Daniil Kvyat Proves Himself at Red Bull with 1st F1 Podium at 2015 Hungarian GP

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2015

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 26:  Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing celebrates after finishing second in the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 26, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The verdict delivered by Dr. Evil was as blunt as it was damning.

Helmut Marko, Red Bull's motorsport consultant, had just witnessed his young-driver scheme, the best junior academy in Formula One, turned on its head over the Spanish Grand Prix weekend.

The might of Red Bull Racing, the four-time constructors' champions, had—not for the first time in the opening five races of 2015—been upstaged by their support act, Scuderia Toro Rosso, at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 09:  Carlos Sainz of Spain and Scuderia Toro Rosso waves to the crowd after qualifying in fifth position during qualifying for the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 9, 2015 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by C
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Carlos Sainz Jr. and Max Verstappen, the rookie pairing, had locked out the third row of the grid in Spain, and while Daniel Ricciardo salvaged some pride for the A-team by finishing seventh in the race, it was Toro Rosso who made the greatest impression.

"Our established guys need to look out," Marko told Kleine Zeitung (h/t Motorsport.com) after the race. "Paradoxically, the more inexperienced ones did the better job."

While Marko's threat was targeted at both Red Bull drivers, despite Ricciardo's three grand prix wins the previous campaign, it was obvious that the main source of his frustration was Daniil Kvyat.

Kvyat, along with Ricciardo, was criticised by Helmut Marko after the Spanish GP.
Kvyat, along with Ricciardo, was criticised by Helmut Marko after the Spanish GP.Lars Baron/Getty Images
Formula 1 @F1

Stewards decide to take no further action over Sainz/Kvyat last-lap incident >> http://t.co/bDLmfD7lbD #SpanishGP http://t.co/3HN2dZeYic

Despite qualifying ahead of Ricciardo in Spain, the Russian endured a terrible race, which began with the loss of five places on the opening lap and ended with a collision with Sainz on the final lap as Kvyat came dangerously close to ruining the home hero's breakthrough weekend in F1.

Sainz's pass on Kvyat, which sandwiched him between the Toro Rossos in 10th place, was symbolic, fueling the theory that the 21-year-old, still with much to learn in just his second season in the sport, was out of place at Red Bull, a junior driver lost in a championship-winning team.

Although he had been a victim of Red Bull's fall from grace in the early stages of 2015—failing to start the season-opening Australian GP after a pre-race gearbox issue and retiring with an engine failure in China—Kvyat had made an untidy start to life at Red Bull.

Red Bull's problems with Renault didn't help, but Kvyat had a poor start to the season.
Red Bull's problems with Renault didn't help, but Kvyat had a poor start to the season.Dan Istitene/Getty Images

And his struggles for both pace and consistency, as we feared in the offseason, would have left Marko and Red Bull team boss Christian Horner—having witnessed Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel make seamless transitions from Toro Rosso—with much to ponder.

If Kvyat continued to flounder, would Red Bull afford him time to improve? Would they, with the hype surrounding the Toro Rosso drivers growing, demote him to STR and offer Verstappen or Sainz a chance alongside Ricciardo for 2016?

Or would they release Kvyat into the wild in the same brutal fashion Toro Rosso have always treated drivers who waste their time?

Verstappen and Sainz's exploits have made Kvyat's strong rookie season look ordinary.
Verstappen and Sainz's exploits have made Kvyat's strong rookie season look ordinary.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Kvyat's problem, aside from his own frailties, was that the extraordinary performances of Sainz and Verstappen had made the Russian's phenomenal achievements in his own rookie season appear relatively mediocre.

The youngest-ever point-scorer in F1 history on debut in Australia 2014? Nothing special—Max beat that record, by a margin of three years, in just his second race.

Fifth on the grid in the Russian Grand Prix? So what? Max qualified sixth in Malaysia; Carlos was fifth in Spain.

It took Kvyat 16 races to secure P5 on the grid. Sainz matched that feat in just his fifth grand prix.
It took Kvyat 16 races to secure P5 on the grid. Sainz matched that feat in just his fifth grand prix.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Alongside a driver as fast and reliable as Ricciardo, and with his own accomplishments surpassed by Verstappen and Sainz, it has become easy to dismiss and overlook Kvyat at a time Red Bull's pool of talent is richer than ever before.

Yet since being overtaken by Sainz in Spain—and, indeed, being publicly criticised by Marko—Kvyat has offered frequent reminders of his talent, beating Ricciardo in four of the last five races to jump from 15th in the championship to eighth, just six points behind his team-mate.

It was no coincidence that Kvyat's career-best finish of fourth came in Monaco, the race immediately after the Spanish GP, and the confidence he took from that afternoon—specifically Ricciardo's gentlemanly decision to slow on the run toward the finish line, gifting the Russian the position—has been built upon.

Kvyat responded well to criticism by finishing fourth in Monaco.
Kvyat responded well to criticism by finishing fourth in Monaco.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

As Horner told Autosport's Lawrence Barretto, Kvyat would have been in contention for a podium finish at Silverstone had he not "lost 10 to 12 seconds" with a spin on his in-lap while in pursuit of Vettel, whom he had passed around the outside of Brooklands on Lap 1.

His wait for a first F1 podium, though, ended in the Hungarian Grand Prix, where despite producing what was arguably his least convincing performance since Spain, Kvyat finished second, the kind of result that tends to happen when an athlete is strong in both form and confidence.

Despite qualifying 0.558 seconds slower than Ricciardo, per the official F1 website, flat-spotting his tyres with a massive lock-up at the first corner, being forced to move aside for his team-mate and incurring a 10-second time penalty for exceeding track limits while passing Lewis Hamilton, he still managed to finish a comfortable second place.

Red Bull Racing @redbullracing

And there you have it, the sweet taste of Champagne for the first time this season! #HungarianGP #F1 🙌 🎉 🏆 http://t.co/KjIoSxf1Wy

Kvyat later told ESPN F1's Nate Saunders how he "thought [his] race was over" after tyre smoke filled the Budapest air on the opening lap. 

"Some people say 'never give up' but they don't know what they're saying," he added. "Until today I didn't know what it means really, but today I really learned what it means not to give up because it can always come your way."

It was a comment that not only summarised his afternoon, but his first 10 races as a Red Bull driver.

Red Bull Racing @redbullracing

Dany: “This race told me the true meaning of never giving up. It was a crazy race!" 🏆🎉🏁 #HungarianGP #F1 http://t.co/2GVd9w5z7l

He may not be as fashionable and as popular as Ricciardo. He might not be as thrilling to watch as Sainz and Verstappen.

But Kvyat—as Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost, who oversaw the development of Vettel and Ricciardo as well as Verstappen and Sainz, told the official F1 website—is "very, very skilled—he has the champion gene."

Underestimate him at your peril.


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