He might have confessed to feeling 'a little bit jelly-like' as he ventured out on-track during his first grand prix weekend for Scuderia Toro Rosso – and for added pressure, in front of his home fans, too, in Melbourne – but Daniel Ricciardo impressed sufficiently to suggest that either Sébastien Buemi or Jaime Alguersuari could find themselves under threat later on in the F1 2011 campaign.
As Toro Rosso's designated test and reserve driver this season, many contend that Ricciardo is perfectly-placed to supplant Alguersuari or Buemi should either of the pair fail to live up to the team's expectations, and by lapping just over a tenth of a second adrift of the latter during FP1 ahead of this weekend's Australian Grand Prix, the former British F3 Champion and World Series by Renault runner-up gave a sparkling job audition.
“I guess all week I was trying to prepare myself to have the least amount of nerves and pressure as possible,” the 21-year-old remarked after setting the 16th-best time in the morning session. “Although it is just another time out there on-track, it did feel a bit different – I won't lie.
“When I pulled out of the pits and onto the track, I was a little bit jelly-like for the first few corners, but once I got the procedural stuff out of the way, I was pretty happy and got into it. The first thing was I bring it back in one piece, so hopefully the team's happy with that. Then it's just trying to build up and learn, because as the year goes on it will only get easier for me – and [to] just work into the team as much as I can.”
Although it was his car that Ricciardo drove in FP1, Alguersuari wasted little time in asserting himself over Buemi in the afternoon FP2 session as the pair placed eleventh and 14th respectively. The 21-year-old Spaniard – still the youngest driver on the grid – pronounced it a very encouraging first day.
“A different day, as I had to get used to seeing Daniel driving my car in the morning!” he quipped. “I'm cool with it, though, and it's good that another Red Bull young driver gets the chance to experience F1. The main thing is that we are all working for the same team, helping each other to progress.
“I have to say, because it was the first day of the season, it was quite difficult this afternoon to fit in as much of the programme as possible, and the occasional rain definitely did not help. However, I am happy with the feel from the car, it seems to be competitive and even though it went well today, there is the potential to get much more out of it tomorrow. For a first day of the season, I would sum it up as very positive.”
Alguersuari has also offered his own views on the situation regarding the Pirelli tyres for F1 2011 – one that Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali has described as 'concerning' [see separate story – click here
“There are many unknowns, many uncertainties, but it's the same for everyone,” he reasoned, speaking to Spanish daily sports newspaper Marca
. “Every time you are on the track, you understand more how they work. Sometimes they give you something you didn't expect, but every time you get more accustomed to know how to set up the car better.”
“After winter testing, it's good to be back at a track for real, knowing you are going to race,” added Buemi. “I'm happy to be able to see how we measure up against the other drivers. It has been a busy day with a full programme that we will now analyse very carefully, as there are all the new elements like the rear wing, KERS and new tyres to take into consideration.
“Currently, the times show us in the middle of the pack, in a tight group in terms of the lap times of those ahead and behind us. We need to get the maximum out of this evening if we want to get the maximum out of tomorrow. The circuit has not changed much since last year apart from some resurfacing at corners eight and nine which helps, so it is as nice as ever to drive here.”