In something of a surprise move Daniel Ricciardo will drive for Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2012. Joining the young Aussie will be 21-year-old French rookie Jean-Eric Vergne. The general consensus until this announcement was that Toro Rosso would not be making any changes to their driver lineup.
Of course, this decision, made in partnership with Red Bull, now means former drivers Sebastian Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari are without a drive. There’s not too many seats left, either, and their prospects of securing a full-time F1 seat for next year are slim.
“I am pleased that we have been able to reach an early decision on our drivers for next year, because it means we can all give our full attention to 2012, without any distractions,” said STR Team Principal Franz Tost.
“Over the past year, both Daniel and Jean-Eric have proved their worth and I expect them to make a significant contribution to the team’s performance next year. Daniel has the benefit of having actually raced in Grands Prix for much of this year, while Jean-Eric proved he could adapt quickly to the demands of driving a Formula 1 car.”
“I must also thank Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari for all their hard work over the past three seasons,” added Tost.
“However, one has to remember that when Scuderia Toro Rosso was established in 2005, it was done so with the intention of providing a first step into Formula 1 for the youngsters in the Red Bull Junior Driver programme.
“It is therefore part of the team’s culture to change its driver line-up from time to time in order to achieve this goal.”
Reading between the lines, then, it’s apparent the Ricciardoâ€“Vergne rivalry will most likely decide who joins Red Bull Racing first. Indeed the two men already have a healthy respect for each other after competing in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series.
As you would expect, Ricciardo is a very happy man. “This is a really big deal for me and something I have wanted ever since I was driving for Toro Rosso on Friday mornings at the races in the first part of last season,” he said.
“To be honest, I am still jumping up and down with excitement at the news. In the second half of 2011 I learned a lot from the people I worked with, racing in eleven Grands Prix and I want to thank them for the opportunity they gave me.
“I have to say that joining Scuderia Toro Rosso was always my real goal, so a big thank you to Red Bull for giving me this fantastic opportunity and now I can’t wait to get to work once testing begins.”
Vergne, too, is excited at the prospect of being catapulted into a Toro Rosso seat.
“First of all, I must thank Red Bull for all their support so far and for believing I am ready to take on the ultimate challenge of racing in Formula 1,” Vergne said.
“Christmas has come early for me this year! Having driven for them a few times this year and also testing for Red Bull Racing in Abu Dhabi, I definitely feel ready to make the move, even if I know there is a big difference between testing and actually racing.
“I enjoyed working with the guys at Toro Rosso this year and I can’t wait to be part of the team for real. Sitting on the grid in Melbourne next March cannot come soon enough.”
Of course, here at AUSmotive we had a grin on our face almost as wide as Ricciardo’s above when we first heard the news on radio this morning. We wish him all the best in 2012 and beyond.
[Pics: STR/Getty Images]