Daniel Ricciardo looks set to be named as Mark Webber’s replacement at Red Bull, having impressed throughout the first half of the season with their sister team Toro Rosso.
Webber announced at the end of June that he would be leaving the Formula One Constructor’s Champions after seven seasons with the team, but reports in Germany are claiming that his fellow Australian Ricciardo will take his seat alongside three-times world champion Sebastian Vettel.
German newspaper Bild claims that Ricciardo has done enough to secure the drive, and the announcement could be made as early as this weekend, when the F1 circus kicks back into gear following the summer break with the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.
Ricciardo has put in a series of impressive qualifying performances this season, transforming the Toro Rosso car from a back of the back languisher to a top 10 contender.
He secured his best career finish earlier this year in China when he crossed the line in seventh, and backed the result up with an eighth-place finish at Silverstone last month – just after Webber had announced he would be joining Porsche’s GT programme next season as they make their long awaited return to the Prototype class at Le Mans.
Lotus driver and 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen had been rumoured to be in contention for the seat, and Vettel had spoken before of his happiness should the Flying Finn join him in the Red Bull garage – he would likely be more comfortable partnering Raikkonen than either of his other main rivals Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso – but Raikkonen’s manager Steve Robertson confirmed earlier today that talks regarding a move had broken down earlier in the season.
"It's true," said Robertson. "Kimi will not be driving for Red Bull in 2014. We held some talks, but a deal will not be happening."
The confirmation appears to suggest Raikkonen will remain with Lotus next season, although the financial state of the team has come under question recently, with the driver being paid late on occasion that led to rumours he might boycott the last Grand Prix – which took place in Hungary – if he wasn’t paid in time.
"We are pretty confident that Kimi will be in F1 next year," Robertson explained. "There are options - and that is plural - out there and I will continue to talk to teams. I am hopeful we will sort something out in the not too distant future."
Should the confirmation come of Ricciardo taking Webber’s place, he will become just the second graduate of the Red Bull young driver’s programme, following in Vettel’s very famous footsteps.
All of Sebastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Scott Speed and Sebastien Bourdais have failed to make the step-up to Red Bull, with Vettel the last to do so when he replaced the retiring David Coulthard back in 2009.
Jean-Eric Vergne is currently in his second season with the team, but it quickly emerged that Ricciardo was the favourite to replace Webber when he tested the RB09 at the additional young driver’s test at Silverstone.