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  When, on Sunday afternoon, the field lines up for the British Grand Prix there will, or at least should, be two Australian drivers on the grid for the first time since the Austrian Grand Prix of 1977. On that blustery August day Vern Schuppan scraped into the race in the second Surtees TS19 while Alan Jones was confident of a reasonably good result in the ever improving Shadow DN8. As things turned out both drivers finished the rain effected race, Schuppan down the back of the field in what was to be his final Grand Prix start while Jones survived the early rain and carnage to score what was his first, and Shadow's only, Grand Prix victory. The result was so unexpected that the Austrian officials didn't have a copy of the Australian national anthem so a version of Happy Birthday was played instead. I don't think Jones was terribly offended though...it was the only time in his F1 career that he was able to drink champagne on the victory podium, his Williams being sponsored by Saudi Airlines between 1978 and 1981. 




  With any luck there will be a similar result for Australia on Sunday. Mark Webber in the Red Bull will be looking for another good result and trying his damnedest to beat the seemingly unstoppable Sebastian Vettel. It is strangely in keeping with the sort of luck that Mark has encountered through his career that he gets into the best car in the field just as his team-mate matures into probably the best driver of his generation. Vettel is becoming less the "next Schumacher" than the Schumacher is becoming the "previous Vettel". Despite some unpleasant brain fades last year (Turkey, Belgium etc) which cost him quite a few fans in this part of the world it must be remembered that Vettel is still not much more than a steadily maturing kid. He only turned 24 last Sunday. And away from those more childish moments he is a hugely popular figure in the paddock and with the press. Anyone, especially a German, that not only gets, but finds Monty Python, FaultyTowers and Black Adder hilarious, can't be a bad guy. So long as he doesn't let the pressure, media demands and the hideous political correctness required by some teams get to him, he is destined to be one of the most popular multiple world champions in the sports history.

    Barring disasters, the latest in the lengthening line of Red Bull junior drivers will make his race debut on Sunday. Red Bull has done a deal to replace Narain Karthikeyan with Daniel Ricciardo at HRT for the remainder of the year, excluding the Indian Grand Prix where Narain will regain his seat. Like Vettel, Buemi and Alguersuari before him, Daniel has risen rapidly through the junior ranks with the support of Red Bull and just five years after coming to Red Bull's attention, he is on the brink of becoming a Grand Prix driver. Ricciardo started in Formula Ford in Western Australia in 2005 before heading into the Formula BMW Asia series where he scored his first wins. In 2006 he ran in the UK Formula BMW series before an impressive drive in the World Final secured his Red Bull backing. In 2007 Red Bull entered Daniel in the Italian Formula Renault series as a build-up to full European series campaigns in 2008.

   Daniel racked up 14 wins in 2008 winning the Formula Renault Western European Cup and coming second in the Eurocup series. At the end of the year he was entered in a couple of Formula 3 Euroseries races before his title winning season in 2009. Ricciardo dominated the British Formula 3 championship that year with seven wins and by October had been signed by Tech 1 to compete in the Formula Renault 3.5 series for 2010. He further impressed the Red Bull management when he completed his first Formula One test and posted the quickest time for the Red Bull team. His 2010 Formula Renault 3.5 was frustrating at the same time as it was successful. With 8 poles and 4 wins, one of which at Monaco, Ricciardo only missed out on the title in the final race of the year. He again took part in the rookie driver test for Red Bull in December at the Yas Marina circuit and stunned observers with a time that was a whacking 1.3 seconds faster than the newly crowned champ, Vettel, had secured pole position with just days before. OK, the track had improved but even so...So far this year he has scored a couple of wins, including his second in a row at Monaco, while combining his Formula Renault 3.5 racing with Friday testing duties for Toro Rosso in Grands Prix. His impressive performances there have led to Red Bull paying for his drive with HRT, giving him some experience before he is probably promoted to either Red Bull or Toro Rosso next season. 

  Meanwhile the technical changes to the "hot blown" exhausts comes into effect this weekend as well. No-one really knows how this will affect the relative performance of the cars but some basic observations can be drawn. Obviously the teams that do not have the device, (HRT, Virgin, Lotus & Williams) will not suffer at all. Of the others there is no real knowledge just how much of each cars speed is a result of this but it will probably be Renault, who designed their entire car with its forward exiting exhausts, who will suffer the most. But as always, we will really only know on Sunday evening. Will the pack close in or will Red Bull disappear into the distance again, like Webber did last year at Silverstone.

Sam Snape