da Costa poses threat to Toro Rosso drivers

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Scuderia Toro Rosso had a nightmare year in 2012, with drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne failing to live up to the hype which touted both as possible replacements for Mark Webber. After a disappointing showing in winter testing, both drivers will be looking over their shoulder as many drivers vie for their seats, and Antonio Felix da Costa appears to be the man in pole position should the team decided to make a change.

Unlike Toro Rosso, da Costa had a sensational 2012 season in GP3 and Formula Renault 3.5 as the Portuguese driver displayed his enormous talent. With Carlin, he finished third in GP3, and he ended up fourth in the Formula Renault 3.5 championship despite missing five of the seventeen races. da Costa will try to do even better in the series this season after he secured a full-time seat with Arden Caterham, whose links to F1 could be incredibly important. At the Young Driver Test in Abu Dhabi last year, da Costa drove for Red Bull, finishing second on day one and quickest on day two by over half a second. With Red Bull backing though, he appears to be the next driver in line to come from the family that has helped Sebastian Vettel develop into a three-time champion.

It is unlikely that Toro Rosso would opt to bring in da Costa mid-way through the season, as winter testing would give him the chance to get used to the car and prepare properly, as the likes of Bottas and Gutierrez have found this year. Yet if Vergne and Ricciardo have a particularly poor season, da Costa could be drafted in towards the end of 2013 where the risk is reduced (as there is less of the season to g0). This could prove to be a poor move for da Costa though: Nico Hulkenberg rejected Ferrari’s advances in 2009 as he did not want to be judged on half a season in a substandard car.

The way in which da Costa has been openly linked with Toro Rosso will hopefully give Ricciardo and Vergne the kickstart they require to perform in 2013. They started testing strongly, but both drivers finished behind Caterham and Marussia in Barcelona. To have their future questioned before the season has even begun will concern the Toro Rosso pairing, so they must answer their critics on the track this year.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”