What's been impressive about the Ricciardo/Vergne pairing is that they have remained friends. They are very different characters, but crucially they got to know each other as teammates in Formula Renault, and spent a lot of time together away from the track. It sounds like they had a good time.
“We were still very young, still a bit immature I guess,” Daniel recalls. “We'd get to a race weekend on Thursday for practice on Friday, and every Thursday we'd find a go-kart track somewhere across the world, and just completely destroy each other's legs and everything! We were pretty reckless, but we had a lot of fun.”
After that Ricciardo was always a year ahead, with Vergne following in his wheel tracks, even driving the same F3 chassis in the British championship a year after Daniel. The fact that these two pals could end up as F1 teammates – and in a straight fight for one of the best seats on the grid – is quite a story, one that Marko was happy to see happen.
“I think because we had been teammates before, and we knew that let's say we were becoming quite competitive, he thought it would be a good showdown or something,” says Ricciardo. “He knew that we were both very hungry for it, very hungry to beat one another. I think that's essentially what they want to see, they want to see a good fight and to see who comes out on top. For that reason I think it was quite predictable that we would be together.”
Daniel says that their shared history has made them both appreciate what the other has achieved.
“I think so, just knowing that we both came up as kids through to F1 together, it sort of makes us realize that's how all the other drivers got here, they were kids once, and they've worked their way up. It brings everyone back down to a pretty normal level. If I was to jump in and have Schumacher as my teammate straight away, because I didn't know him, it would probably be a bit more daunting. But to have the other guy come up with you it makes you realize that everyone else is the same.
“It's bit off the topic, but I really like UFC, mixed martial arts fighting. These guys fight nearly to the death, or to a high threshold of pain! After the fight they acknowledge that the best guy won. Yeah, we are extremely competitive, and out on track we are fighting for everything we can, but I think at the end of the day whoever the best man is will get the respect he deserves. I think that's how it should be.”
Off track there's a touch of the old school about Ricciardo, and that makes him all the more appealing. There's no BS about him, and what you see is what you get. And most of the time you get a big smile – he is as friendly and down to earth as he appears to be on TV. It's easy to slip into clichés like "nice guys don't win," but he wouldn't have made it this far if he didn't have an inner drive. Don't forget that in his early days Vettel had a boyish charm about him, and he proved to be hard as nails...
Red Bull clearly has faith, but ask yourself one final question – where would he have figured on a list of possible replacements at Ferrari or any other top team?
He would have been on that list certainly, but there would have been several other guys who never came under serious consideration at Red Bull, where it came down to a question of taking a World Champion or promoting from within.
Now it's up to Daniel to prove that he really is better than the likes of Hulkenberg, Di Resta, Bottas and Bianchi, and others who are highly touted. We know he's quick – his qualifying performances prove that – but performing week in week out in a top team, alongside a multiple World Champion, is another step. And he has to be up there from the off, and not find himself sidelined into a supporting role.
It's worth noting that he will join at Red Bull at age 24 and with 50 GP starts behind him. Vettel was 21 and had contested just 26 races when he joined the team in 2009, and yet he was a title contender from the start. There won't be much of a honeymoon period...