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Red Bull’s Verstappen, Ricciardo see season slipping away

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) For Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, the podium is starting to look a long way off.

Mercedes and Ferrari’s tussle for wins in Formula One has left Verstappen and Ricciardo in the cold, an uncomfortable sensation for drivers who each won a race last year and were podium regulars.

And the gap to the top two teams is getting bigger.

“For us, I think, at the moment the best we can do is fifth, so that’s like a victory for us,” Verstappen said Saturday.

In qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix, Ricciardo’s fifth place downplayed the gulf between Red Bull and the leaders. Ricciardo was 1.7 seconds off pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, and more than 1.1 off Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes in fourth.

Verstappen, who lit up the sport a year ago with a win in Spain on his Red Bull debut, was almost two seconds off the pace in seventh.

“As a team, we know where we have to improve, and that’s both chassis and engine,” Verstappen said. “We have to deal with it and hopefully soon we can improve it on both sides.”

Vettel’s title with Red Bull in 2013 was the last time the team could fight for regular wins, but it did manage two victories and 15 podium finishes last year, often when the dominant Mercedes team slipped up.

This campaign, Red Bull’s hopes of adding more podiums to Verstappen’s third place in China earlier this month likely rest on an anticipated package of upgrades to the car. That’s due in time for the May 14 Spanish Grand Prix.

“It will probably dictate whether we’re going to be on the podium or not” in what remains of the first half of the season, Ricciardo said. “It’s our best hope, for sure.”

Monaco apartment bet gives extra spice to race for P5 in Russia

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Remember that episode of Friends where Joey and Chandler go up against Rachel and Monica in a crazy quiz that ends in them swapping apartments for a while?

Well, Formula 1 might be doing its own version on Sunday in Russia.

With Ferrari and Mercedes over one second per lap clear of the rest of the pack, the top four positions seem settled, leaving Williams and Red Bull to battle for P5.

Red Bull has been the third-quickest team for much of the season so far, yet Williams looks more competitive in Russia, with Felipe Massa charging to sixth place in qualifying to split Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

“I predicted them to be quick here. It’s been one of their stronger circuits the last few years, and Massa’s always been pretty handy around here,” Ricciardo said of Williams.

“He got close, split Max and myself. I expect that battle to remain tomorrow. Not expecting to have the battle for the win, I think that’s between Ferrari and Mercedes, but we could have a nice little battle within ourselves for the top five.”

To add an extra twist to things, it turns out that Ricciardo, Massa and Verstappen all live inside the same apartment complex in Monaco – so why not add some extra incentive to the battle?

“I was saying whoever maybe wins our battle tomorrow can get the… Massa or Verstappen, they’ve both got pretty good-sized apartments, so maybe they can give the winner their apartment for the weekend as a bit of a token gesture!” Ricciardo joked to NBCSN after the session.

“Yeah I can give a good party and I will join,” Verstappen added.

Massa laughed before saying: “I hope I will win and I cannot give!’

The race between Red Bull and Williams may be tight, but somehow we doubt remembering that the TV guide goes to Miss Chanandeler Bong or that his job is a transpon… transponster (“that’s not even a word!”) will be much help to Ricciardo, Massa or Verstappen on Sunday.

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Red Bull set to revamp F1 chassis in time for Spanish GP

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Red Bull is planning to revamp its Formula 1 chassis with a number of upgrades in time for the Spanish Grand Prix on May 14, according to advisor Helmut Marko.

Red Bull entered 2017 looking to take advantage of the revised technical regulations that placed a greater emphasis on aerodynamic performance, an area the team has traditionally been strong in.

While Ferrari and Mercedes have stolen a march on the field to dominate the first three races, Red Bull has been marooned as the third-fastest team, seemingly adrift from rivals either in front or behind.

“We have two problems: Renault had some [power unit] reliability issues, which have slowed them down in the development, and we didn’t deliver the chassis that we should have done,” Marko told the official Formula 1 website.

