MONZA, Italy (AP) – Relieved that the wait is over, Daniel Ricciardo is getting mentally prepared for the challenge of racing for Red Bull next year.
After weeks of speculation, Red Bull signed Ricciardo from Toro Rosso to a multiyear deal on Monday. The Australian will replace Mark Webber, who will retire from F1 at the end of the season to race sports cars.
The 24-year-old Ricciardo had been the favorite to fill the Red Bull seat since the Hungarian Grand Prix at the end of July, and the decision was expected to be announced at the Belgian GP two weeks ago. Then there was talk that Kimi Raikkonen or even Fernando Alonso would replace Webber.
“I think it’s a bit of relief now there’s no more speculation and dodging questions … I found out few days before the announcement but I still didn’t know at Spa, so no lies were told,” Ricciardo said Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Italian GP. “Everyone knows now, so it’s nice. I’ve got eight more races this year, so looking forward to giving Toro Rosso a nice farewell.”
Ricciardo has a best result of seventh place this season _ at the Chinese GP in April _ and four top-10 finishes. But he will be expected to do much better alongside three-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel and score big points in a faster car.
“I’d love to be as competitive as I can as quickly as possible,” Ricciardo said. “I’m pretty fortunate to have spent some time with Red Bull racing as a reserve driver. By December, hopefully, I’ll already have a good relationship with the guys and see how they work. But I’ve got a head start.”
The 37-year-old Webber has had a difficult relationship with Vettel over the years, but expects Ricciardo to settle in.
“It’s a perfect scenario for team, fits very well. He knows how to handle himself, so he’ll be OK,” Webber said. “It’s rare we have Australians (in Formula One), but for us to be handing the baton over in a very successful team is good.”
Meanwhile, Alonso took the opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to Ferrari, for what he hopes is the rest of his career.
“So many rumors that I was joining Red Bull, that I was going on a year’s sabbatical. But I still have 3 1/2 years (left) with Ferrari which I intend to respect and hopefully increase a little bit,” the 32-year-old Alonso said. “I want to finish my career in best team in world, which is Ferrari.”
Ferrari has struggled for consistency this season, particularly in qualifying. Alonso is 46 points behind Vettel in second place.
While it will be hard for him to make up that ground with eight races left, the Spaniard expects next season to be much tighter, when regulations change dramatically with the introduction of new 1.6-liter V6 turbo engines.
“We’re not having a very good period,” Alonso said. “But next year (there) will be completely new rules, which will open the door for teams to stop (the) domination which Red Bull has had the past couple of years. We have high hopes.”
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