Kvyat the unsung hero from the Australian GP

Date published: March 19 2019

The world is talking about Valtteri Bottas‘ domination; Ferrari’s woes, but what about the solid return for Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat?

It felt like as soon as the talented young Russian arrived on the scene with Toro Rosso in 2014, he was gone again, armed with a catalogue of errors, mistreatment, and a snazzy new title of “The Torpedo” handed to him by Sebastian Vettel.

That torpedo has returned, though, with a solid showing in the 2019 Australian Grand Prix under his belt, maybe that nickname will eventually be forgotten about.

The arrival

Kvyat, as a member of the Red Bull junior set-up, claimed the 2013 GP3 title in dominant fashion with Arden, of course the team co-founded by Red Bull principal Christian Horner.

After also serving as test driver for Toro Rosso in that year, the logical move happened as he linked up with the Red Bull feeder team for Formula 1’s 2014 campaign.

It was a season of change in the sport – the turbo-hybrid era ready for its maiden voyage, and a fantastic opportunity for the then 19-year-old. He sure made a bright start, qualifying in the top ten and claiming P9 at the season-opening Australian GP.

He went on to score points in the Malaysian, Chinese, British and Belgian Grands Prix, leading organisers of his inaugural home race to announce their intentions of naming a stand after him at the Sochi Autodrom.

With Red Bull off the pace in 2014 and Vettel stinging from his struggles against team-mate Ricciardo, the four-time champ jumped ship to Ferrari, leaving a clear path for Kvyat to take his seat with the Austrian outfit for 2015. This was the start of a future World Champion’s journey to the top right? Well, not exactly.

The demise

The next chapter of his career didn’t actually start off badly at all, as he took his first podium in the sport with a second-place finish at the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix, the highest finish for a Russian driver in Formula One.

It also made him the second-youngest Formula 1 driver at the time to feature on the podium, after the man he replaced at Red Bull – Vettel.

He would end 2015 P7 in the Drivers’ Championship, 3 points clear of Ricciardo, making it a very successful first campaign for him. However, from here, it would all go a little pear-shaped.

Kvyat was earning the reputation of being a rather erratic driver, crashing heavily in qualifying for the Japanese GP and spinning in the US during the past season, and following a tough start to 2016 he did bag Red Bull’s first podium of the season with P3 in China.

In that race he angered Vettel somewhat with an ambitious but fair overtake into turn one, leading the German to revisit the dreaded “torpedo” assessment.

However, the Russian would grow into a full-on torpedo come his home race next time out, colliding with Vettel and sending him into Ricciardo, the result being both Red Bull’s plummeting down the order. This time Vettel showed his creativity by now branding him the “mad man“.

Perhaps all he needed was a comforting shoulder to lean on and a spot of encouragement, but Helmut Marko decided the better course of action was to boot him out of Red Bull, put Max Verstappen in that seat, and let Kvyat sit on the naughty step back at Toro Rosso.

The PR spin from Horner was: “Dany will be able to continue his development at Toro Rosso, in a team that he is familiar with, giving him the chance to regain his form and show his potential.”

Despite being mentally broken, Kvyat put in some solid performances in qualifying and race trim towards the back-end of 2016, earning him another crack at redemption with Toro Rosso in 2017.

The new season would arrive, with the Russian demonstrating solid early speed – well when he wasn’t plagued by mechanical issues or reckless driving anyway.

But, his next torpedo impression came at probably the worst place you could do it – the Red Bull Ring – the track owned by none other than Red Bull. And who does he punt off? Verstappen.

Locking his brakes into turn 1, he eliminated both Verstappen and Fernando Alonso from the Austrian GP, while Kvyat struggled on to finish P16 and plum last.

He then collided with team-mate Carlos Sainz next time out at the British GP through Maggotts and Becketts, putting the Spaniard out of the race.

The decision was made to replace Kvyat again, this time with Pierre Gasly, who contested the Singapore and Malaysian GP’s, with the latest dreaded PR statement, this time from Marko, reading: “This is not a case of goodbye for our Daniil, as he still remains part of the Red Bull Family.”

For once Kvyat didn’t appear doomed from those words, swiftly returning at the United States GP after Sainz moved to Renault.

He took his reputation in good humour, sporting a helmet design of him riding a torpedo at the event, but despite finishing in the points, it was announced afterwards that he was no longer a part of Toro Rosso, or Red Bull in any way – very harsh.

The resurgence

Yes he made mistakes, a lot of them, but with the pressure this man was under, it’s easy to understand how that would have played with his mind, and when a driver goes into every event knowing they must be sensational or they are done, walking the line of perfection transcends into disaster with the slightest misjudgment.

Kvyat would stay involved with the sport, acting as a simulator driver for Ferrari in 2018 – a role which he has since credited as the opportunity he needed to clear his head of all the bad memories.

And there were smiles throughout the world of motorsport when Toro Rosso announced that he would return to the team for 2019. It was a little worrying at first, with Kvyat saying he felt anxious upon his return – was he not ready to come back?

Fortunately, that anxiety soon turned to excitement as he settled back into the fold perfectly, it was like he had never been away, and a quiet but efficient pre-season was soon under his belt.

And so to the present day – after a year out of the game, he arrived at the Australian Grand Prix.

Qualifying wasn’t perfect, with his rookie team-mate Alexander Albon winning the first battle of their 2019 head-to-head.

But, the race is where Kvyat really turned heads. None more so than Red Bull’s new recruit Gasly.

After a strategic error left him in P17 for the race, Gasly spent the majority of his first stint stuck behind Kvyat.

The last man to make his first stop, Gasly hoped that would be enough to clear the pesky junior, but no, he would come out behind the 24-year-old once again, and stay there until the race’s conclusion.

And don’t be fooled, Kvyat’s afternoon wasn’t one of just holding up Gasly on slower tyres and playing victim to Honda’s new overtake button, he had a serious look at the back of Lance Stroll’s Racing Point, including a near-torpedo moment when he went into the gravel with a wishful move at turn 3.

He would recovered though to claim P10 and a point on his return, keeping Gasly out of the points on his debut with the senior team in the process.

So, what does Kvyat need to do in 2019 to repair his reputation? Well, making Gasly look useless a few more times will certainly help – a man who is already bearing similarities to a young Kvyat with his multiple crashes in testing and early criticism from Marko.

Closer to home, he needs to take care of Albon, who was also drafted back into the Red Bull programme this season.

Toro Rosso were accused of scraping the barrel when they re-signed this duo, criticised for pulling out the history book after Dan Ticktum failed to secure a superlicence.

So now, Kvyat has to use 2019 as a way of proving he isn’t a charity case, but rather an ultra-talented driver who slipped the Red Bull net.

Jamie Woodhouse

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