Red Bull Racing is poised to unveil its 2014 line-up at this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix, with Daniel Ricciardo expected to get the nod to partner Sebastian Vettel.
While the Australian has long been the favoured choice of the rumour mill, there has been no decision from RBR, which always maintained that it would announce Mark Webber's successor before the end of August. Now, according to Germany's Sport Bild
, the Milton Keynes team is ready to confirm Ricciardo in preference to either Kimi Raikkonen
or Fernando Alonso, both of whom apparently showed interest in, and were under consideration for, the drive.
"Unfortunately, I cannot say any more than that we will make an announcement at Spa," Red Bull
motorsport advisor Helmut Marko told the publication from his F1 holiday hideaway.
Ricciardo's deal, when confirmed, will put an end to the anticipation of Vettel being pushed by a team-mate of equal stature in the sport. Raikkonen, with Red Bull
links stretching back to his two seasons in the WRC, was seen as a credible rival to the 23-year old, while Alonso's candidature only emerged at last month's Hungarian Grand Prix, when team boss Christian Horner mischievously let slip his surprise at some of the applications he had received following Webber's decision to quit F1. The Briton was subsequently seen deep in conversation with Alonso's manager – who duly insisted that he was representing another client, namely Red Bull
protege Carlos Sainz Jr.
Red Bull, when contacted by Crash.net
, would not confirm or deny that a decision had been taken.
"Regarding drivers, we don't have anything to announce at present, but will advise when we do," a spokesman said.
Ironically, should Ricciardo finally be confirmed this weekend, it could push Raikkonen and Alonso together at Ferrari, with the Finn having been strongly linked to a return to Maranello during F1's summer break. With Felipe Massa's form having dipped since a strong start to the campaign, Raikkonen is strongly tipped to follow technical director James Allison from Lotus ahead of the 2014 campaign.
Ferrari has already played down the speculation, but is keen to make a greater play for the constructors' championship in coming years, having seen Massa's meagre totals fail to back up Alonso's individual title push. While president Luca di Montezemolo gave his backing to the Brazilian earlier in the season, Raikkonen – who is out of contract at Enstone this year – may be too hard to resist, despite the pair having parted company acrimoniously upon Alonso's arrival for 2010.
Ricciardo's deal is expected to open up the driver market and, should Raikkonen opt for Ferrari
next season, it could pave the way for Nico Hulkenberg
– currently struggling at Sauber – to join Romain Grosjean
Ricciardo, meanwhile, would become only the second Red Bull
junior to make it through to the drinks brand's F1 team, after Vettel, who was promoted from Toro Rosso
several weeks after taking a surprise wet-westher win in the 2008 Italian Grand Prix.