The deal is done. It’s going to be Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull with Sebastian Vettel next season, not the long-time favourite Kimi Raikkonen. Red Bull may have thrown away the chance of having a stellar line-up and adding some real Scandinavian cool to the brand, but at least they’ve justified the $150m young driver programme and kept Helmut’s toys in the pram. Plus they get one of the nicest guys in the paddock and can spend a lot more on the 2014 car.
Raikkonen and Ricciardo are unlikely to be team-mates but if they were – how would they compare…?
It’s hard to compare Raikkonen and Ricciardo head to head, but we know that Red Bull had a very good indication of where Daniel rated in comparison to Sebastian Vettel as they both ran at the Silverstone test in July. Same car, virtually the same conditions. Testing is one thing, but doing it in a race set up is another and you have to believe that former World Champion Raikkonen would be quicker than Ricciardo.
Ability under pressure
Raikkonen has proven that he has what it takes. Yes, the odd mistake such as the Belgian GP in 2008, but some great drives in 2007 under the most severe pressure to take the World Championship from under Mclaren’s nose. Ricciardo has yet to prove that he can cut it at the highest level. In last year’s World Championship he was outscored by Jean-Eric Vergne 18 – 10.
Racecraft and overtaking
Raikkonen hasn’t got a huge fanbase because he poodles around (like Nelson Piquet used to do, picking up second places and inheriting wins). He is an attacking driver who can overtake with the very best. Take a trip with him and the onboard camera around his last few laps at Monaco in 2013 and see him at his absolute zenith. Ricciardo can chase and pass, but he’s yet to have the car to really demonstrate this part of his skillset.
This season Daniel Ricciardo is beating team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne 7-4, while Kimi Raikkonen leads Romain Grosjean 8-3. Raikkonen has a much greater track record of beating team-mates, even though towards the end of his career at Ferrari he was losing out to Felipe Massa.
Neither have produced consistent stellar leaps forward as demonstrated by Alonso, Massa and in his prime David Coulthard, but it’s rare to see Raikkonen muscled out of position, as has happened to Ricciardo.
Kimi Raikkonen’s management isn’t shy of asking for a hefty amount of money for his services – certainly enough to keep Kimi supplied with Magnums and other luxury ice creams for as long as he lives. Daniel is a product of the Red Bull driver system and grateful for the opportunity – we’re guessing that his salary is going to be around a quarter of what Raikkonen would get. Thus Adrian Newey is free to spend more money on his soup vending machine project at Red Bull HQ in Milton Keynes.
PR ability and communication skills
Kimi’s ability to delight the sponsors with his I-speak-your-weight delivery and his barely concealed boredom is legend and quite a contrast to Daniel who is polite, cheerful and a publicist’s joy.
Being an Aussie stepping into a much-loved-Aussie’s shoes obviously helps Daniel in this department. Had it been Sutil or Hulkenberg joining another German then we might be heading down that charisma bypass. But people (especially Chinese people) just love Kimi for his team radio grumpiness and his breaching of a lot of the F1 protocols
Conclusion: We know the conclusion is that the team signed Daniel over Kimi, but given that it might have been a very close to call, the Toro Rosso connection has to be the deciding factor. We’ll find out in 12 months time if it was the right one and if Helmut’s programme will be commissioned for a new series.