This feeling must now be all too familiar to young Daniil Kvyat. After being ‘rested’ for a couple of races, he’s now been demoted again from his Toro Rosso race seat, and his Formula 1 future appears now to be as uncertain as ever.
After all that’s happened in the past eighteen months, it seems unthinkable that just two years ago, Kvyat’s career seemed to be on an unstoppable upwards trajectory. Despite that early success, his relationship with Red Bull, the team that backed him and brought him into F1 is undoubtedly now at breaking point.
How could it have gone so wrong, so quickly?
In his first two seasons of F1, Kvyat appeared to tick almost every box possible for a rookie driver. Points on his debut made him F1’s youngest ever scorer, promotion to the senior team then followed where he became the second-youngest driver to score a podium in F1 history. By the end of 2015, Kvyat had outscored his more experienced teammate Daniel Ricciardo, and his stock was seemingly on the rise.
But that’s as good as it got for Kvyat. A tricky start to 2016 saw him earn the unwanted nickname “The Torpedo” after Sebastian Vettel’s criticism of his first corner aggression in China. A week later, things went from bad to worse for Kvyat at his home race in Sochi. He made contact with Vettel, not once, but twice on the opening lap, pitching the Ferrari driver into the wall and out of the race.
A few days later, Red Bull made the surprise decision to send Kvyat back to the Toro Rosso team, promoting Max Verstappen in his place. To rub salt into his wound, Verstappen went on to win first time out in Red bull at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Red Bull’s stance was this was giving Kvyat the opportunity to “continue his development” and the chance to “regain his form and show his potential.”
Looking back, perhaps the most ominous line in that release was its effort to stress that Kvyat “remains part of the Red Bull Family.”
In all honesty, Kvyat may still be a part of the Red Bull ‘family’, but that relationship seems to be broken beyond repair. While F1 is and always has been a results business, it would appear at times that Kvyat’s wellbeing has been affected by the pressure that comes with that.
He hasn’t looked comfortable or relaxed during a race weekend for some time now. His demeanour after being knocked out in Q1 at last year’s German Grand Prix should have been a warning of how the pressure and strain can affect even the most talented of athletes.
Kvyat looked lost, bereft of confidence, and close to tears in the media pen after and you wonder if he’d have even finished the season at all had there not been a well-timed summer break just around the corner.
Last winter should have been a reset for Kvyat, a chance to switch off and spend a little time focusing on himself and rediscovering his motivation. 2017, his fourth year in F1, presented an opportunity to wipe the slate clean, remind the world of his talents, and also that Red Bull had made a mistake in discarding him the year before.
It hasn’t happened though. And as we’ve seen so many times before, you’re only as good as your last race, and Red Bull has a short memory when it comes to swapping out drivers. In a recent interview with Sky, Kvyat likened his affiliation with Red Bull with that of an ex-girlfriend saying: “Once the relationship is broken it’s very hard to fix it.”
After a brief cameo at the United States Grand Prix, Kvyat has been dropped again, this time in favour of Porsche LMP1 driver Brendon Hartley – himself a former Red Bull junior driver – who keeps his seat alongside the returning Pierre Gasly. You could understand to some extent why the team may have given Gasly a couple of races to see how he fares, especially knowing now that Carlos Sainz won’t be racing with the team in 2018.
With Hartley getting a second bite of the cherry in Mexico, it now would seem that Toro Rosso is not auditioning for Daniil’s new teammate, it’s auditioning for his replacement.
Gasly appears to be a shoo-in for a race seat next year, and one would assume that Hartley has every chance of partnering the Frenchman should he perform adequately between now and the end of the season. It’s quite possible that we may not see Kvyat drive a Toro Rosso again.
But where next for Kvyat? What are his options?
At just 23, he’s far from being over the hill, and could potentially have another ten years left in F1, or longer should he choose to race elsewhere. He’s been quietly linked with Williams this week, and in some ways that would be a good fit for him. A family run team, with a more relaxed atmosphere, and no Helmut Marko lurking behind you everytime you turn round.
On the other hand, you could forgive Kvyat for saying ‘I’m done with F1’ and heading off for a lucrative career in sportscars, or even stateside in something like IndyCar. If he finds himself without an F1 drive next year, don’t be surprised if he does that.
Being an elite sportsperson is a privilege that very few people will ever experience, but if you’re not enjoying it, what’s the point? I do not doubt that Kvyat can still succeed as a top line racing driver, he just appears to be the sort of person who needs an arm around the shoulder, rather than one who thrives on the constant uncertainty of whether he’ll have a job next week. He’s only human after all, I know I’d struggle with that.
Whatever Kvyat does next, I for one hope he does what’s right for Kvyat the man, and not just Kvyat the racing driver. F1 is not the be all and end all; there are many other championships out there where he may find a welcome new home, and most importantly, the respect he deserves.
Good luck Daniil. I wish you all the best.