Mario Andretti, F1's world champion of 1978, has backed Red Bull's decision to sign Daniel Ricciardo. Some, including the German newspapers Welt and Bild, have criticised the signing of young "nobody" Australian Ricciardo over a champion candidate like Kimi Raikkonen.
But Andretti insisted: "I can understand the decision absolutely. They have this training team, Toro Rosso, that has already created Sebastian Vettel. So why would they have a training team if not for situations like this?" said the 73-year-old, referring to Mark Webber's departure for Le Mans. "This is a great signal to all young racing drivers that there is a way without having a big name," Andretti told Welt.
And, anyway, some take serious issue with the description of 24-year-old Ricciardo as a "nobody". "He is one of the most talented drivers," said Colin Kolles, who was Ricciardo's first F1 team boss at HRT. "His driving style is similar to the young Fernando Alonso and Ayrton Senna," he added.
However, even if Ricciardo does live up to that promise, it is unlikely he will be fully up to speed by the very first race of 2014 in Australia. Dr Helmut Marko has said the Australian will be given a grace period of "three to five races", by which time he will be expected to get "at least enough points for the constructors' championship".
Indeed, while Marko has revealed Ricciardo's contract is for "at least three years", Italy's Autosprint said the deal would include an initial assessment at the mid-point of next season. One thing Ricciardo can bank on, however, is a pay rise. Andrew Heathcote, rich list editor at the Australian business magazine BRW, said the driver's current $600,000 salary will rise to "about $2 million" now that he is at Red Bull.
That is an awful lot cheaper than Raikkonen, but another factor may also have played against the laconic Finn. "A very important consideration is the new set of rules next year," Marko told Austria's Servus TV. "This requires a lot of work with the technology and in the simulator, for both drivers. This made a difference for Daniel," he said, perhaps hinting that blase Raikkonen's work ethic would not have been as good.
Finally, Red Bull designer Adrian Newey played down the saga about Ricciardo's wide hips, insisting the 24-year-old will fit in the 2014 car. "Actually it's slightly easier now," said the Briton, "as he is not as tall as Mark." (GMM)