A year ago today in Budapest, Daniil Kvyat stood on a Formula 1 podium for the first time in his career, with an impressive drive which led him to second place behind Sebastian Vettel, but 12 months later the outlook for the young Russian looks increasingly bleak.
(It is a subject I almost certainly would have blogged about at the time it happened given its drama and controversy so yes I know I am a bit late to the party but better late than never, right?)
To start, we go back to late 2013, the traditionally successful yet brutal Red Bull young driver programme seemed to have yielded another success story when Kvyat aged just 19 was thrust into the spotlight as he was confirmed to be racing for Toro Rosso in 2014, despite the attention being on him, I feel that he offered a steady debut year which could be built on with more experience at the junior team.
However, the problems begun early morning in Suzuka in 2014 when Red Bull’s 4 time champion Vettel announced his intentions to move to Ferrari and in no time at all Kvyat was announced as the German’s successor, for me it was a naive and foolish error in judgement to promote Daniil so early in his F1 career, it is not as though he had a standout season but that is not a bad thing, yes he was beaten by Jean-Eric Vergne but more time at the Faenza team and he could learn and improve without the glare of pressure that comes with being in a championship contending team, now he was pushed into a seat he didn’t expect and against a team-mate who had rocket high confidence after winning 3 races.
Before we move on, I feel like its important to note something, the two men who had previously made the graduation leap from Toro Rosso to Red Bull before Kvyat did so in differing manner to him, Ricciardo had half a season at HRT before two full seasons with the Red Bull junior outfit where he was able to hone his skills, Vettel held a test role with Sauber before a year and a half at Toro Rosso, however he was impressing consistently in this time which including his maiden win at Monza made him an obvious choice for the senior team. So in this sense it is almost clear in my view that Kvyat hadn’t been given enough time to develop before getting the RBR gig.
Despite this, he did a very solid job in my opinion, he was never expected to challenge Ricciardo and not only did he match him most times but he beat the much-loved Aussie in the standings by 3 points in a campaign most notable for his second place finish in Budapest, not bad for a debut season at a big team you’d think? Not enough according to Red Bull management who had already seemed to be casting admiring glances towards Verstappen which had Kvyat under pressure to improve despite being the lead Bull in the standings.
The first 4 races of 2016 saw a brutal unravelling of Kvyat though, electrics issues forced him out before the start in Melbourne but it was events in China and his homeland Russia which would spell the end, curiously both incidents involving Sebastian Vettel.
Firstly the incident at turn 1 in Shanghai which to clarify (some people might assume things because I support Seb) I feel he was perfectly entitled to go for that move and he executed it well, it was Vettel who didn’t see it coming and so caused the crash with Raikkonen, it was a gutsy move that helped him on his way to the podium, and let’s make no bones about it, that move would be thoroughly praised if it was carried out by a Hamilton or an Alonso, even Vettel himself.
Russia is a different story altogether, already under the microscope following the previous incident, Kvyat locked his brakes and smashed into Vettel in Turn 2 before hitting the German more than once on his way through turn 3, leaving Vettel in the wall to give the bleep machine a good workout!! In this case it is clear Kvyat made more than one mistake and was fully to blame however the fallout from these two incidents was unexpected.
Kvyat was dropped for the ferocious and fast-learning Dutchman Max Verstappen, now it would be my view that Verstappen was a problem for Kvyat from the moment #33 stepped into Toro Rosso, a young up and coming superstar birthed from the Red Bull programme, naturally they wanted to get him to the top as fast as they could, Ricciardo was going nowhere so it was an easy way to push Max through by effectively scapegoating Daniil out of the team, even if Kvyat had another good year he almost certainly would have lost his seat to Verstappen.
The youngster is clearly very popular with main men Horner, Marko and Mateschitz, rightly so following his victory in Spain, bringing a new generation of fans and a huge following from his native Holland as well as a long-term option to have one of the most promising drivers the sport has seen for a long time whilst it could be argued that Dany is quite reserved and not the sort of driver Red Bull as a brand really want, that is not an attack of his character I must stress but it is widely known RB are involved in F1 on a business first basis and I would argue that the young Russian is nowhere near as marketable as his replacement.
Perhaps one of the most impressive points is how Kvyat handled himself in the immediate aftermath with pride and dignity despite the undoubted pain of losing his seat and the added pain of FOM coincidentally seating him right beside the man who could have potentially ended his career in the pre-Spanish GP press conference he was calm, strong and even humoured the attending media with a reference to Game of Thrones – this Dany might need more than just dragons to survive!
He hasn’t had the best of luck since the switch back to Toro Rosso, with three retirements and only two points scored, tenth place finishes in Spain and Britain. I think it is absolutely crucial that he improves quickly and stands out during the second half of the season or he really will have no chance, really he is a man with nothing left to lose but everything to gain.
Kvyat has the rest of the year to prove to the paddock that he is a capable pair of hands and he has been given a great opportunity to do this against the rising star of Carlos Sainz but there is nothing to stop him being involved next year even in a reserve role if a race seat does not open itself up, he is talented enough to be in F1 in my opinion and he has been dealt a harsh hand by Red Bull. I stress that he has to prove himself to the paddock rather than his current bosses because I firmly believe his Red Bull career will be over at the end of the season, the way he has been treated leaves bitter taste and it is almost certain they will move to give Pierre Gasly a shot next year.
Still only 22 years old, Daniil Kvyat has had a career filled with ups and downs but I certainly hope to see him next year, to put it simply, he is more talented than some of the pay drivers lingering around the sport at the moment and so it would be a shame to lose him so early, however F1 isn’t the be all and end all and I’m sure he will find a place somewhere in motorsport even if not in F1, after all Formula E does seem to be a common place for axed Red Bull youngsters.