Red Bull's Verstappen, Ricciardo see season slipping away

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.''

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