6w ago



By Nate Bray Monday 1st July

‘’Kvyat To Red Bull?” Well you’d certainly be forgiven for wondering if you’ve woken up sometime in 2015 having heard this statement. Alas no, it’s the sound of the good old Red Bull / Toro Rosso merry go round quietly firing up with talk that the Russian could be soon be on his way to replace the struggling Pierre Gasly at the Milton Keynes outfit. After another lacklustre performance this weekend and a prolonged poor run of form, the Frenchman has come under increased scrutiny from both pundits, audiences and team management alike.

F1 was this weekend at the home of Red Bull Racing, Austria. And whilst both RBR drivers can be forgiven for not being in title winning contention this year, we are after all in the midst of one of the most one sided championships and indeed era’s in the sport’s history, it is painfully obvious to any observer that the results from Red Bull have been, to put it kindly, rather one sided.
This was no more obvious than after yesterdays race.
The Honda powered Bulls of Max and Pierre were separated by over half a second in Q3 which ultimately left (after penalties) a rather substantial 6 car difference on the grid between the pair. We were then handed a the opportunity to see the Bulls run side by side at the start of a race, thanks to Max accidentally putting his car into anti stall mode and dropping back to 7th place by the first corner and behold, a race pace comparison.

What unfolded was unfortunately also predictable with Verstappen wringing the life out of his Raging Bull and Gasly seemingly stalling way down the order in his Limping Calf . Max would go on to take victory and finish a whole lap in front of his team mate. This was perhaps the best opportunity for Pierre to prove his pace on a circuit that was obviously suited to the car, Red Bull having now taken back to back victories at the Red Bull Ring. No one was necessarily expecting a one-two finish but the Red Bull hierarchy would certainly not have expected one of their cars to lap another through outright pace. So the question looms heavily over Gasly. If not now, then when?
Toro Rosso have been surprised by their former pilot’s performance so far this year and despite having had a solid year with them in 2018, he is yet to repeat that form at one of the top teams in Formula 1.

Pierre almost certainly has one of the most difficult jobs on the grid when it comes to inter team comparisons. Max Verstappen has been a formidable team mate since he burst onto the scene in 2015, helping take Toro Rosso to their most successful season in Formula One based on points. He has a habit of making other drivers’ performances look underwhelming. Indeed in his very first race for Red Bull at the Spanish Grand Prix after replacing a struggling Kvyat, he came home in 1st place becoming F1’s youngest ever race winner in the process. Kvyat had struggled for 23 races with no more than 2 third place podiums to show for it and along comes the young Dutchman and makes it look easy. Right out the gate.
Whilst being sent home and relegated to the B-team doesn’t do wonders for your racing reputation, what Max did in Spain scarred Kvyat’s reputation further.

Red Bull Racing have no qualms when it comes to switching out a driver mid season. In only the last few years we have seen Kvyat sent packing back to Toro Rosso and replaced by Max Verstappen. Kvyat again removed from his Toro Rosso seat after 14 races in 2017 and replaced by one Pierre Gasly with Daniil moving to Ferrari as development driver.
It appears they are torn when it comes to Kvyat or where they want him to go. They have faith that the pace is there but it never materialises. It may say more about the man himself, that he seems to keep coming back seemingly not phased by the fact that he has been dropped by the team twice already.

So you have to ask, why after all this, would Red Bull go back to a driver deemed unworthy of a seat twice in the near past? Of course there is a reluctance to hire a driver outside of the Red Bull driver programme but maybe it is time to change protocol. Toro Rosso have delivered a pretty solid stream of ‘also rans’ in the past. Speed, Bourdais, Alguersuari and Buemi to name a few. They never however decided to keep throwing one of them at the A Team and hoping something sticks. Indeed this allowed better talent to flow through the team. Vettel and Webber to name just two.
Kvyat feels like a bad penny that keeps coming back with a ‘maybe this time’ label hanging over him.

Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost said in an interview with Starting Grid podcast “Performance is the deciding factor in Formula 1. If a driver brings performance, why wouldn’t you bring him back? I don’t see it as a loss of face” It cant be helped feeling that perhaps Red Bull and Toro Rosso have forgotten that Kvyats performances and have already been a ‘deciding factor’ on more than one occasion already.
Tost continued, “Daniil is a Red Bull driver. He is currently on loan to Toro Rosso. We’ll see how all this pans out in the future. I would be happy if Daniil could return to a top team. Why? Because I think he has the speed. If all the circumstances are right he can perform very well.”

Red Bull will be worried about the perception of dropping another driver mid season, especially for a driver they’ve already fired once in the past. Which is why this weekend was so important for the Frenchman. It’s tough enough having the threat of being replaced by a younger, faster competitor but when that threat is coming from a driver dropped by your own team twice already, well that can do no wonders for your self confidence or sense of belonging in the team.
Short term, his fate ironically could be saved by Red Bull focusing their efforts on retaining Max beyond 2019 who’s agent this week confirmed has a performance clause in his contract and with murmurs of Sébastien Vettel ‘conspicuously hanging out with his old friends at Red Bull’ it would come as no surprise that Verstappen would see this as a clear route to a more competitive seat in 2020.

When asked about the possibility of leaving Red Bull as early as next year he said “ To be honest its more important to see what the team will bring in the upcoming races. I’m not too worried about what’s going to happen next year or even beyond that at the moment. I just want to focus on this project because I think there is still lots of potential and we are just getting started. But like I said, of course I don’t want to keep driving until I’m 35 or 40, so we’ll see.” An ambiguous answer as expected.

In retaining Verstappen, Red Bull could see this as an opportunity to have one of the strongest driver lineups on the grid. Bringing Vettel and Verstappen together is certainly a mouth watering and fiery concept certain to bring out the best in both drivers. A strong inter team rivalry has notoriously bought some of the most exciting racing in the history of the sport. See Mansell/Piquet, Senna/Prost. Whilst this is great for potential Constructor Championship points scoring, it also could be potentially explosive. See Mansell/Piquet, Senna/Prost.

Do Red Bull stick or twist. Do they accept a lacklustre Constructor Championship points tally in the hope that 2020 brings a stronger driver pairing, or do they move now and effectively lock out a position for a potential move for Vettel and a stellar pairing with Verstappen.