The Inside Line #84: Potential over proof

TILI Logo PrintReady or not, here he comes. After just 19 Formula One races, Daniil Kvyat is graduating from Toro Rosso to drive for, let’s not forget, the team that has won four of the past five drivers’ and constructors’ titles. As much as he tried to play the whole detached too cool for school racing driver thing when he arrived in the paddock on Saturday at this year’s Japanese Grand Prix, the look on his face wasn’t fooling anyone. Vettel had dropped a bombshell by announcing he was leaving Red Bull that morning, and Kvyat’s name – the last two words of a press release that stopped the sport cold – seemed like an afterthought.

Kvyat may have been surprised Vettel was leaving, but he wasn’t surprised he was chosen over teammate Jean-Eric Vergne to step up. “Already this year we can see that experience itself is not playing a big role for Jean-Eric,” he shrugged, making it clear that he feels ready for a seat at Formula One’s top table even if his birth certificate suggests he isn’t. “I have been racing for a long time even if I have not been in F1 for very long …”

Kvyat’s right, of course, but is he right for what comes next? At the start of the season – where there was seemingly no chance that Vettel was going anywhere soon – Kvyat proved himself as a man to watch with points on debut in Melbourne and numerous outstanding qualifying efforts. But as the year went on – and after he’d been selected to partner Daniel Ricciardo next year – Kvyat’s results dried up completely. Yes, there was that outstanding fifth on the grid at his home race in Sochi, but he scored just four points in the final 15 races, none at all after being named as Vettel’s successor. Vergne, for his part, out-scored his teammate 22-8 over the season and nabbed more points in the final six Grands Prix that Kvyat did all year. But Vergne is out of F1 altogether next year. Make sense of that. He may not be a world-beater and certainly was hurt by his mediocre qualifying pace, but on talent, he’s good enough to be in F1. As is Jenson Button, but that’s another story …

In any other season, Kvyat’s promotion [1] would be the biggest story to emanate from Formula One’s lower-profile teams, but this year was different. The woes of Caterham and Marussia were one thing, but it became hard to use the word ‘survival’ with Caterham when Marussia’s Jules Bianchi was in such a life-threatening state. Sauber was pointless, Lotus helpless to do anything about a car that was ugly, underpowered and unreliable [2], and of the mid-grid teams, only Force India had plenty of reasons to smile, and even they came against a backdrop of financial uncertainty after their best season yet. And that’s not even mentioning McLaren, if we consider McLaren a midfield team these days … [3]

The first instalment of a comprehensive two-part review of the 2014 season is the focus of Episode 84 of ‘The Inside Line’, while we look at the reaction to Lewis Hamilton’s second world championship while hearing from the man himself. Other than the British tabloids hitting the bottom of their barrel of pun-tastic headlines (‘Yabba Dabba Lew’ – really?), I was astonished that some of the coverage made such a big deal about (a) Hamilton not getting completely trashed the night after winning the world title – a 10am hour-long press op on Monday morning will do that for you – and (b) that he shouldn’t be waving his national flag around after he won the title as he doesn’t live in the UK and pay tax. Give me a break [4]. The only driver to have made their home in the UK in recent F1 history was an Australian in Mark Webber – and I don’t recall seeing too many similar stories about Button back in 2009 when he scampered off back to his own tax haven with a world championship trophy under his arm …

Check out ‘The Inside Line’ on Fox Sports 5 and ESPN if you’re in Australia, and check local guides if you’re watching elsewhere – like here.

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[1] For what it’s worth, I’m not sure either Toro Rosso driver this year can come in and ‘do a Ricciardo’ next season, but I would have chosen Kvyat too.

[2] Any list of people who got it spectacularly wrong this season has to start with Pastor Maldonado. You have to wonder how he felt every time he was lapped by a Williams …

[3] The stats say they are. One podium on merit in two seasons sounds like the return a Force India or Sauber typically manages.

[4] Anyone who went with that angle in their copy that honestly reckons they wouldn’t do exactly the same thing in Hamilton’s situation is kidding themselves. “You know what, I’d really like to pay more tax” isn’t something anyone has said ever.

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