Ricciardo aiming to go the distance
Mark Webber was his usual wry self on Thursday when he considered fellow-Australian Daniel Ricciardo’s Formula One race debut with tail-enders HRT this weekend.
“It’s a bit of a no-brainer in the car that he’s driving,” he said when asked whether he would be advising the 22-year-old rookie to ‘go for glory’ at the British Grand Prix or just try and finish.
“Even if he went for glory, we wouldn’t see that he did.”
Webber, a race winner and championship contender last season with Red Bull, finished fifth on his 2002 debut with minnows Minardi.
Ricciardo, a Red Bull reserve who has taken part in Friday practice with Toro Rosso, has replaced Indian Narain Karthikeyan at a team that has yet to come close to scoring a point since their debut last year.
Karthikeyan was 24th, the first driver ever to finish in that position, in a European Grand Prix without a single retirement two weeks ago.
Just qualifying at high speed Silverstone will be the first challenge but Ricciardo, a Perth native of Sicilian extraction who turned 22 last week, was looking forward to the experience.
“I didn’t expect to be racing Formula One this year so it’s a huge opportunity for me and still a bit of a shock,” he told reporters as he sat next to Brazilian Rubens Barrichello — the only driver to have started more than 300 races — at a news conference.
“It’s something I have dreamed of since I was a boy. For the race, I think the first aim is to try to finish and just get the miles under my belt and the experience at this level of my career.
“I’ve never done a race this long so physically and mentally to find out where I am, I think that is going to be good.”
Ricciardo will want to compare well against Italian team mate Vitantonio Liuzzi, a former Red Bull and Toro Rosso driver, with Red Bull bosses watching his moves closely.
The youngster — who pronounces his name ‘Riccardo’ because it’s easier for Australians to get their tongues around — is expected to race for Toro Rosso next season, and he has also been seen as a possible successor to Webber.
The last time Australia had two drivers on the starting grid was in Austria in 1977, when one of them — Alan Jones — went on to win.
Webber, still without a win this year, liked the sound of that as an omen.
“I’ll have to win at the weekend then, won’t I,” grinned last year’s winner.
“I won’t drive a different race because he’s on the grid,” he said. “But I know how unique and special it is to compete in your first grand prix.
“So here he is. And he fully deserves to be here...obviously the apprenticeships are getting shorter and shorter these days.
“It’s good to see Daniel learning his trade in a smaller team to start with. The work begins now.”