Our story starts in 2013, when Daniil Kvyat is introduced to Todd (Negative Camber_) and Paul (The International) over breakfast prior to the second US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas. None other than the then Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo performs the introduction, highlighting that Daniil is a star of the future. Details of this meeting are discussed in the podcast from that weekend.
At the time Kvyat was in the role of the team’s Friday test driver, replacing the regular drivers (Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne) as the team dictated. When Mark Webber left the senior Red Bull team and Ricciardo was promoted in his place, this allowed Kvyat to become a full time Toro Rosso driver for the 2014 season alongside Vergne.
Both drivers occasionally got into the lower reaches of the points, with the more experienced Vergne ending up with 22 points, nearly three times Kvyat’s total of 8.
Despite this, the Red Bull management selected youth over experience when it came to replace Sebastian Vettel at the senior team. So for 2015 it was Ricciardo and Kvyat at Red Bull, with the all new pairing of two rookies Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen at the Toro Rosso squad.
The management’s foresight paid off, and the less experienced Kvyat out scored his team-mate, as the team suffered a drop in form in the 2015 season.
Both drivers stood on the second step of the podium as the team’s best result of the year, some way short of the three wins Ricciardo had managed in 2014. Meanwhile in the junior team, the two rookies were performing better than their predecessors had managed in 2014.
Sainz finished 2015 with 18 points (ten more than Kvyat had managed the year before), while the commentator’s favourite Verstappen took more than double Vergne’s total from 2014 with 49 points. The junior team seemed to be suffering less from the poor performance of the under developed Renault power unit and this brought the two teams closer together (187 to 67 in 2015 compared to 405 vs 30 in 2014).
The Red Bull and Toro Rosso squads were unchanged as they entered 2016. While Ricciardo started well with three fourth places in the first three races of the year, Kvyat started badly not even starting the first Grand Prix of the year. He improved rapidly though, with a seventh in Bahrain and a third place in China beating his team-mate and upsetting Sebastian Vettel in the process. Over at the junior team, Verstappen scored well with a tenth, sixth and eighth in the opening three races, while Sainz had a pair of ninth places separated by a non-finish in Bahrain. Coming to Russia, Kvyat once again upset Vettel, causing his first lap retirement, but none of the four Red Bull funded cars managed to score.
Shortly after, the team management made what seemed an odd decision, perhaps motivated by the desire to tie Verstappen into a long term contract, as other teams were interested in his services. The swapping of teams for Kvyat and Verstappen precipitated a dramatic change in fortune for the Russian driver, and the continued rise of the Dutchman.
Kvyat has only troubled the scorers twice since he was moved back to the junior team, with two tenth places, and he has always finished behind his new team-mate. Meanwhile, Verstappen won his first race for the Red Bull team, and has finished ahead of his new team-mate in half of the eight races since the swap. The initial change in form could be due to the fact that it is easier to adapt to a better car, it will increase the driver’s confidence as he can brake later, carry more speed through the corner and accelerate earlier. While for Kvyat, the opposite will have applied, and this seems to have sapped his confidence. This lack of confidence in what the car is able to do could explain why Kvyat is usually behind Sainz in qualifying:
Since the swap, he has only started the race ahead of Sainz on two occasions (Canada where Sainz hit the wall of champions in qualifying, and Baku where Sainz took a five place penalty for changing a gearbox). However at least in Baku, Kvyat did manage to get into Q3 on only the second occasion since he re-joined Toro Rosso. Since then his qualifying performance has dropped off, with his performance in Germany failing to get out of Q1. Verstappen on the other hand has got through to Q3 on every occasion except Monaco where he hit the barriers at the swimming pool in Q1, and has helped the team to lock out the second row of the grid for the last three races (once ahead of Ricciardo).
So can Daniil Kvyat use this break to regain his confidence, and start putting in the sort of performances that impressed the team management enough to promote him to the senior team in the first place? Red Bull has been particularly harsh on the drivers in its junior team, with only four getting the chance in the senior team, and a large number being discarded after a relatively short time in F1. Kvyat is the first to be given a second chance at Toro Rosso, but with Red Bull funded junior drivers now starting to make an impression in GP2 and GP3 the pressure is on if Kvyat wants to remain in F1 next season. What do you think, what will he need to do to retain his drive with Toro Rosso, or can he move to another team?