The Toro-Rosso Driver Debacle: Who gained and who lost out?
By now, I think that we all know what has happened at Toro-Rosso. Carlos Sainz Jr has gone to Renault on 'loan', Pierre Gasly has been given his debut, Brendon Hartley has has been given a completely out-of-the-blue chance in Formula One, and the ever unlucky Russian Daniil Kvyat has been dropped, again.
What caused the move to Renault for Sainz?
The whole change-up at Toro-Rosso can be linked back to one thing: the engine deal with Honda. This is because in order for Toro-Rosso to get what they wanted, which was the Honda engine for the 2018 season, they had to break their contract with Renault early. This would have usually been an easy thing to do, as it would make Toro-Rosso arguably less competitive if they ditched Renault for Honda, which would benefit the Renault works team. However, there was a complication, which was the fact that McLaren wanted the supply of Renault engines that Toro-Rosso would be getting rid of. This meant that Renault were able to say to Toro-Rosso that in order for them to agree to break the contract early, they would have to give up their star driver, Carlos Sainz. After a series of talks, they agreed that Sainz would be released from Toro-Rosso, but not from the Red Bull young driver programme, as a one year 'loan' was agreed, but it is looking very likely that this deal will last a lot longer than a single year. Shortly after the deal was announced, Toro-Rosso brought in another Red Bull junior, Pierre Gasly, to take Daniil Kvyat's seat for 'a few races', as they assessed their driver options for the 2018 season.
Why did Gasly come in and Kvyat go?
Pierre Gasly, a 21 year old racing driver from France, has been a part of the Red Bull young driver programme for a few years, and was given his debut at the Malaysian Grand Prix when it was announced that, as I said previously, would take over from Kvyat for at least 'a few races'. Gasly was given his chance because is was clear to see that Kvyat had not had the best of seasons, even rivalling Jolyon Palmer for the title of the unluckiest driver on the grid. I think his nickname Daniil 'The Torpedo' Kvyat tells you enough...
Kvyat would actually then go on to retake his seat at Toro-Rosso when Sainz moved to Renault for the US Grand Prix, and (sort-of) impressed by finishing in the top ten. However, this turned out not to be enough to convince Mr Marko that he was worth retaining, as this is now officially his last race for Toro-Rosso, and also as a Red Bull sponsored driver.
Introducing the WEC World Champion, Brendon Hartley
Yes, the first guy to be kicked out of the Red Bull programme way back in 2010, is back, after making a single call to Helmut Marko when he found out that Porsche were pulling out of the WEC at the end of the year. According to Hartley, when he made the call and explained to Marko how much he had changed as a driver, and that he was available, but all he got in reply was 'message received'. Three months later, he got the chance to fulfil his dream of making it to F1.
When speaking to Sky Sports, he said:
"What an amazing feeling! This opportunity came as somewhat of a surprise, but I never did give up on my ambition and childhood dream to reach F1."
"I have grown and learnt so much since the days when I was the Red Bull and Toro Rosso reserve driver, and the tough years I went through made me stronger and even more determined. I want to say a huge thanks to Red Bull for making this a reality, and to Porsche for allowing me to do this alongside the World Endurance Championship."
The opportunity only came about as Honda wanted Pierre Gasly to race in the Japanese Super Formula, where he had the chance to clinch the title (but lost it as the race was called off), so Toro-Rosso were in need of a driver with enough superlicence points to race in F1. This meant that they had a choice between Sebastian Buemi, or Hartley. They went with Hartley.
When he made his debut in Austin, the rate of improvement throughout each session impressed the team, which partly lead to the axing of Kvyat and then Hartley being retained for the rest of the season.
Was the treatment of Kvyat fair?
In a word, no. I know that Kvyat hasn't got the largest fanbase out there, but he is still, or was at least a well respected driver and did not deserve to be thrown about by Red Bull in the way that he was. What I mean by this is that he was promoted to Red Bull so quickly for a reason: he was good. Sure, he was no Max Verstappen or Daniel Ricciardo, but he did a decent job and it seemed like Red Bull gave up on him when he was demoted back to Toro-Rosso.
Let's face it: if you were in his position with loads of pressure on you to perform at the highest level, being dropped and then brought back and generally having an uncertain future throughout pretty much the entire season, not to mention the endless pressure from the media, would not help in the process of improving your form.
2018 and beyond...
As the season progresses, it is looking more and more likely that Gasly and Hartley will be the driver line-up going into 2018, unless something serious happens in the final two races.
What do you think? Did Toro-Rosso handle the situation correctly?
Let me know in the comments, and make sure to vote in the poll below!