Hasn’t it always been a two-horse race for the Red Bull seat?

Hasn’t it always been a two-horse race for the Red Bull seat?

0749LW1DX0078After confirming earlier today that Jean-Eric Vergne was out of the running for the second seat at Red Bull next season, Christian Horner may have just told us something that, in truth, we already knew…

Perhaps that’s a little too harsh on Jean-Eric Vergne, who now has to ask himself: “just where is my career going?” The natural progression from Toro Rosso is intended to be Red Bull (even if since 2006 just one driver, Vettel, has actually done so). The likes of Alguersuari and Buemi, as talented as they may have been, were simply cast aside when it was clear that they didn’t have the ‘Vettel’ factor. Frankly, Ricciardo lacks that too, but maybe Red Bull have come to the conclusion that they do not require two like-minded drivers, but instead a partner to support Vettel.

On paper though, snubbing Vergne could be a mistake on Red Bull’s part. Indeed, he outscored Ricciardo in 2012 (16 points plays 10) and is also leading this season (13 plays 11), producing a particularly outstanding performance at the Canadian Grand Prix as he finished P6. Incidentally, this was the best result for Toro Rosso since, you guessed it, Sebastian Vettel, who finished 4th in his final race for the team at Interlagos in 2008. The case for Vergne is that he scores more heavily on less frequent occasions – i.e. two hauls of eight versus three hauls of five. Also, he has shown his skill in the wet (Monaco 2012) – what more do Red Bull want?

Personality – and this is where Ricciardo appears to win by a long stretch. Quite a telling sign came at Silverstone.

After qualifying, the usual media sessions got underway in each of the team’s hospitality units. I dotted around from team to team before making my way to Toro Rosso – important seeing as Webber had confirmed his retirement two days earlier. Along with another couple of journalists, I was invited to a table that Daniel Ricciardo would soon grace, having qualified an excellent P6. I thought “oh he’ll be smiling,” reflecting on a conversation about the Australian with a fan at the FOTA Forum.

“He’s always smiling.”

“Yeah. You could probably run over his cat, and he would still smile at you.”

What made his qualifying result all the more smile-worthy was that he lay ahead of his rivals for the Red Bull seat: Kimi Raikkonen and Jean-Eric Vergne. As Daniel walked in, Mark Webber was heading down the stairs of the energy station. They stopped, shared a 0738LW1D3046handshake and a few words for about thirty seconds, both smiling all the while. Of course, compatriots, but this had the element of something ‘more’. A few days later, Webber announced his support for Ricciardo in getting the seat, which was obvious to see in this little half-minute interaction.

When he did arrive, the obvious question was asked:

“So that’s that Dan, deal with Red Bull signed after qualifying ahead of Kimi and Jev?”

Daniel began to chuckle, before composing himself and explaining how it wasn’t his foremost thought, merely a neat coincidence. More questions came along the same vein, causing him to laugh and smile more and more. All the while though, he was being deadly serious when answering questions. I came away from his table thinking “what a cool guy.”

Next up, Jean-Eric Vergne. Obviously he wasn’t pleased to have missed out on Q3, but this was a driver who in Canada had impressed to finish P6. He went to explain in no uncertain terms how, had it not been for catching a bit of drag off Sebastian Vettel during his final Q2 lap, he would have made it through to Q3 and been able to rival Ricciardo.

“What’s changed between here and Canada?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, in Canada you qualified P7 and here you line up 13th.”

“No, I’ve explained, it was the drag, nothing else.”

When asked about the Red Bull seat, he was passive, claiming that it was the last thing he was thinking of.

Who knows? In Canada, the attitude of each driver may have been very different, yet Silverstone was ‘the time’ to start impressing. In the race, Ricciardo ran well to finish P8 whilst Vergne retired thanks to one of the infamous tyre blow-outs. However, what was clear from the two interviews was that Ricciardo is more ‘Red Bull’ material in terms of who he is. From this, it always appeared to be a two-horse race between himself and Kimi Raikkonen. Now, Red Bull will have to consider which driver will suit Vettel the most, and of course, which personality will suit the team the most.

Images courtesy of Octane Photographic.

Luke Smith

Luke Smith

Luke Smith is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Richland F1. Having started the website in March 2012, he has gone on to become one of the youngest members of the Formula 1 paddock after joining American broadcaster NBC Sports at the beginning of the 2013 season. Luke now works as the network's lead F1 writer, supporting the TV coverage on nbcsports.com. Luke's work has also been featured on NBC News, Yahoo! Sports, Driven Magazine and the Bahrain Mirror, and he has also appeared on CNBC's TV series "One Second in F1 Racing".