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?



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.”

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