Australian Daniel Ricciardo, about to begin his second full Formula One season, has something to prove in 2013. Starting with his home race, this weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix, the Scuderia Toro Rosso (STR) driver will not only be competing with the 10 other teams in the F1 field, but he has also targeted his STR teammate, Jean-Eric Vergne, in what could be a very interesting on-track rivalry.
Ricciardo, the 23-year-old from Perth, seeks to punctuate this season with a performance that will “convincingly” set him apart from the 22-year-old Vergne. The ultimate motivation for doing so, beyond the obvious recognition of driving talent and the accumulation of points and money, is the potential to win driving championships.
The much coveted race seat with the parent Red Bull Racing team, currently occupied by F1 veteran and fellow Australian Mark Webber, is speculated to be up for grabs after the 36-year-old’s contract expires at the end of 2013. Impressive 2013 results by Ricciardo and a clear line of demarcation drawn between the two young STR teammates would do much to catapult him into the midst of the competition.
"The fight is firstly with the teammate, you've got to try and beat him convincingly - I think that will start to turn some heads - and then see what happens from there," Ricciardo told Craig Slater of Sky Sports.
"Obviously we want to consistently get more points this year but try and [also I need] do the best I can and that has to be finishing ahead of the Frenchman [Vergne] alongside me."
It has been reported that Ricciardo and Vergne are no longer friends as a result of this rivalry. But Ricciardo tried to temper that idea by saying "We still get along in a way that we talk to each other and it's not that we completely ignore each other.
"But when it's your first, or your main, rival it's hard to be best mates with them - I think that's with all the teams and all the drivers, they'd answer the question very similarly," he told Sky’s Slater.
Of course, the competitiveness of the team’s Ferrari-powered STR8 and racing luck will also be in play.
Last season, STR finished 11th in the F1 constructor’s championship scoring just 24 points with a disappointing STR7. Of course, trying to showcase talent in identical, albeit under-performing, cars with the intent to separate oneself from a teammate is still possible but this was not evident last season with Vergne and Ricciardo finishing 17th and 18th respectively separated by just 6 points. But it can be done, as Fernando Alonso proved last season with the F2012 and its slow-to-develop pull-rod suspension.