YOUNG DRIVER, TOUGH CHALLENGE: Daniel Ricciardo, a 25-year-old Aussie, has been catapulted to stardom as Red Bull's most experienced driver. Image: AFP
SUZUKA, Japan - Daniel Ricciardo was contemplating a new future as Red Bull's most experienced driver on Saturday after that Formula 1 team announced that four-times Drivers’ champion Sebastian Vettel was leaving to join Ferrari.
The 25-year-old Australian smiled at the suggestion that he had played his part in the German's exit by proving more than a match for the 27-year-old.
"I don't know. You'll have to ask him. I was asked that before but he'll have to answer it," he told reporters here ahead of the 2014 Japanese F1 GP, “but I’m definitely happy with my season here, happy I had a chance to go alongside him and happy with my performances alongside Seb - that's been encouraging."
‘NEW CHALLENGE WANTED’
Ricciardo has needed only 14 races to go from new boy, drafted in to replace retiring compatriot Mark Webber, to prospective leader and Red Bull veteran. In the same period the Perth-born 'Honey Badger' has won three races to Vettel's none and scored 181 points to the champion's 124.
Vettel said separately that he was leaving because he wanted a new challenge after spending his career to date with Red Bull. Ferrari has yet to confirm his arrival.
Ricciardo, running third in a Drivers’ championship dominated by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, only heard about his team mate's decision on Saturday morning.
"A bit surprised... I didn't rule out anything so I wasn't convinced he'd go," he said. "I thought if he was to go then Daniil (Kvyat) would be the one replace him - I got that part right."
Russian Kvyat, a 20-year-old rookie who had his F1 debut with sister team Toro Rosso in 2014, will be Australian Ricciardo's new team mate in 2015. The latter realised he would have different responsibilities.
'SHOULD BE FUN'
Ricciardo said: "I've tried to do as much as I can for the team in steering them in the right direction... I guess that will increase in 2015. Daniil will probably take a little while to form relationships so I guess there's a bit more responsibility on me to at least steer them in the best direction.
"Daniil coming in should be fun. I've enjoyed this year with Seb. I'll enjoy the last few races and then see how we get on - it should be good."
Ricciardo recognised that Kvyat, who as a 19-year-old debutant has taken Vettel's title as the youngest driver to score an F1 point, could be quite a handful as team mate.
"Even though he's young and less experienced I won't take any of that for granted. I expect him to be quick.”
F1 YES, ROAD SOLO - NO!
Kvyat has moved up from Red Bull sister team Toro Rosso which in turn has signed 17-year-old rookie Max Verstappen (son of former F1 driver Jos Verstappen) as the sport's youngest driver.
That’s not old enough to drive unaccompanied on the roads of his home country but he had his first experience of a 2014 F1 car in Friday (Oct 3) during practice at Suzuka.