“But we are working day and night to pick up our shortcomings. We are pretty optimistic that we will make a significant step forward in Barcelona where a big change of parts is coming.

“Sometimes patience is the best virtue a driver can have.”

When asked to place a time frame on the updates, Marko said: “The chassis will be ‘revamped’ in Barcelona and Renault is planning something for Montreal.”

Despite already being 55 points off leading team Ferrari in the constructors’ championship, Marko is confident that Red Bull can cut the gap, taking inspiration from its previous fightbacks.

“When we fought for the championship with Sebastian [Vettel] against [Fernando] Alonso, we were 42 points behind still after the summer break, and won. So we are the masters of ‘catch-up’.”

“We just have to go our own way by constantly reducing the gap.”

Daniel Ricciardo thought Red Bull could fight for F1 win in Bahrain

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Daniel Ricciardo believed that Red Bull had a genuine chance of winning Sunday’s Formula 1 race in Bahrain before issues on the soft compound tire caused him to drop back from the leading runners.

Red Bull had been around one second per lap adrift of Ferrari and Mercedes in the opening two races of the year, but a good start saw Max Verstappen run fourth for the team ahead of Ricciardo in fifth.

Valtteri Bottas’ slow pace at the front of the pack allowed the Red Bull drivers to stay within three seconds of the leader, giving Ricciardo hope of a breakthrough win in 2017.

A safety car period allowed Ricciardo to jump up to third ahead of Lewis Hamilton, only for his soft tires to struggle to get up to temperature, causing him to fall back on the restart.

“The safety car was nice, we jumped up to third, but it wasn’t nice to our tires. That’s where we lost a lot of ground today,” Ricciardo told NBCSN after the race.

“We got going, but I struggled with both front and rear grip. Even then we settled into a pace, let’s say the chaos settled, we never got the tire really working. The soft was a real pain today. I was at the tail end of the pack. But I felt I was in best condition. Others slid and I managed the tires well.

“I genuinely thought we could fight for the win but we fell back.”

Ricciardo was left to endure a lonely race en route to fifth place for Red Bull, leaving him to think of his own fun in the car.

“I was singing songs to myself, thinking about a good night’s rest,” Ricciardo said.

“One [song] from Austin last year, No Devil by Sam Firman. It’s a good song.”

Mixed emotions for Ricciardo after run to fourth in Chinese GP

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Daniel Ricciardo was left with mixed emotions after finishing fourth in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix, losing out on a podium to Red Bull Formula 1 teammate Max Verstappen late on.

Red Bull entered this weekend’s race uncertain of its chances after lagging far behind Ferrari and Mercedes in Australia, and struggled to put up much of a fight in qualifying, with Ricciardo finishing a distant fifth.

Damp conditions at the start of the race played into the RB13’s favor, with Ricciardo and Verstappen running in the top three early on, only for Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to battle past both in pursuit of leader Lewis Hamilton.

Ricciardo was left chasing Verstappen, who was struggling to manage his tires late on, leading to a frantic battle between the two Red Bull drivers in the closing stages.

Verstappen put up a robust defense to keep Ricciardo back, clinching Red Bull’s 100th podium finish in the process and leaving his Australian teammate slightly disappointed.

“I have mixed emotions. It’s obviously disappointing to miss out on the podium as it was so close today but as a team it’s a good result to finish third and fourth,” Ricciardo said after the race.

“I lost a lot of time in the first stint as I struggled to keep my front tyres alive and that pretty much put us out of a podium position. After the first pit stop I had good balance and speed which meant I could claw some time back and close the gap to the leaders.

“Towards the end of the race I could see that Max was struggling with his tyres but as soon as I got close to him I also began to struggle with mine. The team let us race but even though I was in the DRS zone I was not really close enough to pull off a convincing move.

“I had a look but the inside lines were still quite slippery into the hairpin and I was honestly never really close enough to make a move stick. It was also quite noticeable that the DRS effect is far less on the cars this year which didn’t help.

“As a team we should be pleased with the result and we learnt a lot today but we still have some work to do to close the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari.”