Does Daniil Kvyat Deserve Another Season in Formula 1?

Matthew WalthertFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2016

Daniil Kvyat
Daniil KvyatMark Thompson/Getty Images

Daniil Kvyat's Formula One career is on life support, and you get the feeling the good doctor, in this case Helmut Marko, the de facto head of Red Bull's young driver programme, already has one hand on the plug, ready to pull it out.

Ever since his midseason demotion from Red Bull to make room for Max Verstappen, Kvyat has been living his F1 life on borrowed time. That is why stories keep popping up like the one about current GP2 leader Pierre Gasly replacing Kvyat, even if they are not true.

But, despite his struggles since rejoining Toro Rosso (who wouldn't struggle in those circumstances?), is it still possible that the young Russian could earn a reprieve and another year in F1? Has he done enough to deserve it?

Ever since pulling the rug and his car out from under him after the Russian Grand Prix, Marko and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner have sounded supportive of Kvyat. But is that just for show?

Even before his demotion, Kvyat was under no illusions about the Red Bull style of driver management. "Dr. Marko is a very experienced man, and he knows what a driver needs to become successful," he said when we spoke at the 2014 U.S. Grand Prix. "He also tells you clearly what you need to improve, and if you are not able to improve, they have to say goodbye to you."

Daniil Kvyat driving for Toro Rosso at the 2016 Italian Grand Prix.
Daniil Kvyat driving for Toro Rosso at the 2016 Italian Grand Prix.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The team have been ruthless, particularly with their young Toro Rosso drivers, using 11 different race drivers in the 11 seasons since Red Bull acquired the team.

Overall, the Red Bull Junior Team has been successful, developing talents such as Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo. Several drivers, though, including promising ones such as Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastian Buemi and Jean-Eric Vergne, were unceremoniously dumped when they did not live up to the team's high standards.

Of course, many of them might not have made it to F1 in the first place, were it not for Red Bull's support. Kvyat told me that was the case for him.

Now, at just 22 years old, he already has three seasons of F1 experience. In 2014, Kvyat was beaten by his Toro Rosso team-mate, Vergne, but he still earned a promotion to Red Bull when Vettel left for Ferrari. At the time, Vettel and Ricciardo were the only other drivers to have received a promotion from Toro Rosso to Red Bull.

Impressively, Kvyat edged Ricciardo in the 2015 drivers' standings, demonstrating that he could handle the pressure of racing for one of the sport's top teams.

This year, Kvyat scored a superb, well-earned podium finish in China, but he made a mistake on the opening lap of the Russian Grand Prix that took Vettel out of the race. Despite his maturity in handling the situation, he never had a chance to atone for that mistake, getting swapped for Verstappen before the next grand prix.

Daniil Kvyat celebrates on the podium at the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix.
Daniil Kvyat celebrates on the podium at the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix.Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Verstappen won his first race for Red Bull (thanks to the two Mercedes drivers taking each other out on the first lap), not doing any favours to Kvyat's reputation.

Despite his solid performances, it seems unlikely Red Bull will offer Kvyat another year at Toro Rosso. They have Gasly waiting in the wings, and it is clear they don't view the Russian as a potential future champion—and that is what they are looking for.

As NBC reporter Will Buxton wrote for Racer, "Red Bull aren't looking for someone as good as the best that they have; they're looking for someone better. And when the best you've had is Sebastian Vettel, it's a very high barometer."

The only way Kvyat will get another year with Red Bull's Italian sister team is if Marko and the rest of the Red Bull brass decide Gasly is not ready for F1 (unlikely if he wins the GP2 title) and they have no one else to fill the seat. And even in that case, Kvyat would just be keeping the place warm.

His only hope, it seems, is for another team to be enticed by his experience and his appeal to the massive Russian market.

But that is also a long shot. With so many young, talented drivers coming into F1—often with the backing of factory teams, like Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon with Mercedes' young driver programme—it will be difficult for a Red Bull cast-off to find a drive, even at one of the smaller teams.

The Russian market might be huge, but the economy isn't exactly in great shape, so it's hard to imagine a sponsor stepping in to fund another year in F1 for Kvyat, even if a seat were available.

In the end, Kvyat hasn't done anything wrong to deserve his demotion and possibly the end of his F1 career. His only real mistake was not being as quick as Verstappen.

For the remaining seven races of 2016, Kvyat needs to start challenging Carlos Sainz Jr., his Toro Rosso team-mate, on a more regular basis. Since returning to the Italian team, Kvyat has just two top-10 finishes to Sainz's six.

It will be difficult with Toro Rosso's year-old Ferrari engines, but a couple of impressive performances might just catch the eye of another team in the paddock and remind them of the potential Red Bull saw in Kvyat less than two years ago when they promoted him to Vettel's vacant seat.

And even if this is the end for Kvyat in F1, he can still be proud of the three years he had at the top level of the motorsport world—three more years than most of us will ever get.

        

Matthew Walthert is an F1 columnist for Bleacher Report UK. He has also written for VICEFourFourTwo and the Globe and Mail. Follow him on Twitter: