Despite only describing his first qualifying session as 'alright' and admitting he faces a 'big learning curve', Daniel Ricciardo believes Hispania Racing has 'definite potential' and he has said the F111 is 'actually quite good'.
The Australian will make his F1 race debut today at Silverstone having been drafted in to replace Narain Karthikeyan. His chance comes after Red Bull decided to put together a deal that will see the former Toro Rosso Friday practice man take in all the remaining races this season with HRT - bar India - with suggestions the move has come about through a desire to give the 22-year-old early experience of racing in F1 before he is given a drive with one of Red Bull's own teams in 2012.
Thus far this weekend he has performed well too, especially given the changeable conditions, and while he was half a second slower than vastly more experienced team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi in Q1, on the other-hand he was also more than a second inside the 107 percent cut-off.
“My first qualifying session was alright but it was a bit frustrating with the weather, we couldn't do two runs so we were just limited to one but it was okay. I would like to be a little bit closer to the rest of the field but I can't expect too much for now, it's a big learning curve,” said the Aussie. “I'm half a second off Tonio which isn't much but for a racing car driver it is quite a lot, I want more but I shouldn't really expect too much at this stage, if I can keep closing the gap then it's okay.
“The F111 is actually quite good, with the option tyres the level of grip has surprised me, that's one part that will come from experience; knowing how far I can push it. In high speed corners I can still race at my speed. I think there's definitely potential and if I'm able to keep an open mind and am willing to learn; I think we will definitely move forward.”
Asked how he is settling in, he added that so far it is going well: “I met the team on Wednesday and it's been a pretty deep introduction and I think it's gone quite smoothly, everyone seems really nice,” he explained. “With the engineers, it's hard to come into F1 and start a fresh relationship in the middle of a season but I think we're doing quite well and I'm sure it gets easier from here.”
As for the race, he reiterated that his goal is to get to the chequered flag: “I expect to finish the race and be competitive, if I can maybe close the gap in the race and be within a few tenths of Tonio, I think that would be a positive start and some progress. If we can get ahead of a few other cars then that would be a good result,” he stated.
Fellow countryman Mark Webber meanwhile believes that Hispania will be the ideal environment for Ricciardo to learn the ropes: “I think it's always a big chance in your career when you have your first grand prix coming up,” Webber told News Limited
in the build-up to the British GP weekend. “It [driving for HRT] is perfect for him to get the experience, it'll be good.
“Obviously it's not a team at the front. But like myself and Fernando [Alonso], many guys didn't start in that situation. It was only I suppose when Lewis [Hamilton] came along and Jenson [Button] that you really always did earn your apprentice. Mikka Hakkinen and these guys never won a race after 100 grand prix.
“But in the last few years, the young guys always coming in had the faster cars, so they have a better chance. So for Daniel I think it's good to get the experience with the smaller teams to start with.”
“He's a really talented youngster, he's earned this opportunity to make his F1 debut,” continued Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner in an interview with Reuters
. “I think he's a very gifted driver, certainly the work that he's done for us in the young driver tests and simulation has been very, very impressive. But it's a first step on the ladder for him. He's still very young.
"It is an opportunity that has been presented to him and it is now up to him to grab it.”