Happy Birthday Daniil Kvyat! With Max Verstappen firmly established at Red Bull, it’s easy to forget that former Red Bull driver Kvyat is still young – today he celebrates his 23rd birthday! An old man by Red Bull standards, this weekend Kvyat gets to celebrate his birthday with his home Grand Prix.
The Russian Grand Prix has been a source of hope and disappointment for Daniil Kvyat, but last year’s race nearly sunk his career. Off the high of securing Red Bull’s first podium finish of the season in China the race before, Kvyat arrived at his home Grand Prix hoping to build on that momentum, but left with his future in the sport hanging by a thread after his opening lap bumper car exhibition saw Ferrari’s former Red Bull star Sebastian Vettel for once struggling to find enough expletives, while Red Bull were deeply unimpressed at seeing both Red Bulls races ruined by Kvyat’s errant driving. He was quickly dropped by Red Bull, relegated to Toro Rosso to make way for rising star Max Verstappen, and looked set for the Red Bull reject scrap heap after initially struggling at Toro Rosso, only for the Bulls to surprisingly decide to retain him at Toro Rosso for 2017 after a late season improvement in form.
Much like his career to date, Kvyat’s time at his home Grand Prix had been frustrating, glimpses of potential without the results to back it up. As if the pressure of the Red Bull driver program was not enough, Kvyat arrived in Sochi for his first Grand Prix having to race past a grandstand named in his honour! He seemed to thrive under the expectation, qualifying in a magnificent fifth place for Toro Ross, but the race was a huge let down, with both Toro Rosso’s sinking down through the field, eventually finishing well outside the points. The 2015 race for Red Bull brought more disappointment, a fifth place finish behind a Force India and a Williams hardly the type of performance Red Bull looked for. Last year’s race is best forgotten (for the record, Kvyat qualified 0.3 s behind Ricciardo, before tagging Vettel twice from behind within the opening 3 corners, eventually bringing the car home in 15th place!).
After the disaster of 2016, this weekend’s Russian race offers Kvyat a shot at redemption –does he deserve it, and will take it?
A part of the Red Bull driver program since 2010, Kvyat was the surprise choice to succeed Daniel Ricciardo at Toro Rosso for the 2014 season, with Antonio Felix da Costa having been the favourite to land the coveted spot. While Kvyat’s team-mate Carlos Sainz stock is on the rise in F1, it’s worth remembering why Red Bull saw fit to promote Kvyat to F1 in the first place, he earned his shot by thrashing fellow Red Bull junior Sainz in GP3 in 2013, with Kvyat taking the title while Sainz struggled for results.
The Red Bull escalator of talent is a double edged sword however. Just ask Jamie Alguersuari or Jean-Eric Vergne. In 2014 Kvyat was teamed with Vergne for his rookie season – and while Vergne got the better of the results, when Sebastian Vettel decided to jump ship to Ferrari, it was the young gun Kvyat who got the call, Red Bull stating they saw enough potential in Kvyat to warrant the step up and that he was the real deal, despite the widespread opinion that Red Bull were stuck promoting Kvyat due to the lack of any other alternative within their junior system. A case of too much too soon? Kvyat might have benefitted from another year prior to entering F1, or another year prior to jumping to the senior Red Bull team, but like any aspiring F1 driver, he jumped at the opportunity, for better or worse.
His first season with the Red Bull senior team could best be described as an underwhelming success – he did after all outscore his established team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, the conqueror of Sebastian Vettel. Kvyat struggled early doors, but as the season progressed he started to get into his stride, even managing to string together a number of qualifying victories in the internal Red Bull battle, but the feeling over the course of the year was that while he outscored Ricciardo, he was generally not on the Aussies level, and seemed to pick up the scraps left by others rather than take races by the scruff of the neck. Even the high point of Kvyat’s season, a second place at Hungary, was viewed as fortunate, with Ricciardo having been ahead and challenging for outright victory, only to lose out after a clash with Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes that saw Kvyat benefit from both cars dropping down the order to sneak into second place behind Vettel’s Ferrari.
At the start of 2016, it was more of the same, with Ricciardo outqualifying Kvyat at each Grand Prix leading up to his dismissal from Red Bull. Even the podium position in China was tainted with the feeling ‘Yeah, but what could Ricciardo have done’, with Ricciardo having dropped down the order after picking up a puncture while leading the race early on!
And so despite his podium, Kvyat arrived at Russia a man under pressure. Max Verstappen was clearly looking to get into a top car, and if that would not be a Red Bull, it would be one of the other top teams. Red Bull were anxious to tie-down their star of the future, which meant that something had to give. And give it did, with Kvyat seemingly succumbing to the pressure of the situation, his opening lap a one-man mission to put manners on Sebastian Vettel on track, after Vettel’s unwarranted verbal attack on Kvyat the previous race in China (where Vettel had looked to deflect the blame for his own mistake in labelling Kvyat a madman!).
This weekend Kvyat returns to the scene of the crime – and despite the battering he’s taken, or perhaps because of it, he seems to have re-discovered his love of racing and his self-confidence within the car. He holds the advantage over Sainz 2-1 in qualifying this year, and if he can keep that run going this weekend in Sochi who knows, maybe the old man has a future in the sport after all!!