Tost: Ricciardo leading race for Red Bull seat

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Scuderia Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost believes that Daniel Ricciardo is currently leading the race to replace Mark Webber at Red Bull at the end of the season, although he refused to write off Jean-Eric Vergne’s chances.

Both Toro Rosso drivers have made good starts to the 2013 season, but it is Ricciardo who has starred, running to P7 at the Chinese Grand Prix and turning many heads in the process.

“Well, performance is all that matters and you definitely can see that Daniel with 11 races more under his belt – which is more than half of a season – is probably in a better situation,” Tost told the official Formula One website.

“Right now he has the upper hand, which we have seen in Barcelona. But that is a snapshot right now. Generally I would say that both would fit into the Red Bull concept.”

Tost did make clear that if either driver was to join Red Bull for next season, they would need to have a highly impressive second half of 2013 to prove that they are worthy of joining the defending world champions.

“Both would have to demonstrate an exceptionally good second half of the season, because don’t forget we are speaking about the world champions, so the requirement profile is quite different to being with a team like Toro Rosso.

“But don’t get me wrong, both are on a very good path and everything will depend on the next couple of months as to whether one of the two of them – should the need be there – qualify for Red Bull Racing.”

Ricciardo and Vergne both have strong cases for joining Red Bull should the team choose not to renew Mark Webber’s contract, but with Nico Hulkenberg and Kimi Raikkonen also thought to be in the running for the seat, the Toro Rosso pair will need to produce some sensational performances if they are to prove their worth to the world champions.

Hartley to make F1 debut from back of grid after penalty

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Brendon Hartley’s hopes of a points finish on his Formula 1 debut took a hit on Friday after the FIA confirmed the Toro Rosso driver will start the United States Grand Prix from the back of the grid due to an engine penalty.

Porsche factory driver and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Hartley was drafted in by Toro Rosso as a surprise replacement for Pierre Gasly in Austin, with the Frenchman tied up with Super Formula duties at Suzuka this weekend.

Hartley took to the track in an official grand prix session for the first time on Friday in Austin, marking his first run-out in an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 20120.

However, FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer confirmed in his pre-race report that changes had been made to the power unit on Hartley’s Toro Rosso car since the last race in Japan, triggering a grid penalty.

Toro Rosso elected to take a new internal combustion engine, MGU-H, energy store and control electronics on Hartley’s Renault power unit, totaling a 25-place grid drop that will be applied after qualifying. Confirmation of the penalty is set to follow later today.

The penalty comes as a setback for Hartley, but was necessary as Toro Rosso found itself short on engine elements to get to the end of the season.

Hartley is not the only driver to have a penalty confirmed, with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne also taking new engine elements, also confirmed in Bauer’s report.

A new ICE, turbocharger and MGU-H for Hulkenberg will see him drop 20 places on the grid, while an eighth ICE of the year for Vandoorne will trigger a five-place drop.