Daniel Ricciardo has admitted that it is too early to begin thinking about becoming Australia's number one grand prix driver, despite speculation suggesting that he is Mark Webber's natural successor at Red Bull Racing.
Ricciardo, who is poised to start his first full F1 campaign with RBR's sister team Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2012, has been listed among those drivers who could possible replace Webber alongside world champion Sebastian Vettel should
the elder Australian decide to move on at the end of the season, but insists that he still has a lot to prove before he can be considered a viable substitute.
"There has already been talk about this in the media, which seems pretty optimistic," he admitted to the official F1 website, "We haven't even sat in a car yet for 2012 and they are already looking at 2013!
"However, it's a long time away and many things can happen between now and then - that's the reality. I understand very well the philosophy of Red Bull and, yes, one day I would love to race for Red Bull Racing, but that's all it is for now - just a bit of a goal. I have 20 races this year which I will take one by one and make sure I leave every event fulfilled and with no regrets."
Ricciardo's ambition is no doubt tempered by viewing the fate of the two drivers who occupied the Toro Rosso seats before him, as Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi were dropped for failing to show that they had what it takes to be race winners. Both drivers also had aspirations of stepping up to RBR, but now find themselves without a race drive of any sort after the drinks brand's motorsport advisor, Dr Helmut Marko, wielded his scalpel.
"I have been working with Dr Marko for four years now, so I know very well that he has high expectations," Ricciardo smiled, "I use it as motivation to get the best out of myself and push to the very limit. If this is achieved then that's real success.
"I'm not really surprised [at how quickly F1 careers can be ended], as I know how it works at this level - and I think any level of elite sport. There is always going to be someone else coming through the ranks trying to knock you off, so you always have to be on your game and seize every possible opportunity. [Of course] the news was very nice for me to hear, [but] I was a little surprised, as I wasn't given any hints previously that this was the direction the team was looking into. It's a tremendous opportunity for me."
Ricciardo will be teamed with F1 rookie Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso, but warns that his half-season with HRT in 2011 will only stand him in good stead for so long. The Australian is already familiar with the potential of his new team-mate, having shared a garage with him in the World Series by Renault, and expects Vergne to be on a par in terms of pace within a few rounds.
"I always saw [HRT] as an opportunity," he admitted, "I knew, if I could do well at HRT, it could lead to bigger things, so it didn't really matter how competitive the car was. I just had to learn as much as I could and keep trying to get the most out of it. I believe now it has set me up very well for this year. It was a great move for my career.
"But we are not talking about years more experience. It should kick start my season and perhaps make it easier for me in the first race or two but, if Jean-Eric is F1 quality, which he has proved, this extra experience shouldn't last the whole season. Plus we will arrive in Melbourne having already done a fair chunk of testing, so things will start to even out soon enough."