|© Peter Fox/Getty Images/Red Bull Racing
There's a lot at stake for Daniel Ricciardo at the Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend, with a seat at Red Bull next season the potential reward for a strong performance at the Hungaroring.
The Australian driver is vying with Toro Rosso teammate Jean-Eric Vergne and Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen for the vacant Red Bull slot alongside three-time champion Sebastian Vettel. Red Bull is expected to announce in the coming weeks who will take it over next season.
While Vergne is a long shot, Ricciardo's hopes were boosted after he impressed the team's hierarchy during a recent test run in the RB9 at Silverstone.
Ricciardo has three top-ten finishes this season and a best of seventh place at the Chinese GP. A better finish on Sunday could give him the edge over Raikkonen and Vergne.
"I still need to have a good weekend. Of course, though, the fewer candidates the better for me," Ricciardo said. "(I need to) make it happen this weekend."
The seat at Red Bull became available last month after Mark Webber's decision to quit F1 to race sports cars for German manufacturer Porsche.
"I knew from the beginning of the year that an opportunity could arise, so I always kept this in the back of my mind and tried to learn as quickly as possible," the 24-year-old Ricciardo said.
Red Bull team owner Dietrich Mateschitz praised him after he was given a recent trial run in the ultra-fast RB9 that Vettel races in.
"It was quite something," Ricciardo said. "I was pretty satisfied as I came down to the times pretty fast. And now when I think about it, if I had to do it again I would do it exactly the same."
That testing performance at Silverstone led to increased media speculation that Ricciardo could get the seat ahead of the 33-year-old Raikkonen, who is third in the overall standings.
"I have never seen so many journalists waiting for me and hanging on my lips for every single word I say," Ricciardo said. "I asked them if they are here because they've already seen the signed contract, because I haven't seen one.
"What I hear is basically what I know from the media, that it will happen around the summer break," he added. "If I get the news when I'm laying around on some beach, that would be just perfect."
Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost is prepared to lose Ricciardo.
"I see it as positive as it shows that the drivers are skilled and the team has done a good job," Tost said. "If they choose Daniel I'm quite happy with this decision."
Tost indicated that Vergne appears to be out of contention, but that his Toro Rosso seat is safe.
"We must not forget that Jean-Eric came later into Formula 1, and why Red Bull is thinking about racing with Daniel Ricciardo next year is simply because he is more experienced," Tost said. "(Vergne) is, as far as I'm thinking, next year within Toro Rosso."
Vettel has no preference which driver he races with next season.
"What matters is that whoever drives alongside me, or for us, fits into the team and is happy to work in the same direction," Vettel said.
Vettel and Webber have a strained relationship, compounded when Vettel defied team orders and overtook Webber to win the Malaysian GP in March.
"It is never about finding a friend in your teammate, but it needs to be somebody who fits into the team," Vettel said, adding that he played no part in Webber's decision to quit the sport.
"He is the master of his own fate and he had the opportunity to remain with us."