Red Bull Racing test and reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo has admitted that whilst this week's special F1 young driver test in Abu Dhabi is largely viewed as a low-key means for teams to try out some promising new driving talent, he personally is under 'pressure to be fastest' as he takes to the track in the 2010 world championship-winning RB6.
The Adrian Newey-designed, Renault-powered contender has been the quickest thing on four wheels in the top flight this season, with newly-crowned F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber annexing pole position in an incredible 15 out of the 19 races of the campaign.
This time last year, then reigning British F3 Champion Ricciardo stunned observers by lapping more than a second out-of-reach of any of his rivals during a test outing at Jerez in Spain – but now, he concedes, the goalposts have shifted, and he will be expected to reproduce a similar kind of performance up against no fewer than 21 fellow hotshots from 14 different countries, all equally eager to impress and catch the eye.
Despite the current testing restrictions meaning the Perth native has not benefitted from any seat time in the RB6 this season, as a product of its driver development programme, the 21-year-old is tipped for a bright future within the Red Bull fold – and subject to the completion of a successful test at Yas Marina today (Tuesday) and tomorrow, the rumour mill suggests he could be promoted to the Scuderia Toro Rosso 'junior' outfit in 2011.
Ricciardo has moved up a level under the Red Bull umbrella every year for the past few seasons, and after finding himself narrowly pipped to the laurels by Mikhail Aleshin in the World Series by Renault in 2010, he is primed to make the next step – be it into the feeder GP2 Series, or F1...
“Now it's not my first time anymore, so we can get to business and I'm sure we'll do a pretty good job over these couple of days,” remarked the man who has won no fewer than 25 races in Europe since the beginning of 2008, speaking to the Australian Associated Press
. “In a way it's going to be easier that I've spent the year with the team, and I know them much better than I did last year.
“At the same time, though, there will be more expectations. Last year's test went well and now having spent a year with them, they'll expect pretty solid feedback. There is more pressure on me to be fastest, especially as the team has won the constructors' championship and everyone knows it's probably the fastest car out there nine times out of ten – but I just want to enjoy it, that's the main thing. Not many 21-year-old kids can drive the fastest car around.
“I think I achieved enough in the World Series this year to move on, so I guess it's really GP2 [next] – or if something were to open up in F1, that would always be nice.”