Last week Daniel Ricciardo said he was told a drive at race winning team Scuderia Toro Rosso (the junior team of World Champions Red Bull Racing) was a pipe dream. This morning the team announced it had signed the West Australian for 2012.
In a complete clear out of the driver line-up, Scuderia Toro Rosso will race in 2012 with Jean-Eric Vergne of France beside Ricciardo. It means that Swiss Sebastien Buemi and Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari (the youngest ever driver to race in F1), have been left without a drive less than a fortnight before Christmas with few drives available.
For Ricciardo, the news is immense. It will mean he will become the second full-time driver from Australia on the F1 grid in 2012. It’s the first time two Aussies have been confirmed as full-time race drivers for an entire season in the history of F1.
Ricciardo, 22, drove 11 races for last placed team Hispania Racing (HRT) this season. He was placed there by Red Bull Racing having served as reserve driver for both the Suderia Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing teams previously. Having out-paced HRT team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi, a former Scuderia Toro Rosso driver, it was enough to convince the team to sign the West Australian for the 2012 season.
Team boss Franz Tost told Autosport: “Over the past year, both Daniel and Jean-Eric have proved their worth and I expect them to make a significant contribution to the team’s performance next year. Daniel has the benefit of having actually raced in Grands Prix for much of this year, while Jean-Eric proved he could adapt quickly to the demands of driving a Formula 1 car.”
Tost also admitted that he was not unhappy with the performances of both Buemi and Alguersuari, who led the team to eighth place in the Constructors Championship this year. However, he stated that Scuderia Toro Rosso was built as a junior team for Red Bull to give its young drivers a chance at the big time, and with Buemi and Alguersuari having driven for the team since 2009, it was time for a change.
Ricciardo was overjoyed by the news. In another interview with Autosport, he said, “”To be honest, I am still jumping up and down with excitement at the news. In the second half of 2011 I learned a lot from the people I worked with, racing in eleven Grands Prix and I want to thank them for the opportunity they gave me.”
With other Aussie Mark Webber possibly retiring in 2012, it’s a race between Vergne and Ricciardo to prove they are good enough to partner Sebastian Vettel in 2013 in the Championship winning Red Bull Racing team.