Loving life in fast lane

NT News - Motoring - - CARS GUIDE - By PAUL GOVER

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

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