Christian Horner admits that a lot will be placed on Daniel Ricciardo's shoulders when he joins Red Bull Racing next season, but is confident that the Australian has the ability to cope with the pressure and be competitive.

After weeks of debate, Ricciardo was finally confirmed as Mark Webber's replacement late on Monday evening, ending speculation that a more experienced pilot such as Kimi Raikkonen may be preferred in an effort to keep RBR at the front of the teams' championship. The announcement had been expected at last weekend's Belgian Grand Prix, but Horner insisted that there had been no rush to decide on the line-up.

"Why didn't we announce the deal earlier? Well, for one, Daniel is under a long-term contract with Red Bull, so he wasn't going anywhere," the RBR team principal explained, "We just wanted to take the time to explore the options that were available. It's important for us to put the right pairing together, and there were some options that we hadn't considered previously.

Related Articles

"But we've come to the conclusion, collectively, that Daniel is absolutely the right man for the job, for the medium and long term. It's a multi-year deal, he's only 24 years of age, and he's continuing to grow and mature and develop. He's a very, very exciting prospect for the future."

Asked why the Australian had been given the nod over the likes of Raikkonen - and Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button both also made an appearance on the rumour mill in recent weeks - Horner again referred to the Australian's untapped potential.

"The thing that gave Daniel the edge over the other drivers was the potential, potential for what he can be," he noted, "We've seen in his junior career that, in F3 and Renault World Series, that he's capable of winning championships, capable of winning races. He's been a stand-out driver in every series that he's been in and we've followed his progress with great interest with Toro Rosso and some of the testing he's done with Infiniti Red Bull Racing. He's got all the attributes that are required and, yes, there are drivers that have greater achievements under their belts but, if you don't give someone the chance, how are they going to get those achievements? We've taken a good look at what would be the right line-up, and we've come to the clear conclusion that Daniel is the right guy."

Much has been made of the supposed preferential treatment enjoyed by Vettel over the past few years, but Horner is adamant that Ricciardo will continue to get equal machinery, and opportunity, to take the fight to the three-time world champion.

"The decision to take a junior driver means that nothing changes as far as we are concerned," he insisted, "Both drivers will get the same opportunity in the same equipment although, inevitably, there will be a natural pecking order which will be determined by the driver that is in front on the track. Obviously, Sebastian has won a lot of races and is a multiple world champion but, with that, comes expectation. The reality is that both drivers, as has always been the case, will get identical opportunity and equipment."

Having two front-running drivers has been a key component of Red Bull's championship success and, while Webber only mounted on serious assault on the drivers' title, his performances were good enough to ensure that RBR came out on top of Ferrari and McLaren in recent seasons. Despite the identity of the second driver changing, however, Horner is confident that Red Bull can continue to set the pace.

"The stability of drivers has been a key part of our success over the last few years in the constructors' championship and, of course, you're breaking up a winning combination, but all good things come to an end," he reflected, "Mark has chosen to retire, [and] there's a big regulation change for next year, so the timing is right for us to make that change. Daniel is the guy we've identified to take on that mantle and he knows what the team expects from him. It's a wonderful opportunity for him and I think he's going to be a big star of the future.

"Sebastian is the best in the business at the moment and it's very, very tough to be his team-mate, so it's a big challenge for him, but I think people are going to be surprised at the pace that Daniel does have. He is very quick, we know he's very quick as we've seen it in the simulator, in track tests that we've done, and we've seen flashes of it in the Toro Rosso so I really think he's got great natural ability."

Horner acknowledges that there will be pressure on the Australian from the moment he steps into a Red Bull car after the Brazilian Grand Prix

"My advice as he prepares for next season is just to take it one step at a time," the Briton claimed, "He's going to have a lot more spotlight on him than he's been used to, there's going to be a lot more expectation of him, but he's got broad shoulders and I believe he can deal with that. The pressure of being in the main Red Bull team is significant, certainly more than being a Toro Rosso driver, but he'll cope with that and I have every confidence that he'll come out on top. It's very exciting to see what he's capable of next year.

"My expectations are that he will just continue to improve. He's a young driver and, inevitably, he will make a few mistakes, but he will learn from those and will improve. This is very much a medium and long term view we are taking in developing him and, of the current crop of youngsters, he's genuinely a really, really exciting prospect.

"Do I think Daniel can achieve what Sebastian has achieved? It's a massively tall order - what Seb has achieved is unique, the win rate that he's had, the number of pole positions, wins, fastest laps and world championships is quite phenomenal at the age of just 26. For Daniel to go and achieve anywhere near that is a massive order, but I think he has all the attributes to be a very competitive grand prix driver.

"Only time will tell how good he can be. We believe he's very good, that he deserves this chance, that he's achieved it on merit and only time will tell how good he actually is. He's a good personality, a great guy to work with. I've never yet seen him without a smile on his face and now, for sure, he'll be smiling from ear to ear!"