Formula 1Opinion

Daniil Kvyat – The Decline of a Young Talent

12 Mins read
Image Credit : Octane Photographic Limited

There was a time when Daniil Kvyat was one of the hottest prospects in single-seater racing, dominating the 2013 GP3 series, and taking multiple podiums and a win in the 2013 European Formula 3 championship (although his points didn’t count as he was a late registration). So what went so wrong that Kvyat is for the second time without a seat in Formula 1?

Having been associated with Red Bull Racing since his karting days, Kvyat’s natural route to Formula 1 was to impress Dr. Helmut Marko enough to warrant a seat in Formula 1. Indeed that was the path taken, after a dominant win in the European Formula 3 series Marko offered Kvyat a contract with Scuderia Toro Rosso, replacing Daniel Ricciardo who had been promoted to the ‘senior’ Red Bull team after Mark Webber’s retirement. Driving alongside him would be Jean-Éric Vergne who was starting his third year at the team.

Making his F1 debut at the tender age of nineteen, Kvyat would have an excellent start, qualifying in the top ten and finishing the race in ninth place, breaking fellow Red Bull driver academy graduate Sebastian Vettel’s record for the youngest-point-scorer in Formula 1. The rest of the Russian’s season didn’t necessarily live up to the dizzy heights of his first race, managing only to score points at the Malaysian, Chinese, British, and Belgian Grand Prix‘s, finishing the year in fifteenth place in the driver’s championship, two places and fourteen points behind team-mate Vergne. However in Russia Kvyat had already made an impact, with the organizers of the initial Russian Grand Prix announcing their intentions to name a stand at the Sochi Autodrom after him.

After such a great start to the season, Kvyat would’ve hoped to have continued that form, but poor runs of form and bad luck didn’t help his cause with runs such as three retirements in a row at Monaco, Canada, and Austria, which ultimately led to his huge points deficit to team-mate Vergne. Initially, Kvyat was to have a second season at Toro Rosso alongside talented young Dutchman Max Verstappen, who would be replacing Vergne. However, Vettel’s shock move to Scuderia Ferrari opened up a seat at the ‘senior’ Red Bull Racing team, which was chosen to be taken by Kvyat. At Toro Rosso, the vacant seat left by Kvyat was replaced by fellow Red Bull academy member Carlos Sainz Jr.

Credit : Octane Photographic Ltd

Kvyat’s Red Bull career did not get off to the best start at the Australian Grand Prix, with the Russian’s car suffering transmission issues on the out-lap of the race meaning he did not start. But he would score points with a ninth-place finish at the Malaysian Grand Prix, Kvyat would soon come close to the podium coming home in fourth place at the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix.

At the Hungarian Grand Prix, the podium which he had come so close to at Monaco would arrive, when even with a ten-second penalty for track limits breaches managed to finish in second place, as a result of this Daniil would become the second-youngest driver to record a podium finish behind race winner Vettel. Kvyat would score two more fourth-place finishes at Spa and Mexico and would end the season with ninety-five points, three ahead of team-mate Ricciardo in a season where Red Bull struggled with the speed and reliability of the Renault engine.

Coming off the back of an extremely difficult season Red-Bull-Renault would finish seventy points behind third placed Williams Racing in fourth place in the constructor’s championship. However, finishing above a settled team-mate in a first-year at a team is a fantastic achievement, let alone a team-mate in Ricciardo who had beaten Vettel the previous year. Meanwhile, the man who had replaced Kvyat at Toro Rosso, Verstappen had been highly impressive in his rookie year, beating team-mate Sainz by thirty-one points, including recording fantastic fourth-place finishes at the Hungarian and United States Grand Prix.

Credit : Octane Photographic Ltd

For the second year in a row, Kvyat did not start the Australian Grand Prix due to an electrical issue not allowing him to reach the grid. After a seventh-place finish in Bahrain, the Russian driver was back on the podium, finishing third at the Chinese Grand Prix benefitting from an early safety car. At the next Grand Prix on Kvyat’s home soil, Kvyat was involved early on in the race in an incident which has become infamous in F1 Folklore, the Russian driver collided with Vettel on the opening lap twice causing the German driver to retire and call Kvyat a Torpedo.

