In the paddock: Adam Cooper
Daniil Kvyat’s rollercoaster Formula 1 career has delivered him back to where it began. Will a year’s sabbatical have made him a more complete driver?
“IT’S EASY TO FORGET THAT KVYAT ACTUALLY OUTSCORED TEAM-MATE RICCIARDO IN 2015”
Ayear ago Daniil Kvyat’s Formula 1 career appeared to be over. Told by Helmut Marko straight after the United States Grand Prix that he was out of Toro Rosso and the Red Bull driver-development programme, he seemed to have little chance at that point of the season of being picked up by anyone else.
A glimmer of hope came when he was chosen by Ferrari for a simulator role. It was paid employment, but he knew that it wasn’t even worth dreaming about ever landing a Maranello race seat. Others had far more compelling and immediate calls on them.
And yet he has now been called back to Toro Rosso for 2019, after Daniel Ricciardo’s defection to Renault gave Pierre Gasly the chance to graduate to Red Bull Racing – just as Sebastian Vettel’s move to Ferrari for ’15 handed Kvyat a promotion that subsequently turned out to be premature.
It’s an extraordinary and unexpected development, and proof that second chances do come along in this sport. And what a chance Kvyat now has. In 2019 Toro Rosso will move closer to what promises to be a very competitive Red Bull-honda package, taking the same gearbox and other elements.
With rookie Alexander Albon expected to be in the second seat, Kvyat will be a clear team leader at an organisation that will target fourth place. He’s also handily positioned as reserve for Red Bull, should he be required for any reason.
So what went wrong first time around – and how has this change in his fortunes come about?
It was in 2014 when, at the age of 19 and as reigning GP3 champion, Kvyat was first propelled into a Toro Rosso seat. He showed well against Jean-eric Vergne, who was in his third season and, although the Frenchman scored more points, it was Kvyat who got the Red Bull job when Vettel announced that he was leaving. Vergne was dropped from the programme.
“Daniil’s first year was quite good,”recalls Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost.“he drove some really good races, and this was the reason Red Bull took him. There was also a discussion on whether it was too early for him, but his races were really competitive, and also his technical understanding was good, his feedback was good.
“He would have stayed with us if Sebastian had not changed to Ferrari, no doubt. Normally we always say a driver should stay three seasons with us. It was after one season, but because of his high talent, because of his natural speed, we thought it was the right decision.”
The first year at Red Bull was not too shabby, and it’s easy to forget that he actually outscored team-mate Ricciardo by 95 to 92 points. Expectations for Kvyat were higher in the second year, and the pressure was on as Ricciardo raised his game.
“On his day he was quick,”says the Australian.“some days I was like,‘hey, he pulled that out.’i was never really sure if he knew how he was doing it. He would just do it, and then the next day or a week later he was eight tenths off. But the natural talent is there.”
Meanwhile, Max Verstappen was performing exceptionally at Toro Rosso, and Marko and Christian Horner were keen to promote him. Verstappen, too, was pushing to move up. Although Kvyat finished third in the 2016 Chinese GP, a series of incidents provided the excuse to send him back to Toro Rosso.
Rejection by Red Bull’s senior team was a crushing blow to his confidence, and he struggled to match new team-mate Carlos Sainz. In 2017 things unravelled further. He was“rested”for Malaysia and Japan, brought back for the US GP when Gasly had another commitment, and then finally dumped for good.
“It was a very tough decision, and it was not easy,”says Tost. “But I think it was the best decision, because I had the feeling that both parties lost a little bit the trust in each other. Daniil was not so happy with our work, we were not so happy with some races. As always, when the success doesn’t come as you expect, then there are many question marks on both sides.”
The Ferrari sim job was a lifeline. It gave him the chance to get to know a different team and different engineers, and reflect on his time with Red Bull. He also landed a crucial new ally in manager Nicolas Todt, one of the smartest operators in the paddock.
Sensibly, regardless of possible tempations, he had not burned his bridges with Marko and Red Bull. And it paid off when the call came through that they wanted him to come back.
“Kvyat has something open with F1,”says Tost.“he now gets another chance, and I really hope that he will take it, because he deserves to be in F1. He is very fast, and I hope that this one-year sabbatical will help him to get everything together and to show his real talent and his abilities and his speed.”
“I am curious,”says Ricciardo.“but I think the year off will actually be quite good for him. I think it has probably made him realise a few things with himself, and he will appreciate being back in the sport and being more mature. I am not saying he was immature, but these things will help him keep a cooler head, and hopefully reach his potential more consistently.”