By Alan Baldwin

MONZA, Italy (Reuters) - For a young man who will step into the hottest of Formula One hot seats next season, Daniel Ricciardo looked and sounded relieved on Thursday.

The 24-year-old Australian faced a barrage of questions at the Italian Grand Prix as he faced the world's media for the first time since Red Bull announced he would partner triple champion Sebastian Vettel next year.

Championship leader Vettel may have four titles by 2014 while Ricciardo, who replaces departing compatriot Mark Webber, has yet to appear on a Formula One podium in his third season in the sport.

If he was feeling the heat, he hid it well.

"I think it's a bit of a relief now that there's no more speculation and no more dodging questions and all the rest of it," the ever-smiling driver told a news conference at Monza. "Everyone knows what's happening, including me. It's nice. It's something to look forward to."

Ricciardo's appointment came as no surprise, with Red Bull trusting in the same supply chain that saw Vettel promoted from Toro Rosso at the end of 2008, but he said he was still not told until last week.

Team principal Christian Horner told reporters that Ricciardo was simply the best candidate "for the medium and the longer term."

He indicated also that anyone suspecting the new man would pose less of a challenge to Vettel than Webber, whose relationship with the German has been more than frosty, should reserve judgement.

'CALCULATED RISK'

"Daniel really deserves a chance. He's a seriously quick driver, he's a young guy and behind that broad smile he's got a determination about him. There's no reason at all why he can't do a super job next year," said Horner.

"He's an intelligent lad. He's demonstrated he's capable of winning championships in lower formulae, he's won races in all the categories he's been involved in bar Formula One so far. It's a calculated risk that we've taken but he's got all the attributes of being a star of the future."

Horner said money had not been a factor in the driver decision and nor had the Australian won them over with his character.

"You can have the best character in the world, but if you're not quick it doesn't help," he said.

Vettel, still only 26 years old but with 31 career wins to his credit already, would not be drawn on whether he expected to get on better with Ricciardo than Webber, who is 10 years older than him.

"Whatever I say makes the relationship I currently have with Mark sound bad," said Vettel. "We (him and Webber) are not best friends, yes...but equally we respect each other on the track as racing drivers

"(Ricciardo) is a different guy. I don't know him yet that well. I don't want to marry him so I don't have to be best friends with him. But I think we'll get along with each other."

He also reserved judgement on his team mate's potential.

"It is difficult to say because at the moment he is not in a car that allows him to score points regularly and race in the area where we race," he said.

"People probably have the opinion that drivers that are in let's say an average car and maybe somewhere in the midfield are generally not on the same level as the drivers at the front.

"I think on average that is probably the case, but how do you get to step up if you never get a chance? It's a great time for him," said the champion.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Alison Wildey)

 

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