Verstappen, who had started off the season with three consecutive points finishes and a retirement at Russia, had been identified by Red Bull management and the rest of the Formula 1 grid as a serious talent, in order to prevent Verstappen moving away from Toro Rosso, they needed to promote Verstappen to the Red Bull team.

Some have suggested that Red Bull were ‘waiting for an excuse’ to promote Verstappen and that the Russia incident was the perfect excuse to do carry this out. According to some sources, Vettel spoke with Christian Horner (Team Principal of Red Bull) after the Russian Grand Prix about Kvyat. Horner, talking about the reasons for Kvyat’s ‘demotion’ told the press: “Kvyat will be able to continue his development at Toro Rosso, in a team that he is familiar with, giving him the chance to regain his form and show his potential.”

Now back at Toro Rosso, Kvyat was faced with a decision, faced by many drivers who were deemed surplus to requirements at Red Bull, perform and stand a chance of moving to another team or don’t perform and be dropped from Formula 1 and the Red Bull program. Whilst Verstappen won his first Grand Prix, in admittedly lucky circumstances with the two Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton colliding, Kvyat was finishing in tenth place, three places ahead of team-mate Sainz.

The Russian driver would not score points until four races and three retirements later when at the British Grand Prix the Russian driver finished in tenth place. Kvyat would add two more points to his tally with a ninth-place finish at the Malaysian Grand Prix. Before the United States Grand Prix, it was announced that Kvyat would retain his seat for the following year alongside Sainz, for the second year running.

After being harshly demoted only one race after his second podium, Kvyat needed to prove to Red Bull and the world his worth. Unfortunately for Daniil, he was only able to finish in the points. three times in seventeen races, in stark contrast team-mate Sainz’s eight times. There were even rumours that Red Bull was considering dropping Kvyat completely from Formula 1, but the Russian driver was given another chance to prove his talent to the world.

Credit : Octane Photographic Ltd

At the first round of the season, the Toro Rosso car and both drivers looked quick, running in the top ten and this would remain constant for the Australian Grand Prix weekend, finishing the first race of the season in ninth place a place behind team-mate Sainz. However, this positive start was not maintained and Daniil’s season was to be plagued by a multitude of problems including several technical failures and occasional driver mistakes.

With only one more points finish at Monaco, before the Malaysian Grand Prix, it was announced that 2016 GP2 Series champion Pierre Gasly would be replacing Daniil Kvyat. In their official statement following their decision to stand Kvyat down, Toro Rosso stated: “This is not a case of goodbye for our Daniil, as he still remains part of the Red Bull Family.”

True to their word, Kvyat would return at the Circuit of The Americas, even though he finished in the points in tenth place it was not enough as New Zealander Brendon Hartley and Gasly returned for the next race. In the week running up to the Mexican Grand Prix, Dr Marko confirmed Kvyat’s exit from the academy and Formula 1.

Even though Kvyat may have had a sub-par season in Formula One, teams on the grid were still considering Kvyat as a full-time option with at the time Williams technical director Paddy Lowe stating publicly that they were considering Kvyat as an option for 2018, although in the end, they would sign fellow countryman Sergey Sirotkin. Most people, myself included didn’t expect Kvyat to return to Formula 1.

Credit : Octane Photographic Ltd

It was clear that Formula 1 was still the aim for the Russian driver and instead of focusing on going back to Red Bull, Kvyat became the reserve driver for Ferrari, that role also containing a lot of simulator work at Ferrari’s headquarters in Maranello. In a wet weather test in Fiorano, Kvyat drove that year’s Ferrari, the SF71H, his first time back in a Formula 1 car since the previous year’s US Grand Prix.

After Ricciardo decided to make the shock move to Renault it was decided that Gasly would be the man to replace the Australian at Red Bull for 2019, leaving a seat free at Toro Rosso. As there were no academy drivers to be promoted to Formula 1 after Dan Ticktum‘s failure in Super Formula, Kvyat was given another opportunity with Toro Rosso.

