Inside Line: The very curious case of Daniil Kvyat

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Daniil Kvyat has had an interesting career in Formula 1, his record at the pinnacle of the sport is checkered to say the least, yet despite under-performing at every level of late he remains in favour with the powers that be at Red Bull.

The Russian 23 year old made his debut for Toro Rosso at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix and things began well for him with a points score, ninth place, in his first race at the pinnacle of the sport.

His teammate at the time was Jean Eric Vergne, who had been teammate to Daniel Ricciardo, the Frenchman actually beating the Aussie in their first year as teammates at Toro Rosso in the 2012 world championship.

Despite this Ricciardo got the nod to replace Mark Webber in the Red Bull team for 2014 and the rest is history, as he went on to establish himself as a front-runner, winning three races in his first season with the energy drinks senior team.

Granted when Kvyat was drafted into Toro Rosso, Vergne had a couple of years on him in terms of experience, but the French did outscore the Russian 22-8 in the 2014 championship.

But when Sebastian Vettel departed the team in 2015, to join Ferrari, it was Kvyat who got promoted to Red Bull alongside Ricciardo, with Vergne unceremoniously dumped by the organisation – his Formula 1 career over.

Kvyat enjoyed a solid season that year, scoring points 14 times in the 19 races, finishing second in Hungary. Ricciardo, after a stellar 2014, was beaten in 2015 by the Russian who outscored him 95-92.

It was the highlight season of Kvyat’s career and it would be fair to say at the time that Red Bull had made a good call, almost justifying the Vergne axing.

In the junior team Helmut Marko took a risk by placing two rookies in the team. Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen were drafted in and from the outset both proved to be rather handy, with the teenage Dutchman smashing records on his way to out scoring Sainz 49-18.

In 2016 something changed with Kvyat. Through no fault of his own, his season started with a DNS thanks to an electrical issue which prevented him from starting the season opener in Melbourne.

At the next race in Bahrain, Kvyat was involved in a first lap melee but recovered to finish seventh.

In retrospect, perhaps the rot started at the next race in China. Kvyat was like a bull in a China shop as he blasted off the line and tagged both the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel who tagged his teammate Kimi Raikkonen as they hurtled through the Turn 1 complex. At this point the Russian was starting to look a tad desperate, but his aggression on the day paid off as he finished third.

Next up was Kvyat’s home race at Sochi, again he was very aggressive at the start, colliding into Vettel again, this time a big impact from the back as the field hurtled into Turn 1, and then in Turn 3 the Red Bull rammed the Ferrari which ended in the barriers.

The incident forced Vettel to retire while Kvyat’s race was compromised and he trundled around to finish down in 15th.

Vettel, a four times F1 World Champion with Red Bull, was outraged by Kvyat’s actions and made his feelings well known. Red Bull summoned their driver for talks about the incident, with Marko describing the Russian as “over-motivated.”

What happened next shocked the Formula 1 world. Ahead of the next round, in Spain, Red Bull announced that Kvyat would be demoted to Toro Rosso and young Verstappen promoted to the Red Bull team in his place.

The teenage Dutchman then sealed the deal forever by winning his first race with the team and his side of the story is now entrenched in Formula 1 legend. But that’s another tale…

At the time Kvyat got the sympathy vote from media and fans alike, it was a cruel move by Red Bull who were known to have a very tough driver development programme, but this was a swipe from left field.

After all during the course of their history they not only dispensed of the above-mentioned Vergne, the likes of Sebastien Buemi, Alex Felix da Costa, Brendon Hartley are all victims of the organisation’s ‘we make you or we break you’ modus operandi.

Needless to say, at that point, Kvyat’s days appeared numbered, but Red Bull assured all and sundry that they would help their driver rebuild his confidence and even suggested that if Verstappen failed at Red Bull they would replace him with the Russian. Of course that never happened and never will.

The statistics will show that this was the time that Kvyat’s Formula 1 career was doomed. He had imploded and in hindsight he has never recovered. In fact it would be safe to say that since he has not recovered or evolved as a driver. There has been no improvement. Indeed his finest year, 2015, has never been replicated. He has hardly come close to being the bloke he was then.

On his return to Toro Rosso at the Spanish Grand Prix last year, Kvyat struggled and although he did finish tenth on the day Verstappen won, he only scored points two more times in 16 starts that year.

His teammate was Sainz. By the season’s end in the 17 races the pair were teammates, the Spaniard scored 42 points while Kvyat only racked up four points.

Many expected Red Bull to show Kvyat the door and few would argue that the Russian was given a chance to prove himself but did not do so. He had returned to Toro Rosso a worse driver than he was when he arrived there in his rookie season.

However it was not to be, despite having young Pierre Gasly eager and willing to step up to the F1 grid, Marko decided to persevere with Kvyat.

Now, 14 races into this season there is nothing to show that the decision to retain Kvyat was a wise one. He has not improved, he is not getting any better and if anything – in a Pastor Maldonado kind of way – Kvyat is deteriorating as a driver at the highest level.

This year he has only scored four points while teammate Sainz, with less F1 experience, has bagged 48 points. This is the biggest percentage difference between all teammates on the grid this year, bar Sauber where Marcus Ericsson has yet to score points.

This simply is not good enough, and we have seen in the history of the Red Bull driver development programme that they have been ruthlessly impatient with their talent. You fail, you out.

But, curiously, with Kvyat the patience Marko has with him is inexplicable. The Russian bends cars, makes silly mistakes, is not improving and simply does not deliver relative to his teammate, yet he remains in a highly coveted seat with Toro Rosso while a host of very talented youngsters are ready to get the call-up from their paymasters.

You could respect, if not agree, with the harsh methods employed by Red Bull with their junior drivers in the past. But in this instance that hard-ass approach has gone out the window. For some reason they have gone soft with regards to Kvyat.

Of course there will be those who will point to the important Russian fizzy drinks market and say that Kvyat is there to sell Red Bull cans in his homeland. But that does not swing with me. Endorsements are understandable, but only when athletes are performing and delivering.

If I were a typical Russian fizzy drinks consumer and faced with a fridge full of energy drinks my thought process would goes something like this: “Red Bull? No way if it makes me like Daniil, I would rather drink a Monster coz that makes me into a winner.”

Remember they had no qualms ditching Scott Speed 10 races into the 2007 season, the massive American soft drinks market was clearly not a consideration then.

An under-performing figure promoting a product hardly inspires a flurry of purchasing. Quite the opposite I would venture.

As the title of this piece says, this is a very curious case and in the wake of yet another DNF, this time at the Singapore Grand Prix, where Kvyat simply lost control of his car (all by himself) and slammed into the wall, while his teammate went on to finish a sensational fourth. Something is wrong here…

Big Question: Does Daniil deserve to be in Formula 1?