I became part of the Red Bull programme.”
Vergne is also looking forward to becoming team-mates with Ricciardo once again. “I think it's fantastic for me to be team-mates with him,” he said. “He's a great guy and I like him as a friend. We joined the Red Bull programme together so we have known one another for a long time, working together in other series.
“In Formula 1, you only get one team-mate, so you have to make the best of it, working together to do as good a job as possible for the team. We have similar driving styles and we get on well and that will be a positive factor for us next year. Dan could probably have a slight edge over me at first as he has done eleven races this year, but let's see how it develops, as we have all the winter testing ahead of us before we start racing.
“I know that I have a lot to learn, so I hope I can do that quickly. I am conscious it could be very tough, but I also know that in general, I learn and I adapt very quickly: certainly that was the case in every category that I have raced in so far. Formula 1 is different, tougher than all the rest, but I feel confident.”
Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost revealed that the driver line-up for 2012 was not finalised until Tuesday, the day before the announcement was made. “Our driver line-up had been under discussion for a long time as it is obviously a vital component of the team's performance,” he said. “The final decision was taken in a meeting at Red Bull headquarters in Austria on 13 December 2011.”
“We do not wish to discuss our driver contracts, but let's just say that it is their performance level in the car that is the deciding factor and if they do a good job, this will help their cause in terms of how long they stay with us.”
Tost also said that, although Ricciardo has the edge over Vergne on F1 experience, he will not necessarily be the number one driver. “Given that [Daniel] has some actual F1 racing experience, it would be natural for him to settle into the job more quickly,” he said. “However, Jean-Eric has shown he learns rapidly so I expect him to be on the pace quite soon. It will be important for the team to ensure we give them as many kilometres as possible in winter testing.”
It would be fair to say that many people were rather surprised that both Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari were dropped by the team. Tost explains the reasoning behind the decision:
“Sebastien has been with us for three seasons and Jaime for two and a half,” he said. “Both of them worked hard for the team, doing their very best and achieving some good results. However, Scuderia Toro Rosso's ethos has always been that of the “rookie training school” and with over two seasons under your belt, you are no longer a rookie.
“In an ideal world, drivers would move from Scuderia Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing, but there are no vacancies with our sister team right now. It might be seen as a harsh decision, but Formula 1 is a tough environment and Toro Rosso has always been very clear about the principles behind its driver choice.”
“It is a very interesting experience for everyone in the team to work with young drivers and it means you can educate them the way you want,” added Tost, denying that it was frustrating to have to use inexperienced rookies. “Everyone, from the race engineers to the communications people can try and give the new drivers good habits, which they can use for the rest of their career.”
“It is always good to know who your drivers are as early as possible,” he continued. “For one thing, weeks of speculation are usually disruptive to the work of a team. Although we know our two new drivers quite well, it also means they can already start working with the engineers, assimilating information and even having some input into minor details regarding the new car. It also means I can be sure they are taking their winter fitness training very seriously!