Whilst being asked about Gasly’s promotion, Marko actually stated that Kvyat was a more talented driver than Gasly showing the Red Bull management still held the Russian in high regard, so perhaps it was no surprise that he was chosen to be recalled. In Toro Rosso’s official statement Franz Tost said that he has no doubt in Kvyat’s “undeniable capabilities.”

Some may see this a Red Bull subtly acknowledging that they had made a mistake in removing Kvyat from Red Bull so early, ultimately largely contributing to his downfall. Maybe it was a case of right place wrong time for the Russian driver, with as mentioned the ever diplomatic Marko stating that Kvyat was actually better than the man being promoted: Gasly. With all that said, now the third spell at Toro Rosso for the Russian was to prove to the world his worth, due to the nature of Red Bull and how they work it was unlikely that Kvyat would ever be promoted back to the senior team but there were still other teams on the grid for Daniil to impress.

Credit : Octane Photographic Ltd

Paired alongside rookie, British-Thai Driver Alexander Albon for the 2019 season, Kvyat would have a positive start to the season finishing in tenth place at the Australian Grand Prix, four places ahead of team-mate Albon who finished back in fourteenth. Kvyat’s stop-start form, which had been so prevalent before continued with the Russian driver retiring from two of the next three races – both suffered as a result of damage from collisions. But again the Russian would find form recording a ninth and tenth place finish at Spain and France, and a seventh-place finish at the Monaco Grand Prix.

After a ninth-place finish at Silverstone, Kvyat would be back on the podium once again in what was a chaotic German Grand Prix, the Russian Driver benefitting from Mercedes making mistakes and great strategy call’s from his team, complemented by a great drive. This was also Toro Rosso’s first podium since Vettel won the 2008 Italian Grand Prix.

Image Caption : Octane Photographic Limited

During the summer break before the Belgian Grand Prix, Red Bull decided to ‘demote’ Gasly back to Toro Rosso meaning that either rookie Albon or Kvyat would be promoted to Red Bull. In the end Red Bull would choose Albon, Kvyat may have delivered the results, but Albon had been more impressive especially given the small amount of experience of Albon, even in Germany where Kvyat delivered the result, Albon’s drive was arguably more impressive running fourth before the safety car which was when Kvyat made the race defining decision to switch early to slicks.

Kvyat would now be partnered alongside the man who replaced him back in 2017, Gasly. At their first Grand Prix together at Spa, the Russian produced an excellent drive, starting in nineteenth place he would finish the race in seventh place, two places better than his team-mate. However, at the next race in Monza, Kvyat would suffer a third retirement of the season, down to an oil leak in the car.

Unfortunately, Kvyat would only manage to finish in the points three more times for the remainder of the season, two tenth-placed finishes at Japan and Brazil and a ninth-place finish at the final race of the season at Abu Dhabi. He would also finish in the points at both the Mexican and United States Grand Prix but caused last lap collisions in both races causing him to receive post-race penalties. The Russian would finish the 2019 championship in thirteenth place with thirty-seven points.

2019 was Kvyat’s best championship result ever for Toro Rosso, whilst the Russian’s return to the sport after a year had its high points, it also showed why he was let go in the first place, regularly being out-performed by his team-mates in both Qualifying and Races. Of all of the points scored by both of Toro Rosso’s two cars, Kvyat would only score forty-four per cent of those points. Saying that, Kvyat would’ve scored more points had he not had mechanical failures at Azerbaijan, Italy, and his home race in Russia. But those incomplete signs were still there, for example coming together with Antonio Giovinazzi in Bahrain, or his last-lap crash at Mexico with Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg. Kvyat’s long term future in the sport would most likely now depend on how he performed against Brazil podium finisher Pierre Gasly.

Credit : Octane Photographic Ltd

Retained alongside Gasly by the newly-rebranded Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda team (Previously Scuderia Toro Rosso), the Russian’s season after the extended winter break did not get off to the best of starts, one of numerous retirees in what turned out to be a calamitous Austrian Grand Prix, due to a suspension failure. But at the Styrian Grand Prix, Kvyat would score his first points of the season coming home in tenth place. However two races later, in a British Grand Prix that was dominated by tyre failures and punctures, Kvyat suffered a very heavy tyre failure resulting in a huge crash into the barriers.

