After a disastrous home race in Sochi, Daniil Kvyat came under fire for a clumsy first-lap collision with Sebastian Vettel, but despite the ensuing media storm, Kvyat would not have expected his demotion back to the Toro Rosso team, especially coming just two weeks after a podium finish at the Chinese Grand Prix.
Red Bull has become renowned for its fickle approach towards young talent – it is not uncommon for drivers to be cast aside after just a season or two in the sport. Kvyat will have known he had to deliver this season, not because he hadn’t done so the season before, but because a certain driver by the name of Max Verstappen was waiting in the wings.
The decision to promote Verstappen into Kvyat’s seat was likely done so with one eye on next season, and to avoid the Verstappens from negotiating with other top teams. After all, what better sweetener during contract negotiations to put young Max in a Red Bull right away?
Whether that is or was the reason behind Red Bull’s decision, it will be little consolation to young Kvyat, who now faces an uncertain future with the team that gave him his chance in the sport.
Kvyat’s situation is unique; no other team are able to simply promote and demote its drivers with the relative ease that Red Bull can. On previous form, we should not be too surprised by Red Bull’s decision, as it has made equally ruthless decisions on more than one occasion in the past.
Rewind to 2004. Red Bull was just a sponsor of the Sauber team, Austrian Christian Klien became the first driver from the Red Bull junior programme to graduate to F1.
He made his debut at the struggling Jaguar team, alongside another future Red Bull driver, Mark Webber. A year later, Klien got the nod to race for the newly formed Red Bull team, but he lasted less than two seasons after struggling to match his more experienced teammate, David Coulthard.
In late 2006, Red Bull completed its buyout of Italian minnows Minardi, and the official Red Bull junior team was born. Named ‘Toro Rosso’ (Italian for Red Bull), the new team gave an F1 debut to the aptly-named American Scott Speed, and alongside him the highly-rated Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi, who had made a few appearances for the senior team the year before.
Like Klien, neither lasted more than a couple of seasons and with the emergence of Vettel, both drivers were out for 2008.
With Vettel confirmed at Toro Rosso, Red Bull announced his teammate for the 2008 season would be Frenchman Sebastian Bourdais, four-time winner of the Champ Car World Series. At 29, Bourdais was not a young driver, but came highly-rated after his success overseas and was seen as the perfect foil for a then 20-year-old Vettel.
Disappointingly, Bourdais struggled to translate his past success to F1 and scored just 4 points during his debut season. To make matters worse, Vettel – nine years his junior, was consistently quicker and scored a memorable first win at the Italian Grand Prix.
With Vettel earning promotion to the senior team, Bourdais had the chance of a fresh start and for the third year in a row, Toro Rosso would make a change to its driver lineup.
Partnering Bourdais for 2009 would be Sebastian Buemi, another driver plucked from the Red Bull junior programme, who had finished sixth in GP2 the previous year. Despite both drivers scoring points in Melbourne, Toro Rosso’s 2009 car was not a match for its predecessor and with further points proving hard to come by. The under-pressure Bourdais was struggling to make an impression.
The final straw came when Bourdais qualified last at the German Grand Prix, over a second behind Buemi. Just a few days later Bourdais’ contract was terminated, but the Frenchman was furious and later claimed he was only informed of his dismissal by text message. His replacement was to be Jaime Alguersuari, who at the Hungarian Grand Prix became the youngest ever driver to start a Grand Prix at the age of 19 years, 125 days.
Following Alguersuari’s promotion, he and Buemi remained as teammates throughout the following two seasons and were closely matched, to begin with. Buemi finished 2010 with eight points to Alguersuari’s five, but in the following season, Alguersuari was showing signs of progress. Seven points-scoring finishes and 26 points overall were enough to place Alguersuari 11 points clear of Buemi in the drivers’ championship, but despite the upturn in form, Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost was unimpressed.
In December of that year, both Buemi and Alguersuari’s F1 careers would come to an abrupt end, with Tost declaring that the pair were “no longer fulfilling the team’s criteria”. Upon their exit from the team, Helmut Marko explained “We didn’t see in them any possibility of growth. Both are Grand Prix drivers, but for us, that’s not enough. We want Grand Prix winners.”
For 2012, and for the first time since its debut in 2006, Toro Rosso would begin the season with a completely new driver pairing as 21-year-old Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne arrived to partner Australian Daniel Ricciardo.
Having already competed in 11 races for HRT, the pressure was on Ricciardo to set the pace and he duly delivered, outqualifying Vergne 9-1 during the first half of the season. Despite Ricciardo showing greater consistency, a strong second half of the season saw Vergne eventually finish the season ahead in the drivers’ championship.
Unfortunately, Toro Rosso’s 2013 car proved to be a disappointment and allowed only a few opportunities for Ricciardo and Vergne to showcase their potential. At the Canadian Grand Prix, Vergne took one such chance to finish sixth, and score the team’s best result of the season, but that proved to be a false dawn.
Post-Canada, Vergne endured a dip in form and would not score points again that year. Shortly before the British Grand Prix, Mark Webber announced his decision to leave F1 at the end of the season, and for the first time in five years, a vacancy had opened up in the senior team.
Following weeks of speculation, Red Bull confirmed that Daniel Ricciardo would step up to partner Vettel, and in a surprise move, also announced 19-year-old Kvyat as the Australian’s replacement, when many thought Antonio Felix da Costa was nailed on for the seat.
Despite concerns at Kvyat’s lack of experience, he answered his critics with points on his debut and quickly followed that up with further points in Malaysia and China.
On the weekend of the Japanese Grand Prix, Vettel stunned the F1 world by announcing his intention to join rivals Ferrari, but less than 24 hours later, Red Bull responded with an equally surprising announcement.
At just 20 years old, and with less than one full season under his belt, Kvyat would join four-time World Constructors Champions Red Bull. No one saw that coming.
Much to his disappointment, Vergne had been overlooked again, and shortly after the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Vergne confirmed he too was leaving the team. With Verstappen and Carlos Sainz now in place, Toro Rosso would start 2015 with the youngest driver line-up in F1 history.
It’s clear that youth remains central to Toro Rosso’s philosophy, and with Verstappen’s recent promotion, Red Bull have signalled its commitment to him at a time when Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren all have drivers in the final year of their contract.
Kvyat faces a make-or-break year for his career and must ensure he gets the better of Carlos Sainz if he is to avoid joining the roll call of Toro Rosso rejects.
Toro Rosso’s hits and misses – what happened next?
Vitantonio Liuzzi – After leaving Toro Rosso, Liuzzi raced for Force India and HRT, and more recently, in other series such as Super GT, the World Endurance Championship and Formula E .
Scott Speed – Left Toro Rosso on bad terms part-way through the 2007 season. Has not raced in F1 since, but has found success in Global Rallycross after an unsuccessful spell in NASCAR.
Sebastian Bourdais – Threatened legal action after being sacked by text. Has not raced in F1 since, but has continued racing and competes in both IndyCar and sports car racing.
Jaime Alguersuari – Lost his drive despite outscoring teammate Buemi. Has not raced in F1 since, but did return to race in Formula E. Retired last year to become a DJ.
Sebastian Buemi – Remained as Red Bull reserve driver but has not raced in F1 since losing his drive. Won the World Endurance Championship in 2014 and is a multiple race winner in Formula E.
Jean Eric-Vergne – Joked he was ‘too old’ for Toro Rosso after losing his seat. Has not raced in F1 since, but now competes in Formula E alongside his role as Ferrari reserve driver.