Red Bull’s loss of confidence in Daniil Kvyat and recent announcement that he will no longer be backed by the team has ended a seven-year association with the Milton Keynes outfit. The past 18 months have marked a turbulent fall from grace for the Russian, who has seen himself going from Red Bull’s top scorer to being left on the Formula One sidelines.
Plenty of early promise
Kvyat had already stormed to titles in both Formula Renault ALPS and GP3 by 2013, leading to big expectations when he became the latest driver to emerge from Red Bull’s esteemed young driver programme and make the step up to F1 in 2014 with junior squad Toro Rosso. Red Bull had so much confidence in the then-19-year-old that they placed him in the seat ahead of the likes of Antonio Felix da Costa and Carlos Sainz, both champions in their own right.
Red Bull’s faith in Kvyat was immediately rewarded, as he finished ninth on his F1 debut in Australia, breaking four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel’s record as the youngest points-scorer in the sport. He performed proficiently throughout the remainder of his rookie campaign to finish 15th in the championship with eight points. Vettel’s shock departure from Red Bull to join rivals Ferrari, announced during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, suddenly opened the door for Kvyat to receive a promotion to the senior squad for 2015.
Daniil’s Red Bull break
Red Bull would fail to win a grand prix for the first time since 2008 during a difficult 2015 dominated by engine troubles. The team also slipped to fourth in the constructors’ standings — its lowest finishing position since 2008 — but Kvyat beat the highly-rated Daniel Ricciardo to seventh in the championship.
Ricciardo, a multiple grand prix winner by this stage, crushed Kvyat over one lap — dominating with a strike rate of 14-5 in qualifying — but suffered a string of reliability issues across the season. A second-place finish and first career podium in Hungary was the highlight of Kvyat’s promising first campaign with the senior squad, while Kvyat said he learned what it meant to never give up. Little did he know it at that point, but it would be advice he would need to cling onto.
Mad Max and the Torpedo
The 2015 season also witnessed the rise of Max Verstappen, whose impressive rookie season and strong start to 2016, ran in symmetry alongside a tough beginning to the new season for Kvyat. Having the opportunity to battle with Ferrari’s Vettel would have been a mouth-watering prospect for Kvyat after Red Bull’s tricky 2015, but he would be tripping over the German (quite literally) in back-to-back races.
Rather than for achieving his second career podium at the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix, the race would be remembered for an opening corner collision between the pair, ultimately christening Kvyat’s infamous ‘torpedo’ reputation. “Madman” and “suicidal” were some of the other words used by Vettel to describe the Russian actions.
A nightmare home race in Sochi followed. Kvyat finished outside of the points after colliding with Vettel twice in two corners and inadvertently ended up jeopardising teammate Ricciardo’s race, with the Australian getting caught up in the melee. The race was labelled a “day of disaster” for Red Bull by team advisor Helmet Marko, while rumours gathered pace that Kvyat could be replaced Verstappen as early as the next round in Spain.
Losing his own ‘Game of Thrones’
Just 15 months after being flung into the Red Bull hot-seat, the ruthless nature of Marko — who runs the team’s junior programme — became apparent. Kvyat was unceremoniously dropped to make way for Red Bull’s next dubbed superstar, Verstappen, whose meteoric rise up the motorsport ladder was confirmed ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix. Kvyat’s demotion from Red Bull, just four races into the season, set a new tone for Red Bull’s handling of its youngsters.
Kvyat later revealed he received the news that would change the course of his career while watching hit U.S. TV series Game of Thrones. Marko acted quickly to deny Kvyat’s switch to Toro Rosso was a demotion, insisting it was simply for the good of his driver. “We wanted to take him out of the firing line and help his career instead of harming it,” he explained. “Kvyat has seen both halves. I do not see this as a demotion.”
Kvyat’s spirits were set for a further knock-back when Verstappen created F1 history by scoring a remarkable debut victory for Red Bull in Spain, a race Kvyat later claimed he could have won himself, had he remained at the team.
Second chance turns sour
Kvyat struggled on his return to Toro Rosso in 2016, requiring around half a season to adapt. This may have been down, in part, to a change of race engineer. A strong relationship with a race engineer is a crucial element for any successful driver, working in unison to find every possible marginal gain, as well as providing a support structure.
Pierre Hamelin, previously Kvyat’s performance engineer in 2014, became his full-time race engineer from 2016. Some of Kvyat’s better performances had come in 2014, when he was working with Marco Matassa. The pair would later be reunited at the 2017 U.S. Grand Prix, in which Kvyat recorded his first points finish in 10 races.
While Kvyat grimaced and showed steel on the outside, cracks began to appear during the second half 2016. Kvyat was distraught after a poor qualifying showing in Germany, admitting his current slump felt “never ending”. A few races later, in a sit down with ESPN at the 2016 Italian Grand Prix, Kvyat opened up on his relationship with Red Bull.
“I am doing my job, and like I admitted before the summer break, there have been some big up and downs for me,” he said. “There were some big potential races that were hard to put together because I didn’t know the limits of the car, the limits of the team. Now I’m feeling more in line with things but I don’t know what they [Red Bull] think at the moment.
“It wasn’t easy, I found it difficult to understand and accept things, but I’ve already started forgetting these things now. It’s not the biggest issue any more. I know my value. I’ve probably not been the most consistent guy out there but I’ve had drives on my days and last year my final position in the championship, even with by far not the best car, speaks for itself.”
The end of the road?
Kvyat’s dip in form continued in 2017, and he was still unable to shake the ill-fated habit of becoming something of a magnet in first-lap incidents. The worst of which occurred at Silverstone, as Kvyat wiped out teammate Carlos Sainz. Despite this, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner insisted Kvyat was likely to remain at Toro Rosso for 2018. As it turned out, he would fail to see out the current season. Crashing out on his own in Singapore appeared to be the final straw for Red Bull, with Kvyat “rested” for back-to-back races in Malaysia and Japan as GP2 champion and fellow Red Bull protégé Pierre Gasly was finally handed his F1 break.
Ironically, it was Kvyat’s former teammate Sainz — transferred to Renault as an early settlement for its termination of its Renault engine supply — who handed Kvyat another shot at Toro Rosso. But regardless of his impressive performance in Austin, Kvyat lost his seat once more in Mexico, this time to WEC champion and ex-Red Bull junior Brendon Hartley, who had performed commendably on his first single-seater outing since 2012 in Texas. The announcement came in a 25-word press release that failed to even mention Kvyat’s name. Confirmation followed in Mexico that Red Bull had cut its ties with Kvyat altogether, with Marko admitting the team had lost faith in the Russian.
It is now Gasly and Hartley who look the favourites to land Toro Rosso seats for 2018, leaving Williams as Kvyat’s only realistic glimmer of hope at reviving his F1 career. But he has stiff competition for the sole-remaining seat alongside rookie Lance Stroll from Paul Di Resta, Robert Kubica and Pascal Wehrlein, all of whom are understood to be in contention.