Loving life in fast lane
WE’RE all going to be hearing a lot about Daniel Ricciardo in the next few years.
But, in case you have no idea, Dan is The Man for Australia in Formula One as Mark Webber heads for retirement and a pension plan with Porsche in sports cars at the end of the year.
Ricciardo is a 24-yearold from Perth who has been fast-tracked to the best team in grand prix racing, where he will compete alongside triple champion — perhaps a fourtime winner by the end of 2013 — Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull Racing.
So he’s basically taking Webber’s place in a like-forlikely Aussie swap.
That’s great news for Ricciardo, and Australia’s F1 fans, but there is much more to the story.
Dashing Dan is proof that driver training works and also that there is still a place for old-fashioned values.
The first time I met Ricciardo, he was what’s called the ‘‘Friday Driver’’ at the Toro Rosso team.
So he got track time, engineering training time and experiences against the aces on grand prix weekends, without actually racing.
He was running on the equivalent of P-plates after building up through the learning stages that begin in go karts, being coached and mentored through every step towards his F1 dream.
Ricciardo’s training is not so different from learning to win — some would say survive— on the road.
He began by learning the basics of car control and etiquette in karts, stretching the envelope for each step higher up the motorsport ladder, just as a new driver on the road needs to learn to work the controls and control their car, before understanding the rules in traffic, the needs for long-distance driving and the challenges at night and in bad weather.
Some people say that advanced driver training makes youngsters over-confident and encourages them to take risks on the road.
My belief, and it’s backed by others — not just racing drivers like Mark Skaife, although he is a safety champion — is that you can never have too much training or experience.
If that was the case, pilots would only get minimal tuition and nothing in the way of cockpit upgrades or refreshers as they move up from single-engined trainers to an Airbus A380.
Coming back to Ricciardo, he is also a credit to his parents Joe and Grace.
I’ve spoken to them both, once when Grace was in England helping set him up away from home in Perth, and they are straightforward, open and helpful.
So is their son, and that’s incredibly rare in motorsport.
Ricciardo is a thorough gentleman, who makes time, returns calls and seems happy just to be a regular bloke who likes music and fun and fooling around as much as any 24-year-old despite his highpressure job in the billiondollar F1 fishbowl.
He also understands there is more to life than F1, happily taking on braces at the start of his time with Toro Rosso and even knocking back a chance to drive a Porsche.
‘‘No, thanks. I don’t think I can be trusted,’’ he tells me when I offer him the keys to a 911 at the Australian grand prix.
‘‘You drive. I’m happy. Besides, it might be too much temptation,’’ he laughs.
‘‘Maybe when I can afford one myself.’’
Well, right now Daniel Ricciardo should have no trouble handling the fastest Porsche 911 turbo, or — like Webber — finding the cash to put one in his driveway.
Perth’s Daniel Ricciardo will join triple world champion Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull Racing, replacing compatriot Mark Webber