Formula 1′s Silly Season is far from over and the fates of drivers including Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa remain undecided. In fact, we’re just a few weeks shy of a year since Lewis Hamilton announced he’d be leaving McLaren – has it really been that long? With the F1 rumor mill churning at full speed, Red Bull took it upon themselves to clear the air, with the announcement that Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo, would be taking the place of Mark Webber in 2014. It’s exciting news for both Ricciardo and those exhausted by pay drivers diluting the sport.
Ricciardo did things the old-fashioned way. After a successful campaign in Formula 3, he worked his way into a drive with Toro Rosso. This season, the Australian had his best finish in China, placing 7th overall. Ricciardo has certainly got the pace and it will be exciting to see him in a truly great car, but given Red Bull’s history, you have to wonder if he’ll have the full support of his team to challenge for race wins.
Red Bull is no stranger to controversy. The Multi 21 incident in Malaysia earlier this year is what many consider the final straw in Webber’s decision to leave the team (and the sport). Sebastian Vettel’s success is hard to ignore – 3 Driver’s Championships in 3 years with the potential for a 4th in 2013. With that success rate comes certain liberties within the team – some may even say preferential treatment. The intent isn’t to feed conspiracies, but it’s ironic that a vast majority of the team’s mechanical issues have been on Webber’s cars. There’s also the issue of team orders, which Red Bull like to downplay, only for conversation’s sake. Could Ricciardo be setting himself up for a similar situation within the team?
Earlier today, Christian Horner responded to the hiring of Ricciardo:
“We expect him to challenge Sebastian. He’s employed by the team to do the best job that he can. He’ll get equal opportunity. He’ll get the same chance, the same equipment (as Sebastian) and it will be down to what he does on the circuit that counts at the end of the day.”
Truth or more comedy from the Red Bull camp? Unless anyone has managed to acquire a copy of Ricciardo’s contract with the team, we won’t know until this thing plays out next season.
Vettel’s contract with Red Bull will expire at the end of 2014. With the potential for a 4th Driver’s Championship this season, Red Bull will be eager to keep Vettel and will in no way want to jeopardize that relationship. That may cause some collateral damage, namely Ricciardo getting stripped of his fair shot to shine on the team.
Granted, all of this is purely speculation but it’s hard not to consider when we see how things ended with Webber – one of the last true gentlemen racers in Formula 1. It’s a massive opportunity Ricciardo and time will ultimately tell.