Australian Red Bull rookie Daniel Ricciardo will be under little pressure this season despite driving alongside four-time Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel, according to former racer David Coulthard.
Coulthard says 24-year-old Ricciardo, who moved from the uncompetitive sister Toro Rosso team at the end of last year to replace Mark Webber, is in an ideal position ahead of next month’s Australian Grand Prix.
“He’s had a great rise up to the point of driving for the world championship-winning team,” Coulthard said.
“It’s better to be up against the best guy statistically over the past four years than to be in the mid-grid beating your teammate, because ultimately this is about trying to win Grands Prix. He’s got a much better chance of doing that with Red Bull Racing than he was going to have with Toro Rosso.
“The expectation will be that Sebastian, as a four-time world champion, will be the team leader, so it’s all there for Daniel to play for.
“If he matches him, people will say ‘well, he’s really got some pace’; if he beats him, then people are going to really sit up and take notice. So I think the pressure is off Daniel in many respects.
“When I made my debut as a young driver for Williams, I didn’t feel any pressure – all I saw was opportunity. I think that’s the benefit of youth – you just go for it and then think about the consequences afterwards.”
However Coulthard had a warning for the affable young driver from Perth to beware of trying to be over-accommodating at the expense of his work within the team.
“I think it’s inevitable that there’ll be changes in the way he engages with the public and media and the team as he develops,” Coulthard said.
“It’s impossible in life not to change, and if you’re not changing, you’re not getting experience and being able to make better decisions.
“There’s going to be a lot more demands on his time, especially making his season debut in Melbourne. He’s an approachable, smiley character, and if he hasn’t done so already, I think he’ll really connect with the Australian people.
“But everyone has to remember that he’s there to do a job. If he’s outside signing thousands of autographs and Vettel’s hidden away in the back of his engineering debrief looking at ways to make the car go faster, you can see which one is going to have the better opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Coulthard said that with the raft of new changes in F1 this season, including the switch from V8 engines to V6 power plants and controversial new bodywork, “uncertainty” lies ahead and many teams could struggle to complete races.
“If you go back to the mid-1990s and certainly up to 2000, it was commonplace for only half the field to finish a Grand Prix,” he said.
“It changed with gearboxes that had to do four to five races and engines likewise, and it forced engineers to have to be more conservative, so we got into this situation where very often you’d see all the cars finishing the Grand Prix.
“I think that’s unlikely to happen in Melbourne this year.”