For any driver in whatever form of motor sport, when the big team comes calling it is both an exciting and potentially terrifying experience. Being in a top team should make it easier for the driver to perform well yet similarly there is a level of scrutiny from the fans and pundits which means the pressure is ratcheted up a notch or two.
For Danny Kvyat the timing of the call to join the big bulls for the 2015 season may not have appeared to be perfect. Having won four consecutive driver and constructor titles, Red Bull Racing was in a desperate slump. Following the introduction of the new hybrid engines in 2014 the Milton Keynes based team collapsed to second in the constructors championship, winning just three races that season. And to cap it all, Helmut Marko’s creation and quadruple world champion driver Sebastian Vettel had bailed from the sinking ship to join Ferrari.
Kvyat was set to partner the much loved, ever smiling Aussie Daniel Ricciardo, who had subjugated Sir Seb and deposed him from his lofty pedestal in the Red Bull shrine in Milton Keynes.
So no worries there for the young Russian then?
To make matters worse, Danny had a difficult start to the season, his Renault powered RB12 failed to make the start line in Australia and at the next race in Malaysia both Toro Rosso rookie drivers had beaten him at the chequered flag.
Again in Bahrain Sainz finished ahead of the young Russian driver and at the European season opener in Spain Kvyat had a do or di duel with the Spanish driver during the closing laps, only to be beaten by Sainz again and face an interrogation from the stewards. Inside the Energy Station, the Russian was also blamed for the race incident involving Sainz and his demeanor in the post race interviews was far from the relaxed rookie portrayed during his time at Toro Rosso the previous year.
Helmut Marko was publically critical of Danny following the race stating, “Our established guys need to look out,” adding, “Kvyat lost two seconds each time he was lapping [another car]. And Sainz exploited that.”
“Paradoxically, the more inexperienced ones did the better job.”
Further, TJ13 sources revealed at the time that things were not progressing well for Kvyat as Max Verstappen was soundly beating him hands down in the Red Bull simulator. We reported there was a strong rumour back at base that Verstappen was being lined up to replace the Russian at the mid-point of the season.
The opportunity of a lifetime was becoming a nightmare for Danny Kvyat who admits to Autosport the strength of the Toro Rosso rookies and the new James Key car played heavily on his mind. “But I had to put these kind of thoughts away, and in the end, as a group, we scored more points than them”.
Yet next time out in Monaco, Danny Kvyat’s strength of purpose was revealed to all. Despite qualifying behind team mate Ricciardo, the young Russian executed his race to perfection and delivered Red Bull Racing’s best result of the season to date, finishing fourth behind the two Mercedes and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel.
From thereon everything changed for Daniil Kvyat and he finished the season three points ahead of his popular Aussie team mate. Daniil reflected on his quick progression from the Toro Rosso team to Red Bull, which was forced by the departure of Vettel, though believes the move proved not to be ‘too early’ in the end.
“This kind of thing makes you stronger, you can’t pick your perfect moments [to change teams]. You just have to adapt yourself and that’s what I had to do. In the end I’m happy with how my move from STR to Red Bull went.”
The Kvyat tale of 2015 proves how small the margins are between success and exit for the modern day F1 driver.
2016 may again be a season where the Mercedes pair alone battle it out for the F1 drivers’ title, yet the duel at Red Bull Racing will be a fascinating one to follow, as the Russian sets out to prove again he is more than a match for the honey badger.