LONDON // Red Bull Racing will be keeping a close eye on Daniel Ricciardo when the Australian makes his Formula One debut with the Hispania Racing Team (HRT) at Silverstone this weekend, but recognise that he has a lot to learn.
Ricciardo, 22, is also a Red Bull reserve, and has been doing regular Friday practice sessions for sister team Toro Rosso throughout the season.
"He's a really talented youngster. He's earned this opportunity to make his Formula One debut," Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, said ahead of the British Grand Prix. "I think he's a very gifted driver, certainly the work that he's done for us in the young driver tests and simulation has been very, very impressive.
"But it's a first step on the ladder for him. He's still very young. It's an opportunity that's been presented to him and it's now up to him to grab it."
Ricciardo has replaced Narain Karthikeyan, the Indian driver, in the HRT starting line-up with a view to measuring his potential and giving him experience before a probable race seat at Toro Rosso in 2012.
There has also been speculation that he could step directly in at Red Bull to replace compatriot Mark Webber, whose contract expires at the end of the season, alongside Sebastian Vettel, the 24-year-old world champion. Horner said the youngster should take his time, although he might not need that much.
"He's got a learning curve to go through but as we see with these young drivers, they develop very quickly," he said.
"Look at [Force India's] Paul di Resta, look at Sebastian [Vettel]. They tend to develop very quickly. And Daniel is a talented driver, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses."
"Daniel has no experience of grand prix racing. He's got an awful lot to learn, and HRT and Toro Rosso are the best environment for him to do that as Sebastian did with Toro Rosso in 2007 and 2008.
"He needs time to develop. It would be wrong to rush him through. He's got to prove himself in Formula One now ... He needs to grab this opportunity and make the most of it."
Vettel started seven races with Toro Rosso in 2007 after making his debut as a stand-in for BMW-Sauber at Indianapolis that year. He won the 2008 Italian Grand Prix with Toro Rosso, their only success to date, and then moved to Red Bull at the end of that season.
Horner said Ricciardo also had huge potential but was still untested.
"I think he is very talented but it's one thing doing it in testing and it's another thing doing it under pressure. We'll see. We'll be keeping a very close eye on him," he said.
"He will still remain our test and reserve driver, but he's effectively on loan to HRT."