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.
“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.”