Reports from the German media last night claimed that Daniel Ricciardo has won the race to replace Mark Webber at Red Bull next season, with an announcement due in Belgium next weekend.
Webber confirmed at the British Grand Prix that he would be leaving Red Bull at the end of the season and walking away from Formula One in favor of a move to Porsche’s newly-revived LMP1 programme, which will see the Australian driver race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans next season. However, this did spark a race to fill his vacant seat, with Red Bull originally shortlisting Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne and Kimi Raikkonen for the seat before ruling Vergne out of the running.
The thinking behind the decision for Red Bull has always been relatively simple: Raikkonen is the quicker driver but may upset the internal relationships at the team (i.e. Sebastian Vettel); Ricciardo would not, but is not as able as Raikkonen. Also, snubbing Ricciardo would undermine the use of Scuderia Toro Rosso as a feeder team.
According to German publication Sport Bild, the team has refused to deny that Ricciardo is on the verge of signing for the team whilst making more vocal comments over the likelihood of Fernando Alonso or Kimi Raikkonen making the move. Team advisor Helmut Marko has also marked the weekend at Spa-Francorchamps as being the date after which more information will become apparent.
Red Bull are known for wanting to confirm their driver line-up earlier rather than later, making an early announcement feasible.
This news would also trigger the formation of next season’s driver market, allowing Antonio Felix da Costa to take up the second seat at Red Bull alongside Vergne, although questions still hang over Felipe Massa’s head as rumors circulate suggesting that Kimi Raikkonen could be looking for a way out of Lotus.