Daniel Ricciardo’s Route to F1

Route to F1

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The new F1 season begins next weekend with Daniel Ricciardo’s home race.

The Australian driver made his F1 bow with the struggling HRT team in 2011. Just three years later he was driving for the reigning world champions, and claimed a trio of victories last season.

The story began much earlier for the native of Perth who has Italian heritage. Karting in western Australia was never a guaranteed route to the big time where European racers were catching the big breaks in the lower single-seater formulae.

When the 15-year-old Ricciardo entered a 1990-vintage Van Diemen into the Western Australia Formula Ford championship, he had at least got a foot on the rung in cars. That season bought little joy as he remained far off the radar screen with such machinery, and renting a 1993 car for the season ending triple-header at Sandown Park failed to improve matters as he languished well outside the top ten all weekend.

Ricciardo had done enough to gain a scholarship place in Formula BMW – a category where future team mate Sebastian Vettel enjoyed extraordinary success in Germany. For 2006 Ricciardo joined the Asian Cup and became a race-winner at mid-season. Two wins at the Bira circuit in Thailand helped him to third in the championship, 59 points behind eventual champion Earl Bamber.

Seeking a move to the motor racing heartland of Europe, Ricciardo’s next move initially took him to Britain’s Formula BMW series. He appeared in the double-header round at Snetterton, and after retiring in the first race came home eighth in the second.

Ricciardo followed that up with a strong showing in the Formula BMW World Finals at Valencia, finishing fifth for Fortec, mostly behind drivers who were in their second year in the category. Here’s early footage of Ricciardo preparing for the event:

A week later, a damp Donington Park played host to a test in a Formula Renault 2.0 car which netted him a contract for 2007. RP Motorsport snapped him up for his first full year of racing in Europe, where he contested the Italian championship.

The season began promisingly with sixth place at Vallelunga. But a single podium finish at Valencia was as good as it got all year. Consistent but win-less, he ended the year sixth in the championship, and made little impression on his few appearances in the more prestigious Eurocup series.

But having gained a year’s experience on the European scene – and, crucially, earned the backing of Red Bull – Ricciardo made a breakthrough the following year. Now with SG Racing, Ricciardo went toe-to-toe with fellow future F1 star Valtteri Bottas in a scintillating season-long Eurocup battle.

Ricciardo scored the most wins but it was Bottas who edged the title by a three points. However Ricciardo had the beating of his rival in this celebrated battle between the pair at Silverstone.

Before his F1 victories, Ricciardo named that battle as his greatest moment in motor racing so far. “It gave me a real adrenaline rush,” he told the official F1 website.

Ricciardo went one better in the Western European Championship that year, winning eight times and overcoming a disqualification in Valencia to beat Roberto Merhi to the crown. He also crossed paths with future Toro Rosso team mate Jean-Eric Vergne for the first time.

Formula Three beckoned for 2009. Ricciardo had dipped a toe in the water the year before, driving one of SG’s car in the Euroseries round at the Nurburgring and earning a promising sixth place series.

But for his championship tilt he returned to Britain to drive for reigning champions Carlin. Victories in the both races at the season-opening double-header at Oulton Park – despite being up against more experienced competitors – put him on course for the title from the off.

Ricciardo finished all bar two of the season’s 20 races in the top five. That consistency saw him clinch the title at the penultimate round at the Algarve circuit in Portugal, despite Euroseries racer Jules Bianchi making an appearance and winning both races:

By the end of the year Ricciardo’s championship tally put him a convincing 87 points clear of his rivals, he was Australia’s first British F3 champion since David Brabham in 1989.

Ricciardo ended the year by making his only visit to the track he now names as his favourite – the Macau Guia circuit, home of the F3 grand prix, which he dubs ‘Monaco on steroids’.

But despite his fondness for the track it wasn’t kind to him. Having lined up sixth for the race behind the likes of Marcus Ericsson and Bottas, he went out in a first-lap crash which also eliminated half-a-dozen of his rivals.

Ricciardo had prepared for his 2010 move to Formula Renault 3.5 with a one-off appearance at the Algarve meeting in 2009. Returning with Tech 1 the following year, he was partnered with fellow Red Bull junior driver Brendon Hartley – a key rival for future F1 promotion.

However the toughest opposition came from Russian Mikhail Aleshin, who was racing in the category for the fourth year. He won two of the opening three races, but Ricciardo hit back with victory in the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix support race.

The remainder of the season developed into a tooth-and-nail fight between Ricciardo and Aleshin. With four races to go Ricciardo suffered a major setback when he was flipped out of the first Silverstone race by rival Jon Lancaster:

The next day Ricciardo came home second while Aleshin finished out of the points. There was just three points between them ahead of the final double-header at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Ricciardo won the first race, followed home by Aleshin. Now they were tied on points with Ricciardo ahead on count-back of wins. Heading into the final race he was leading the championship for the first time.

Wet conditions made for an intense final race. Ricciardo held third place ahead of Aleshin for much of the race, but in the dying minutes his rival found a way around him at the most unlikely of places.

