For anyone curious about how a driver gets to the top of the F1 tree, it’s certainly a more structured path than that seen in many sports. With hindsight it’s easy to dismiss the markers. Daniel, after all, has demonstrated his ability in the most emphatic style over the last 12 months – but many are called and very few are chosen. So who is our #3? This is Daniel.

Daniel Ricciardo is currently at the apex of that driver development pyramid or, for those less encumbered by a rose-tinted view of motorsport, he’s clambered to the top of the greasy pole. To the casual viewer, it might appear that he burst onto the scene in 2014, but the reality is very different. F1 stars are grown, not discovered – and even young Max Verstappen has put in the hard yards to get to where he is now.

Here are the early stepping stones that helped lay the foundations on Daniel’s road to F1.

Scholarship and first single-seater wins in Formula BMW
Daniel doesn’t really do misty-eyed nostalgia, but ask him about his formative experiences with F1 and he’ll smile at the memory of the routine of waking up in the small hours of Sunday morning in Western Australia to watch pictures beamed halfway around the world from a far away racetrack. He had the desire to make the trip himself, and his early form in karts and a couple of races in a rickety Formula Ford suggested the potential. Most importantly, it got him a scholarship to race in the Formula BMW Asia series. Daniel had a great rookie season, finishing third in the championship – but more significant were his three poles, three fastest laps, and two wins. Daniel’s first international single-seater victory came at the tender age of 17 on Thailand’s Bira circuit. Big moment.

A competitive move to Europe
There’s a traditional belief that young drivers should spend two years in each formula: one to learn and one to win. It doesn’t necessarily hold true any longer, with the stars of F1 just as likely to do big things as rookies. Certainly Daniel did enough in his rookie Formula BMW season to move up and out. In his case that meant Europe. Aussie drivers tend to wind up in England, but Daniel’s heritage and the structure of junior racing at the time saw him make a stop along the way to race in Italy and Formula Renault 2.0. In this he did follow the traditional pattern. His 2007 season in Formula Renault 2.0 Italy didn’t hit the heights, but he did finish the championship a creditable sixth. And, most importantly, he caught the eye of the Red Bull Junior program.

Joining the Red Bull Junior team – winning the 2008 Formula Renault 2.0 WEC
The conversation usually gets uncomfortable when it comes around to the thorny subject of drivers and money. The simple truth is that motorsport is expensive, and no one gets anywhere unless they – or someone backing them – has deep pockets. Sadly, there aren’t as many sponsorship programs as was once the case, but Red Bull’s Junior Team, like those that have gone before and those that now seek to emulate it, ensure that talent gets a chance ahead of the checkbook. Stepping into the Red Bull family ensured Daniel had access to mentoring, training facilities and a structured career path; all he needed to do was drive quickly.

And so that’s what he did. Daniel’s 2008 season saw him competing in two Formula Renault 2.0 championships. He won his first international title – the 2008 Formula Renault 2.0 WEC with eight wins and nine poles from 15 races – and came second in the Eurocup, narrowly losing out to Valtteri Bottas. Daniel’s own personal highlights from the season were victory in the first round of the year at Nogaro – his first win in European racing – and victory at Spa. Because it’s Spa.

Winning the British Formula 3 Championship
Daniel made the move up to F3 for 2009, entering the prestigious British F3 Championship and, significantly, taking on simulator work, for Red Bull Racing. The glory days of the British F3 Championship were sadly behind it, but it still featured a strong field containing plenty of future F1 drivers. Daniel took the championship with six poles and seven wins – scoring 50 percent more points than his nearest competitors. It was enough to get him a seat at the big table.

First test for Red Bull Racing at Jerez
First impressions last – and when Daniel stepped in his first test with Red Bull Racing, he let the world know that he could hack it at the pinnacle of motorsport – but perhaps just as importantly, he let Red Bull’s backroom staff see that he could give good feedback, work well in a team environment – and drive the bolts off the RB5 without doing anything stupid.

Daniel’s moment came at Jerez in December 2009. His payoff for dominating British F3 was to get all three days of the Young Drivers’ Test in the RB5. He completed nearly 300 laps over the test, built up his speed carefully, set comfortably the fastest times of the test and didn’t go off. A bad week in Jerez would have been a setback. As it was, he made a lasting impression with people very influential in filling the seat when Infiniti Red Bull Racing driver Mark Webber announced his retirement four years later.

Winning races in FR3.5
Having won championships in 2008 and 2009, the only place for Daniel to go in 2010 was into a category with more power. He was named as a Toro Rosso test driver for 2010, but the main focus of his season was Formula Renault 3.5. He came within a whisker – actually, within two laps – of taking the title, but had to be content with four victories in the F1 feeder series, including a dominant pole and victory in Monaco in front of the watchful F1 paddock.

Ricciardo joins Infiniti Red Bull Racing Driver Lineup
Daniel Ricciardo had his first race weekend appearance for Infiniti Red Bull Racing on March 14, 2014 on his home soil in Australia. Here is a brief look back at some of Ricciardo’s memorable moments with Infiniti Red Bull Racing.

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An automotive enthusiast for most of his adult life, Aaron has worked in and around the industry in many ways. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP) and freelances as a writer and journalist around the Web and in print. You can find his portfolio at AaronOnAutos.com.

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