Nine years after Mark Webber’s stunning debut for Minardi, fellow Australian Daniel Ricciardo is due to do the same thing -albeit only during the Friday-morning sessions of a Grand Prix weekend – and with the team from Faenza now called Scuderia Toro Rosso. We caught up with the Red Bull drivers before the start of their latest testing season…

Mark, what can Daniel expect from working at Toro Rosso?
MW: “Firstly it’s a sensational opportunity to have a look at some of the venues, but Daniel knows how cool that’s going to be for him and how fortunate he is to go and get that valuable seat time at a race weekend.”

Are the challenges of testing during the grand prix different to driving the car at a scheduled test?
MW: “Yeah! He’s going to learn a lot about how to cope with a race weekend, though obviously it’s only a very small snapshot at the start of the weekend when it’s not massively serious for the race drivers at that point. It is, however, a great opportunity for Daniel to get some important mileage, which is incredibly hard to get during the season in Formula One these days. Obviously, we have testing pre- and post-season but to get the continuity through the year will be great. He’s going to learn a lot, it’ll be great for him and there’s no downside whatsoever.”

RB: Maybe one downside is that you’ll have to be careful driving somebody else’s car?
DR: “Oh, I don’t think that’ll be in my head too much – the fact that it’s Jaime’s [Alguersuari] car. I think Toro will want me to rag the shit out of it! Hopefully that’s what I’ll have the opportunity to do anyway.” 

RB: What’s it going to be like, emerging from the garage on the first morning of the season in Bahrain?
DR: “I’m not sure what I’m going to feel when I roll out the first time in Bahrain. I know it hasn’t hit me yet but it will. The fact it’s ‘Just’ a Friday practice is irrelevant, it’s going to feel very real to me because I’ll be on track with all the guys I’ve watched race for the past ten or fifteen years. That’s going to be surreal, but as Mark says, it’ll be good preparation for the future.”

RB: And how about a couple of weeks later in Albert Park, when the track is really dusty and green because no-one’s put any rubber down for 12 months, and all the drivers are complaining that the grip level is really horrible, and there are 20,000 Australians in the stands demanding you top the timesheets…?
DR: “I don’t associate the word ‘horrible’ with anything I’ll be doing in the F1 car! At the moment I’m looking forward to everything about it. Whether the track’s dusty or cold or wet or whatever it is, I’ll find a way to enjoy it. And hopefully make the most of it.”

RB: Mark, Daniel’s spent a year as the third driver at Red Bull Racing, will it be different for him working down the paddock at Toro Rosso?
MW: “Oh he’ll get a few surprises here and there about how the team operate – but that’ll make it a good environment in which to learn. He’s seen a lot of a winning team, working with us last year and seeing how we work, so he’ll have the best of both worlds seeing how it goes at a small team – and let’s be honest they’ve struggled in the last few years since I left. It can only be a good thing to see both sides of F1, and he deserves the opportunity.”

RB: Franz Tost says you’ll keep the race drivers ‘on their toes’, but elsewhere the speculation is a bit stronger than that: the chat is that if you’re quick on Fridays and if Alguersuari or Buemi don’t perform, then you’ll be racing before the end of the season. That’s going to make things a little tense, isn’t it?
DR: “There’s a bit of talk but I’m realistic about it. I don’t see the need for there to be any tension, so far as I’m concerned my job is to do the first practice and – as always – to drive to the best of my ability. “I guess for Seb and Jaime and anyone else, that’s their job too. Each time they’re in the car they try to get the most out of it. I guess what comes afterwards is out of my control. We’ll wait to see but I’m not really thinking about anything like that for now.”

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