AUTOSPORT speaks to Daniel Ricciardo about his role as third driver at Toro Rosso and about his future as a Red Bull-based racer.
Q. How much are you looking forward to taking part in your first 'race' weekend of action?
Daniel Ricciardo: I flew in yesterday, managed to get a bit of sleep and get the jet lag in order - and now I'm ready for Friday. It's what this is all building up for.
I have a track walk this afternoon and I've never even walked around this circuit before, so really looking forward to that. I've done a bit on the simulator to try and give myself the best chance possible before Friday, and then we will see from there.
Q. You've tested quite a bit with Red Bull and Toro Rosso, but will it feel a bit different getting out there this time?
DR: I guess it is a bit different with the circumstances, and knowing there will be 24 cars out on track. When there has been testing there has been just half that, so that will be a little bit different. But as for driving, I will try and do the same and not take it any differently. That part should be unchanged and that is what I have got to focus on.
Q. Is there a bit more pressure on you because you are being relied upon to produce data and feedback?
DR: We will see. I am not sure of the programme yet and that will be discussed over the track walk today. I am sure I will be able to help out with some set-up and direction - and they will be wanting to test some things at the end of the session I am sure. And if I can do that with a good lap time as well, then that is perfect for me.
Q. Expectations must be quite high at both teams this year. What is the feeling within the Red Bull and Toro Rosso camps?
DR: With Red Bull Racing they are all very positive and very confident that they can start this season where they ended last year. That is what they are aiming for and I can see that the team are very confident that they can produce that this weekend. Realistically they know they are within shot of starting off on the right foot.
For Toro Rosso, they are really excited as well. They have been pretty impressive in pre-season testing and I think they have taken a step or two forward after last season so expectations are a bit higher as well from where they ended up last year. For both teams they are in a different situation but they are both optimistic and positive. On Toro Rosso's side, if they can get into Q3 this weekend and be in top ten then that is a good result for them. And Red Bull are shooting for the wins.
Q. How big a season is this going to be for you, because Helmut Marko is putting pressure on Buemi and Alguersuari to step up their game now that you are here snapping at their heels?
DR: It is a very good opportunity for me this year to do that. That is the basis of it - to get more miles under me and to get more familiar with race weekends and the pressure. And days like today - to be more prepared for what is ahead.
So I have to do the job on Fridays and then next year, 2012, I really have my eyes set on a full-time seat. If I can work hard towards that this year it should set me up well for next year.
Q. Do you feel ready for a full-time drive next year?
DR: Yes. Yes.
Q. Are you ready for a full-time drive this year?
DR: I would have to say yes! With the situation now, I am very happy with how it is. And if the opportunity was to arise then I would make sure I am ready.
Q. What's it like being part of the Red Bull programme, and growing up alongside guys like Sebastien and Jaime, and then being the guy who could push them out if you do get a drive this year?
DR: With racing and any sports, individual sports, you work together to try and benefit each other but you are never going to be racing against your best mate or something like this. In the end it is every man for himself.
With Buemi he was always a step up in junior categories, so I never got a chance to race against him. But with Jaime, I spent a bit more time in Formula Renault and my first year in Italy, so we have raced alongside each other a few times. In pre-season testing we've worked well alongside each other, all three of us, and in the briefings there has been far from any tension. So I think we are all trying to focus on ourselves for now, and do whatever job we've been appointed to. That is all I have to look to at this stage.
Q. So less of an emotional edge if you replace Sebastien than Jaime...
DR: The reality is that my dream and my goal is to get to F1. However it happens I just have to be happy about that, and by that stage you are focused on yourself and what is best for you.
Q. What is your contract situation? Is there a possibility you can look elsewhere if you don't get a drive elsewhere if it doesn't happen with Toro Rosso?
DR: It is pretty set. It is never crystal clear, but I am basically contracted to Red Bull and they are really controlling that.
Q. But would they stand in your way if you had an offer elsewhere?
DR: They would still have to do the negotiation if they wanted to lease me out, or if another team wanted to buy me. That is for them to get on and decide. For me, I am a bit behind the curtains there.
Q. There has been a lot of chat about this possibly being the last Australian Grand Prix. How disappointing would it be if that did happen?
DR: Very disappointed. For a driver to have a grand prix in his own country is exciting, and this weekend I get a taste of what that would be like. And if it was the last time, then I would definitely be quite sad about that. I would love to make my debut in a grand prix in Australia. It is out of my control but I hope they find a solution and keep is going. It is a great event.
If you speak to drivers and say, name your top three grands prix, then Australia in there for 90 percent of them. I think it's the same for the fans too.
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