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And the hunt continues...

Sebastian Vettel may be dominating Formula One with Mark Webber looking in fine form too (provided he doesn't get bamboozled by this year's Pirelli tyres) but Red Bull Racing know that nothing lasts forever. Vinayak Pande writes.

india Updated: Feb 19, 2012 19:26 IST
Vinayak Pande
Vinayak Pande
Hindustan Times
Vinayak Pande,Sebastian Vettel,Formula One

Sebastian Vettel may be dominating Formula One with Mark Webber looking in fine form too (provided he doesn't get bamboozled by this year's Pirelli tyres) but Red Bull Racing know that nothing lasts forever. This could explain the 'tough love' that someone like Daniel Ricciardo expects to be dished out to him in 2012.

Vettel could leave for another team, Webber could retire and all of a sudden the team could be left without the two drivers that took Red Bull to its current all-conquering status. So Red Bull continues to hunt for future winners to help keep them on top. We take a look at some of the drivers on their radar and how they are currently faring as well as a few that fell by the wayside.

The prospects:
Daniel Ricciardo:
The 22-year-old Australian had marked himself out as a driver to watch when he won races in Formula BMW Asia in 2006 and in Formula Renault in 2008. But it wasn't until he won the British Formula 3 championship the following year that he put himself firmly on the radar of F1 talent scouts. After finishing second in the Formula Renault 3.5 series in 2010, Ricciardo signed on as a test driver for Toro Rosso in 2011 and also got race time at HRT at the expense of Narain Karthikeyan. By the Italian Grand Prix, he had the measure of Vitantonio Liuzzi but was famously outraced by Karthikeyan in India who he barely outqualified. Despite this, his graduation to a race seat with Toro Rosso seemed inevitable and was finally confirmed last year.

Jean-Eric Vergne: The 21-year-old Frenchman succeeded Ricciardo as the British F3 champion (racing for the same team, no less) and also followed in his footsteps in Formula Renault 3.5, where he raced last year while taking the reserve driver's role at Toro Rosso. Has been attracting a lot of attention due to the fact that he's the first promising French driver in F1 since Sebastian Bourdais (more on him later). F1 was without any drivers from the country that founded Grand Prix racing last year and is not represented on the calendar either.

Many of the sports' fans in its traditional home base of Europe will be eagerly following Vergne's progress.

Stefan Wackerbauer: At just 16, the Austrian is the blue-eyed boy as far as the head of Red Bull's driver development program Helmut Marko is concerned. In fact it is hard for Marko to discuss any details of the program without dropping Wackerbauer's name in the conversation.

Marko does, however, have good reason to be optimistic. Wackerbauer won all 13 races of the 2011 Formula BMW talent cup to mark himself out as a talent to watch. In the more competitive Formula Renault UK winter series, however, Wackerbauer finished just 19th in the points standings, three positions behind India's Shahaan Engineer. At such a young age though, it could just turn out to be a minor setback for Wackerbauer.

Lucas Auer: The 17-year-old Austrian is not yet officially in Red Bull's driver development program but Marko eagerly watched his progress whenever the JK Racing Asia Series was included in the support race roster for F1 races in 2011. You can be assured that his title winning campaign did not go unnoticed as did his creditable sixth place finish in the Toyota Racing Series early this year where he scored two pole positions and a podium against a highly competitive field of drivers.

The ones that slipped away
Scott Speed:
One can't help but start the list of Red Bull's not-so-wunderkinds with 29-year-old Scott Speed. In 2006, it seemed like a good idea for Red Bull to buy the Minardi team, re-brand it as Scuderia Toro Rosso and promote it as a team for young drivers to find their feet before stepping up to Red Bull Racing, which had been on the grid since the start of the previous season. Speed was signed along with Liuzzi and widely billed as the driver who would finally break America's dry spell in F1 that stretched to the 1982 Italian Grand Prix when Mario Andretti scored a famous pole position.

Unfortunately for America and Red Bull, Speed never scored a single point in his 28 race career and was dropped in favour of a promising young German driver who came through BMW's motorsports program by the name of Sebastian Vettel in 2007. After leaving F1, Speed irked drivers in his native land by doing everything from dropping the f-bomb to intentionally ramming into another driver in 2008 during the ARCA series.

Sebastien Bourdais: Looking at his record in pretty much everything but F1, one has to wonder why the 32-year-old Frenchman never made it big in motor racing's top championship. He was the International Formula 3000 (GP2's predecessor) champion in 2002 and utterly dominated the Champ Car world series, winning every title from 2004 to 2007. When he came to Toro Rosso in 2008, however, he had to contend with Vettel as a teammate and there were rumors of preferential treatment towards the German that have been unfounded. While Vettel was promoted to Red Bull Racing in 2009, Bourdais languished at Toro Rosso before being replaced by Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari.

Vitantonio Liuzzi: Much in the way that Speed was seen as America's hope for an F1 star, Liuzzi was seen as Italy's young, hotshot bet to F1 glory. His partnership with Speed was disappointing, however, and after just two points scoring finishes in his first two years with Toro Rosso, Liuzzi was offloaded to the new Force India team in 2008 as their reserve driver. Despite a reputation as a driver adept at developing a car over the course of a season, Liuzzi eventually slipped down to HRT before finding himself without a seat for 2012.

Sebastien Buemi: The 23-year-old Swiss must have felt like time was on his side when he joined Toro Rosso as a 20-year-old in 2009.

Ultimately the solid driver who consistently finished in the points found himself without a race seat in 2012 when Red Bull decided that being solid was not good enough for them. Buemi has, however, been handed a lifeline by Red Bull who have appointed him as a reserve driver for both Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing this year.

Jaime Alguersuari: Any racing fan who has been on youtube recently would have seen the video of the youngest driver to ever start in F1 being given a verbal dressing down by Helmut Marko. The crime? Holding up Vettel during practice for the 2011 Korean Grand Prix through corners before finally letting him through. The 21-year-old Spaniard's arguments fell on disapproving ears and this altercation with Marko has been rumored to be the reason for him losing his place at Toro Rosso despite going on to finish seventh in the Korean GP and following it up with an eighth place finish in India.

First Published: Feb 19, 2012 19:22 IST