Ricciardo tried to retaliate, but spun off in his efforts, and saw the championship slip through his fingers:

Following the disappointment of 2010, Ricciardo returned to Formula Renault 3.5 the following year. Although another title had narrowly eluded him, he had impressed Red Bull when given the chance to drive their F1 car.

Ricciardo tested the team’s RB5 at the end of 2009, and at the Young Drivers’ Test in 2010 he raised eyebrows by lowering Vettel’s pole position time at the Yas Marina circuit by over a second.

He made his first appearance in an F1 race weekend at Melbourne that year as a reserve driver for Toro Rosso, and almost matched the pace of the team’s regular driver Sebastien Buemi. He went one better on a later outing in Turkey, lapping slightly faster than Buemi.

His Formula One commitments took priority over a second year in Formula Renault 3.5, though he won the Monaco support race again. But Red Bull believed the time was right to get him in an F1 car – even if that meant an uncompetitive HRT.

He made his debut at the British Grand Prix and saw out the rest of the year alongside Vitantonio Liuzzi, a former member of Red Bull’s junior programme. But while Liuzzi bowed out of F1 at the end of the year, Ricciardo was now set for a promotion to Toro Rosso – and beyond.

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26 comments on “Daniel Ricciardo’s Route to F1”

  1. Excellent article

    Seemed a fairly average career till he tested a Red Bull F1 and lowered Vettels pole time , wow!

    The Smiling Assasin :)

    Go DanRic !

    1. Not to take anything away from Dan (I think he’s now one of the very top drivers on the grid), but I don’t think that young driver’s test really meant much. Karun Chandhok said that the track was over a second quicker due to track conditions improving (track rubbering in, temperatures changing, etc.).

      Ricciardo being around 1.3s faster than Vettel despite never having driven an F1 car before the test seems a bit odd. There were other weird results from that test:
      Jerome d’Ambrosio in the Renault was around 2.0s faster than Kubica or Petrov.
      Sam Bird in the Mercedes was around 1.3s faster than Schumacher or Rosberg.
      Maldonado was about 0.5s faster than Hulkenberg in the Williams.

      1. Ok , good points @polo well spotted,

        For sure a track can ramp up
        Obviously track temps and rubbering in ideal for test, so youngsters appeared to extract beyond maximum , :) :)

  2. I first met Daniel when he was competing in FR2.0 Italia in 2007 at Misano, and whilst he was no means leading the pack round, I distinctly remember thinking I had just spoken to an inevitable Formula 1 driver. Prior to F1 his astounding confidence both on and off the track always allowed him to outperform his results to some extent. This is not to say the fact that he disappointed in 2010 by failing to take the FR3.5 title was immaterial, it probably cost him a shot at Buemi’s seat in 2011, but his F1 future was largely never in doubt. His amazing battle with Bottas in the second race at Silverstone as the pair diced for the 2008 FR2.0 Eurocup title is one of my favourite battles in 28 years of following single seaters.

    Ricciardo has outperformed his junior formula stock in a manner that is remarkably similar to his former German teammate. Perhaps the most ironic thing is that neither Vettel or Ricciardo impressed single seater aficionados nearly as much as Vergne did. The fact that such career divergence has stemmed from the fact that Ricciardo was faster in qualifying represents the biggest failing in the Marko regime.

  3. how did aleshin not get a go in f1 if he beat ricciardo. now he is in indycar and not winning… that could have been ricciardo. f1 is a strange business…

    1. Aleshin was backed by Red Bull at one stage as well. But what’s more impressive: scoring 138 points with three wins in your fourth year in a category, or scoring 136 points with four wins in your first year in the category? I’d argue definitely the latter.

      But perhaps the most hard-done by driver in Formula Renault 3.5 that year was Esteban Guerrieri. He won more races than Aleshin or Ricciardo – six – and lost another at Silverstone due to a fairly minor technical infringement. Since then he spent two years in Indy Lights, finishing second both times, but never made it into IndyCar. Last year he was racing touring cars in Argentina.

      1. @keithcollantine – Very true, but Ricciardo was expected to take the championship in FR3.5 in 2010: a series that was suffering something of a talent vacuum versus GP2 and Euro Series F3. He was runner-up to the very highly rated Bottas in FR2.0 Eurocup in 2008, and entered the 2010 season as the reigning International British F3 champion. For me, not winning the championship in 2010 cost him a realistic stab at Buemi’s seat, who had disappointed the Red Bull management by making no perceivable progress in his second F1 campaign. It then took assured testing performances from Ricciardo and Vergne to secure Buemi and Alguersuari’s fates.

      2. @keithcollantine Not only he won more races, he also didn’t show up for some, because of monetary reasons. Guerrieri should’ve won that championship and it’d have opened more opportunities.

        He received a bit of backing from Argentina to race at Indy Lights but winning the championship would’ve allowed him to continue and reach IndyCars…

        But he didn’t, he returned to Argentina, he raced for Toyota in Super TC2000 (alongside triple champion Matias Rossi), didn’t really get the hang of the cars, and he’s now trying to reach Le Mans taking part of that “Race To 24” reality show…

      3. Fast as he was, Guerrieri spent much of the 2011 Lights season putting his car in the walls – combined with Newgarden’s impressive consistency that cost the Argentine a title shot. He got given another chance in a Schmidt car funded by a team sponsor (Lucas Oil), and still lost to rookie Tristan Vautier who was less experienced in racing. Just goes to show the Indycar ladder isn’t as easy to win in as some would have you believe…

  4. I remember thinking Ricciardo seemed far too laid back to be successful. One interview where he talked about missing a music festival because of F1 commitments really irked me.
    I’m glad I’ve been proved wrong.

