Quadrilingual Kvyat explains how to stay on the right side of Dr Helmut Marko
Quick. Smart. Funny. But not brilliant at skipping (yet). Red Bull’s latest protégé opens up to F1 Racing…
How much did you know about Red Bull’s Russian wonderkid, apart from the fact that he’s very quick in a Formula 1 car? Daniil Vyacheslavovich Kvyat started racing in single-seaters before his 16th birthday, made it to F1 before his 20th – leapfrogging other Red Bull-backed talents along the way – is fluently quadrilingual, and yet his demeanour is endearingly un-F1. You sense that, even at his relatively youthful age and with a career recently underwritten by the global soft drinks empire, he’s had an eventful life – that he’s had to scratch around a bit.
So there are no airs and graces, no sense of entitlement, no entourage, no take-all-the-blue-M&Ms-out-of-the-bowl megastar-ness. When he walks from motorhome to garage he bowls along the paddock in his civvies, pale shorts hanging off spindly legs, looking like an excited teenager who’s been lent a pass for the day. But this doesn’t always come across in pictures; he’s still a touch camera-shy, and this manifests itself in a slight downturning of the mouth whenever the lenses point his way. That temporary rictus of disgruntlement leads those who aren’t in the know to think he may be a bit… grumpy.
But he isn’t. He’s just the boy next door, albeit one with stunning car control. He’s registering highly on the JEV-ometer, too. Daniel Ricciardo’s performances relative to Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull this year have provided some context to his two seasons alongside Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso; Dan outqualied JEV more often than not, but Vergne was usually a match on race pace. Thus far this year, Kvyat is roughly on a par with Vergne in both qualifying and race performance, though our view of the latter is often clouded by the STR9’s poor reliability. Exuberance has got the better of him a couple of times – that clumsy pass on Sergio Pérez at Hockenheim, for instance – but team insiders speak in glowing terms of his sheer pace, enthusiasm, and methodical approach to racing.
So there’s more to Daniil Kvyat than meets the eye, hence our Matryoshka dolls and the slightly unusual questions contained within…
What’s with the skipping?
DK: Ah… that was you guys, wasn’t it? [Many drivers have a routine to get ‘in the zone’ before a track session; Nico Rosberg, for instance, plays keepy uppy with a football. F1 Racing found Daniil skipping behind the Toro Rosso garage in Hockenheim, but he bashfully asked us not to take a photo because “I’m not very good at it yet.”] Well I’m growing in skills, so I can do it on one leg now for a long time. Yeah, it’s a good exercise and I like it, especially before qualifying and the race – you get your heart rate up and it helps you focus. Pyry [Salmela, his trainer] suggested doing it.
Rank the four languages you speak in order of how often you use them.
DK: Hey, that’s a tough question! Let me think about it… I speak Italian with many friends and I speak it when I’m in Italy; I speak English with my trainer, and we spend a lot of time together; and I speak Russian, obviously, with my family. So I’d say I speak those languages 30 percent each of the time. Then maybe 10 per cent of the time I speak Spanish.
F1R: Russian is a very complex language for an outsider to learn – all those different cases for nouns. Does mastering the grammar as a native speaker help with learning other languages?
DK: I think it helps in a way, but I found English grammar wasn’t easy to learn at the beginning. I don’t think I speak perfect English. I started learning it at school, in rst grade, but you reach a point where without practice you can’t go forward – you can speak English with your teacher, but you’re doing it maybe twice a week for an hour. So it gave me a good baseline, but to get to a decent level in a language you need to practice regularly, and I got much better when I started racing single-seaters. And I’m living in England now, in Milton Keynes. F1R: Do you get recognised on the street? DK: Sometimes. Not so much before, but since Silverstone it’s happened a couple of times. It’s quite nice actually!
What’s the closest you’ve been to a bust-up with Dr Marko?
DK: Bust-up means ght, yeah? Actually he’s not a bust-up type of guy. But he can have some tough words, which is fair enough. In my rst ever race in the Red Bull junior programme, that was the closest we got – I had a few warnings! I had difficulties adapting to a big car, coming from karting. After one race at Silverstone [in Formula BMW] I was told I was a bit slow – I needed to push a bit more or I wouldn’t be in the programme very long! At the next race weekend I nished P4 ahead of my team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr, so that was okay. But Dr Marko always tells you when you’re doing a good job as well as when you’re doing a bad job – and that’s something I should appreciate and not criticise.
Have you stopped growing yet?
DK: [Laughs] This is also a question Dr Marko asks me! Did he write this one? [ During his teens, Daniil shot up by nine inches in one year, causing him great difficulty in co-ordinating his body movements – his brain, in effect, didn’t know how tall he was] I know some people keep growing until they’re 25 years old, but my height is 182cm now and I think I’ve stopped for a while. That’s as tall as David Coulthard, who was in Formula 1 a long time and was very competitive. I don’t think I’ll end up any taller than 184cm, which is the same as Mark Webber. I was talking to him about it – he had a long and successful career in Formula 1 so I’m not too worried about it.
Rate your performance so far this year out of ten.
DK: Hmm. I’d say… Well, I don’t really like to judge myself, but… I’d say between six and eight. It’s easy to look back now at the start of the year and to say maybe I could have done some things a little better, because I was very inexperienced then. The team have been pushing hard at every race, focusing on our own business, to do the best job we can. And I think it’s been working very well, especially the last few races.
F1R: Do you think you’re going to have some pain in the last quarter of the season? You’ve already gone through a lot of power unit components, so penalties are on the way.
DK: Yeah, I’m not in an optimal position, to be honest. I’ll have to be bit more careful, which means slightly less performance in some places, but that’s life – we’ll just look forward, we know it’s going to happen at some point. We just have to minimise the damage. If it’s at a race where we have really good pace I’ll be disappointed, but at least we’re not ghting for the championship.
“I’ll have to be more careful, which means slightly less performance”
How often would you say you actually drink Red Bull?
DK: I like the taste of it, but it’s a party drink for me. Those very few times when I’ve been at a party, I might have mixed it with something. F1R: Whatever could that be? DK: Ha ha! Well I allow myself a couple of drinks sometimes, but just a small amount. Certainly nothing that affects my performance and definitely not before getting in the car! We’re down to the tiniest doll. Daniil twists it tentatively, to see if another one lurks within. “All done, huh?” Swiftly but methodically he reassembles them, brow furrowed, then sets the completed doll on the table. “Thanks,” he says. “That was fun – if a little crazy…”
Daniil’s fourth retirement of 2014 in Montréal: “I’d rate myself between six and eight out of ten”
Danill with Dr Marko: “He’s not a bust-up type of guy… but he can have some tough words”