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.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “