Daniil Kvyat and Piere Gasly have both had a taste of life as Red Bull drivers, neither cut the mustard the first time but, be sure, they are both in Formula 1 to service the senior team should Alex Albon fail to deliver.
Which begs the question: Who will get promoted should the Thai driver not continue to progress and at least start matching wonder-boy Max Verstappen?
Step up Pierre or Daniil. Last year the smart money was on the Russian getting the nod upstairs when it became clear by mid-season that the highly-rated Frenchman was not so highly-rated any more. But the always enigmatic Helmut Marko chose Albon instead.
As a rookie in 2019, the quiet-spoken 23-year-old rose to the occasion when he was drafted in for Spa-Francorchamps and did a solid, if not a Max-like stellar performance. Nevertheless, he did enough to convince his paymasters that another crack alongside their prodigy was worth a shot for 2020.
After all, Alex did tick all the boxes, except one and that is, come close to matching Max. But then who is?
Should Albon’s second season go pear-shaped, one would again expect Daniil to be given his second crack. He has in the past been ill-treated by Red Bull and castaway unceremoniously when Marko declared, “Kvyat will not return again. We do not believe he can make the turnaround in the long term.”
The 25-year-old from Ufa in Bashkortostan found temporary refuge as a Ferrari simulator driver before puppet-master Marko forgot he told the driver to “piss-off” only to lure him back when his driver programme dried-up of candidates.
Credit to Daniil for keeping a tight lip regarding his sacking, accepting the offer and hitting the reset button to emerge a more polished diamond than the rough one he was when he first hit the scene. The temperament is better and the approach calmer. Is he a diamond or zirconia?
On the occasion of Scuderia Toro Rosso’s transformation to Scuderia AlphaTauri, Kvyat said, “I wouldn’t say I’ve set myself any specific targets for this year, I want to keep doing what I was doing, but better.”
“This is going to be my sixth year in Formula 1, which is a fantastic feeling. Even though technically speaking, the core of the team stays the same, the name has changed with AlphaTauri stepping in.
“But while the team and the car will have a different look, technically, the AT01 is pretty much an evolution of last year’s STR14, which already worked well. Having that as a starting point, our aim is to improve it and move forward as much as possible.”
Asked what he found in himself to raise his game as he did last year, he ventured, “I wouldn’t say there is anything in particular. You can always improve yourself, so I’ll keep working on that and my personal improvement as a driver, try to get as many good finishes for the team in order to help secure a good position in the championship.
“2019 was a good year for me, with ten top-10 finishes and a podium finish in Hockenheim, so it’s definitely a year to remember, but there’s obviously room for improvement. I wouldn’t say I’ve set myself any specific targets for this year, I want to keep doing what I was doing, but better.
“You always want to improve on the previous season. Considering how tight the midfield battle was and not knowing if and how we have all progressed it’s impossible to predict, but I expect a big show on track and we want to be leading the midfield pack. We should just try to perform well at every race and that will bring us a strong season like it did last year.”
While Red Bull has provided a lifeline to Daniil’s career in the top flight, is he the real deal and is there more to come from him?
“I think I’m working hard to come into my prime,” he pointed out. “Every year I always find something new that I can work on and improve, it’s a constant evolution of myself. I feel like last year was a good year for me in terms of personal discoveries, understanding what works for me and what doesn’t.
“I think in terms of my performance, I feel like I’m always quite happy with what I manage to squeeze out of the car, but I think it’s very hard to identify your prime. I’ll keep working on my personal improvement as a driver and try to get as many good finishes as I can.”
In the end, he will be judged by how he compares with his teammate, last year it was close and much of the same expected from the second chapter of their partnership.
“Last year, I had two during the year and both of them are very competitive, very fast guys. Pierre is a very competitive and fast driver, so of course, I expect it to be close,” Daniil added.
On the other side of the garage, Pierre was destroyed in the 12 races he spent with Red Bull, first he pranged their RB15 chassis during testing, then he was blitzed by Max, hos confidence plummeted and demotion followed.
But a return to Toro Rosso did him the world of good, suddenly he was transformed and back in the comfort-cocoon that the junior team provided him, which he was denied at big brother. His performances improved and his second place in Brazil redemption for a career that was on the rocks.
Pierre acknowledged, “2019 was an interesting year as a lot of things happened, both on a professional and personal level. I feel like I grew and learned a lot, so to get that second place in Brazil, Toro Rosso’s second-best result ever over 14 years in F1, really rounded the season off in the best possible way.
“I was very happy with the way we worked and the way things went and now, I’m more than excited about this new season, which I’d like to start in the same way in which we finished 2019.”
Indications are that the AlphaTauri AT01 will have have the same PU as the RB15, as well as suspension and gearbox from the Red Bull which has clearly inspired team principal Franz Tost who is targeting the top five in this edition of the F1 World Championship.
Pierre explained”As the team is pretty much the same as before and everyone is very motivated and focused with a really good dynamic throughout the company and you can feel it in the factory. Everyone is very excited about the 2020 car and wants to do even better than in 2019.”
The pain of Red Bull demotion will hurt for a long time, at least until he is given the privilege of completing the business he left unfinished in the six months he spent with the team, “There is always something to learn. This will only be my third season in F1. I feel better prepared than last year, as I have a bit more experience.
“Towards the end of the year, together with the people in the team, we really discovered how to understand what we needed from each other and how to get the most out of our package. We must continue to push and it will be important to perform consistently, scoring points throughout the season. We have to seize every opportunity, just as we did last year.”
Fighting talk from the AlphaTauri duo but, in the end, two do not fit into one, thus one of the more intriguing sideshows of the forthcoming season will be this ‘cold war’ between Pierre and Daniil – the big prize: ditch the swanky AlphaTauri kit and suit up for Red Bull again, should Alex fumble.