Red Bull Saga: Kvyat vs Verstappen

The Red Bull junior driver programme is renowned for being ruthless. If a driver is underperforming or if a junior driver is overperforming, change is usually imminent. Now, Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat’s future has been thrown into uncertainty by a messy Russian Grand Prix and continuing impressive performances from Max Verstappen. Has a poor performance in the Russian Grand Prix cost Kvyat his Red Bull career?

The home hero, riding high off the back of a brilliant podium in China, quickly became the home zero within the first three turns in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix. After colliding with the back of Vettel at Turn 2 due to getting his braking point wrong, the Russian then hit the back of Seabstian’s Ferrari again in Turn 3.

The Turn 3 incident is not entirely Kvyat’s fault. Vettel had lifted partly due to the Force India ahead of him slowing and partly due to a suspected puncture on his own car. Whatever the cause, Kvyat couldn’t react quickly enough. He said after the race:

“I tried to press the brakes [at Turn 2]. The rear wheels locked and the first contact came from that. The second contact he just slowed down a lot. I couldn’t see ahead and I didn’t have time to react.”

Having being somewhat excused for the contact that ended the Ferrari’s race, the entire incident still would have been avoided had Kvyat not hit Sebastian in the first instance. Even Kvyat’s own team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who sustained damage as a result of the Ferrari being launched into the side of his car by Kvyat, feels that Daniil had a lot to apologise for following the Russian Grand Prix:

I’ve just seen the car now and all the sidepod and floor is damaged. It cost us the race really. It’s a shame. I expect an apology, put it that way. He owes it to a few people today.”

Vettel also wanted an apology from Kvyat. Following from the German’s expletive ridden radio message, Vettel paid a visit to his former boss Christian Horner on the Red Bull pit wall. It is the second time in as many races that Vettel feels he has been wronged by Kvyat on the first lap of the Grand Prix:

These things happen, obviously, but it’s harsh. The race is very long. You can make progress on the first lap but you can also end your race. It was not my fault – there was nothing I would do differently. I don’t dislike him. I think he did a mistake two weeks ago and I think he did a mistake today.”

Kvyat, who was given a 10 second stop/go penalty during the race and three points on his license after, is now expected to be summoned to discuss and dissect the Grand Prix with Red Bull’s bosses during the coming week. Christian Horner seemed to be more forgiving of his driver:

It’s cost us a lot of points […] but he’s a young guy. He’ll learn from it and I’m sure he’ll come back strong in Barcelona.”

Kvyat showed remorse after his own dismal race failed to bring him any points:

I’m sorry to Seb and also to the team. It doesn’t feel great- this is probably the messiest first lap of my career. I apologise to everyone who was involved and we will learn from it.”

But exactly how long will Daniil Kvyat have to learn? Kvyat’s future at the Red Bull team is not helped by rising star Max Verstappen at Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s junior team. Teams look for consistency, as Ricciardo is delivering for Red Bull. Verstappen, too, could have pulled off a brilliant sixth for the Toro Rosso team at the Russian Grand Prix had his engine not let him down with mere laps remaining. A podium followed by a lowly 15th position, due to a problem that could have been avoided by the driver, does not impress on a driver’s CV. Toro Rosso’s line-up is arguably the strongest that it has ever been with both Verstappen and Carlos Sainz putting in consistent solid performances in the lower end of the Top 10 and it is understood that Helmut Marko is keen to promote Verstappen to the main Red Bull team as soon as possible. After the race, Marko made it clear that he was less than impressed by his driver’s actions in the Grand Prix:

“Let’s put it this way, Kvyat was over-motivated. Braking too late once and hitting another car would be acceptable in front of his home crowd, but this doesn’t apply for the second crash. It’s a pity because he not only ruined Vettel’s race, and Ricciardo’s race, but also his own race. He had to do an extra stop. It was a day of disaster for Red Bull. This time, in contrast to Shanghai, I understand him [Vettel] completely. He is right to be so angry.”

Despite his recent comings together on track, Kvyat is not a villain, nor has he taken Pastor Maldonado’s role as the man to avoid on track. Daniil is a competent enough driver who out-scored his more experienced team-mate in his first year at Red Bull and has scored two podiums so far for the team. His apology after the race shows that he is mature enough to accept responsibility and he even rang Sebastian Vettel, who had already left the circuit, after the race.

I’ve told everything that I had to the people that I needed to talk to and called the people I needed to call. We discussed everything. I think now people will take joy in talking about this. Let them talk. I know I’ve made a mistake, I will learn from it. We’ve discussed it already. It’s only human to make mistakes like these.”

Time will tell if he can bounce back in Spain. In reality, it may be fair to say that the Russian Grand Prix has not cost Kvyat his Red Bull drive, more that his Red Bull drive had already been lost to Max Verstappen.

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Paddock insiders say that Kvyat’s Toro Rosso graduation came too early; he was not ready to be fighting competently in a top car. On the contrary, Verstappen already seems to be ready for the big-time after just over one season at the team. Make no mistake, Verstappen is highly unlikely to remain with Toro Rosso for a third season. He’ll be at Red Bull for 2017, unless he is snatched by Mercedes, Ferrari, or someone else with an attractive offer. Red Bull may well be forced into promoting him to keep him as part of the Red Bull programme. Unless Ricciardo, three time Grand Prix winner, leaves Red Bull it seems somewhat inevitable that there will be no room for Kvyat at the team. A move back to Toro Rosso, as has been mooted, is unlikely. Doubtlessly, Kvyat has already begun the process of looking for a new home for the 2017 season as he faces an uphill battle to stay in the sport, such is the depth of talented upcoming drivers without seats in F1 at the moment.

Formula 1 is a ruthless business, the Red Bull driver programme even more so. If Daniil Kvyat fails to put in consistent strong performances, he could be the next victim of the system.

Header image: JaffaPix / CC

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