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Ricciardo ready to roll

Young Australian Daniel Ricciardo will make his on-track debut at a Grand Prix this weekend – and he’s impatient to get started

by Matthew Clayton

Daniel Ricciardo is less than 48 hours away from his on-track debut at a Formula One race weekend.

The young West Australian admits he’s a bundle of nervous energy as the countdown to his first 90-minute free practice session for Scuderia Toro Rosso continues.

“There will be nerves on Friday, for sure,” he said.

“Excited is the way I’m feeling now, and with excitement you get nerves, so it’s a bit of both. When I’m strapped into the car and ready to go on Friday, everything else will wash away on the outside and I’ll be able to concentrate on my job.

“When I heard the news about Bahrain being cancelled, I got a few more butterflies when I realised Australia would be my first time out. It’s probably the way I would have liked it though, and I can’t wait now until Friday.”

Ricciardo will combine a second season in the European-based Formula Renault 3.5 Series with his new role as a Friday test driver for Red Bull Racing’s sister squad.

He knows this year is crucial if he is to make the leap into a full-time Formula One seat.

Red Bull’s motorsport advisor Dr Helmut Marko has said he wants to see Ricciardo on the grid by 2012 “at the latest”, and the 21-year-old feels he’s ready to meet those expectations.

“It’s a very good opportunity this year to get more miles underneath me and to get more familiar with F1 weekends and the pressure, to be more prepared for what’s hopefully ahead,” he said.

“By next year, I’ve really got my eyes set on a full-time seat. If I can work hard this year that should set me up well for 2012.”

Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso’s race drivers for 2011, both know that lacklustre performances this season could see them make way for Ricciardo sooner rather than later.

Toro Rosso hasn’t hesitated to change its driver line-up midway through a season in the past – Alguersuari himself was elevated to a race seat in 2009 when the team elected to replace Frenchman Sébastien Bourdais in Hungary – but Ricciardo says the relationship between the three current drivers remains amicable for the time being.

“In any racing and more individual sports, you work together (with your teammates) to try to benefit the team, but you’re never going to be racing with your best mate in F1,” he said.

“When it comes down to it, it’s every man for himself.

“In pre-season tests, we’ve worked quite well together, all three of us, in the briefings. There’s been no tension. But my dream and my goal is to get to Formula One, and however it happens, I have to be happy about that.”

Ricciardo’s Perth-based parents will be in Melbourne this weekend to watch their son make his debut on track at a Grand Prix weekend, but he isn’t feeling any extra pressure.

“They’d be coming to the Grand Prix anyway – my Dad has come for the last 15 years,” he said.

“They haven’t all just flown over because I’m driving here this weekend. They don’t put any expectations on me, and I probably won’t see all that much of them. We’ll probably enjoy some dinner together on Sunday night and talk about the whole experience then.”

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