  5. His lower category career looks average to me but what matters is now. He is in F1 and he is doing fine. He is my second favorite driver from Hamilton, and I hope is going to shine even more this year.

    1. In the junior categories Ricciardo achieved two titles and was runner up in two others. All up he achieved 25 wins, 57 podiums, 33 poles and 25 fastest laps.

      That is not an “average” junior record, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what they are talking about.

      1. @tdog – Ricciardo raced for seven years to achieve that tally, Hulkenberg managed 37 wins, 66 podiums, 31 poles and at least 32 fastest laps in five years. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a driver who is probably of a similar quality to Nico in an F1 car to have a comparable junior record. It’s not an average record, but equally there are plenty of drivers with a comparable junior career who never made the grade in an F1 car, Piquet and Alguersuari for example.

  6. I’m quite shocked people say that Ricciardo’s junior career is average. It’s not easy you know, jumping across championships. To be at the sharp end of the grid in three championships in three consecutive years is not easy.

    1. @wsrgo – I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a driver who is probably of a similar quality to Nico Hulkenberg in an F1 car to have a comparable junior record. It’s not an average record, but equally there are plenty of drivers with a comparable junior career who never made the grade in an F1 car, Piquet and Alguersuari for example. For me, like Vettel, Ricciardo’s F1 career was catalyzed not by his junior form but by his instantaneous affinity with the sensations of an F1 car in his first tests. For Sainz, Kvyat, Magnussen and Hulkenberg it was championship trophies that got them on the ladder, for Vettel and Ricciardo it was being quick out of the box when it mattered most.

      1. @countrygent I agree mostly. But equating Ricciardo and Alguersuari’s junior careers is not exactly accurate. Alguersuari never achieved much in major championships aside his British F3 triumph.

        1. @wsrgo Kovalainen then. Yes, the 2004 World Series by Nissan champion won a race and could challenge Hamilton on Saturdays, but he was not on the same page come the race. He wasted the same opportunity (i.e. a big team and a respected teammate) that Ricciardo exploited to the maximum.

          1. @countrygent Very true. I’ve always maintained that a person’s junior record is not always representative of how they will fare in F1. But what I meant to say was that even before his incredible 2014, I still thought his junior record was very good.

          2. I like Dan a lot, love red bull as a company, but I respect Newey the most and we should all add an astrix by our comments on Dan that his incredible 2014 and soon to be played out 2015 are in Newey cars. This comment cannot only be applied to vettel, who I also like.

    2. @wsrgo That’s why I think Vandoorne is one of the greats in the making, if he gets a shot in F1 in a proper car.

  7. Looking at Ricciardo records made me look at the record for the 3 senior drivers in F1 and their junior records is amazing but short. What I want to ask is how often do someone like Alonso, Kimi, and Button, with such a little running in normal sized (aka not card) open wheel racing got a seat in F1? Not in the current days of course (even Max, besides his age, already do more racing than those 3), but those 3 era? Are there other drivers with amazing record like those 3 (in karting of course) that didn’t have the chance or did get a chance (either in lower open wheel category or even managed to get in F1) but failed ?

    1. Btw, what I mean by short is that their open wheel racing experience other than carting was short.

    2. I don’t know if I’m answering your question correctly, but I do remember all three of those drivers were noted for having such short careers before joining F1. Especially Kimi. There was a lot of talk in 2001 about Kimi being far too young and inexperienced for a seat, not unlike some of the criticism directed at Verstappen.

      So all three were seen as being very young at the time, and not the norm, but I suppose they were the vanguard for proving that someone in their teens or early 20’s can race in F1, which is accepted out of hand today.

      Actually I remember reading an article when Felipe Massa entered F1 in 2002, age 20, one of his trainers was stating how training him for F1 was a challenge as his muscles had yet to develop fully! How times have changed.

  8. Arguably the best F1 driver last year, at least in my book. He’s my favorite, amazing overtaking, has some of the best from last year, especially with Alonso and Vettel. Made Vettel look like a rookie in Monza. Played chess with Alonso at the German grand prix, that was awesome!

    Clearly he is very very very good! I’m sure we will see plenty more from him, hope he gets a competitive car soon. Clearly a future champion.

  9. In my opinion the one driver that could wreck Lewis’ plans this year is Daniel, not Rosberg.
    That, and the fact that no British driver has defended his F1 title back to back I remember reading somewhere although there is always a first time! and I would be happier than most if Lewis achieved that!
    I have have been and will always be a die-hard Lewis fan but there is an air of invincibility about Riccardo

  10. I think people have to put drivers racin record in context depending on whether he had cash backin from the start .riccardo had to get backiin to go driving where else others had backing from the sstart . makes a big difference imo.

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