In contrast to the stop-start nature of the beginning of his season, Kvyat would embark on a run of good form scoring points at the 70th anniversary Grand Prix, Italian Grand Prix, Tuscan Grand Prix, and Russian Grand Prix. His highest result of the season would come at Imola, having a fantastic safety car restart on fresher tyres on those around him to finish in fourth place. The Russian driver had great form towards the end of the season, particularly in qualifying, out-qualifying team-mate Gasly numerous times, finishing in a frustrating eleventh place at the Bahrain and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and an excellent seventh place at the incident-stricken Sakhir Grand Prix.

Credit : Octane Photographic Ltd

Unfortunately for Kvyat his team-mate Gasly was having a stellar season, bouncing back from his Red Bull disappointment, finishing and qualifying in the top five multiple times, and taking an excellent victory at the Italian Grand Prix. On top of that, a rookie in Formula two by the name of Yuki Tsunoda was making a huge impression taking fantastic victory’s at both the Belgian and Sakhir Grand Prix weekends and a last gasp victory at the 70th anniversary Grand Prix feature race after Prema team-mates Robert Shwartzman and Mick Schumacher collided on the last lap of the race.

Ultimately Tsunoda’s promotion to AlphaTauri ended up being one of the worst kept secrets in Formula 1, after the performances Tsunoda was putting in, being a member of both the Red Bull and Honda academy’s, Formula 1 was naturally the next step for the Japanese driver.

So, for the second time in his career Daniil Kvyat is faced with the prospect of being out of Formula 1 for good, this time probably more likely than in 2017. It’s also fair to be said that Kvyat deserved a proper goodbye, with drivers like Vettel being presented with a huge trophy by Ferrari, or McLaren F1 Team‘s Sainz being presented with part of the bodywork of his car or even at Renault DP World F1 Team, where Ricciardo was presented with a custom mask.

It is also important to bear in mind that Kvyat has been part for the Red Bull family in Formula 1 longer than any of those drivers have been at their respective teams, all Kvyat would get was team principal Tost telling media that “he has helped to set up and improve performance of the car.” Red Bull is notorious for mistreating young drivers, mainly down to Kvyat’s demotion in 2016 and this was another example of the ruthlessness of Dr Marko, ending Kvyat’s career in the harshest of ways, the least they could have done would’ve been to give Kvyat the chance to say goodbye to the sport by announcing he would be leaving before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Credit : Octane Photographic Ltd

This also poses the question: Is this the end for the Red Bull Driver Academy? With Alex Albon also being left without a seat in formula one, another example like Kvyat of being promoted prematurely, forcing Red Bull to look outside of their driver program for a driver in Sergio Pérez, Red Bull are giving plenty of young drivers opportunity’s, but not having the patience to develop the drivers.

With this almost sacrificial attitude, it is perhaps no surprise that many young and talented drivers choose the Ferrari Driver Academy, as Ferrari give opportunities and the chance to develop, if Giovinazzi for example was a member of the Red Bull program, it is unlikely he would have even lasted all of last season with Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN. In one way it’s great that Red Bull are handing out all of these opportunities, but do you value opportunities over time? It’s always going to be a hotly debated topic.

Daniil Kvyat will partly be remembered for his moments of madness or ‘torpedo moments’, but mainly for his supreme talent and skill, taking that podium in the Toro Rosso. It is clear that Kvyat has not given up on his F1 dream, with him openly targeting a return in 2022, telling Sky Sports: “we’ll try to focus us to come back to come back in Formula 1 in 2022.”

Personally, I’d like to see Kvyat take part in the FIA World Endurance Championship, being previously linked to a drive alongside Sirotkin for SMP Racing, his driving style would suit the extremities of Endurance Racing and I have no doubt he would have great success. In the end, maybe it was a case of right place wrong time, with that Verstappen promotion in 2016, if he had been given the chance to drive alongside Verstappen in 2019 who knows what could have been?

Ultimately after Kvyat’s good season-ending form as before with the Russian, it’s a case of what could’ve been for the young driver with so much talent.

Credit : Octane Photographic Ltd
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