Our snapshot of Toro Rosso’s Russian and what’s on his to-do list for the 2017 F1 season.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM
Second chances don’t come around often in the cut-throat world that is Formula One, but Daniil Kvyat is on his second second chance this season after being re-signed by Scuderia Toro Rosso for 2017. The stay of execution in F1 comes after the Russian was dropped by Red Bull Racing to Toro Rosso after last year’s calamitous home race in Sochi, and after he managed just three top-10 finishes in 17 races upon his return to the team he made his F1 debut with back in 2014. What’s in store for Kvyat’s 2017? This
Kvyat is still just 22 years old, but that seems relatively ancient compared to the man who replaced him at Red Bull, 19-year-old Max Verstappen, let alone the likes of Williams newbie Lance Stroll, who’s all of 18. He’s managed two F1 podiums in 59 career starts, a career-best second in Hungary in 2015 preceding his third place in China last year, after which the wheels started to wobble.
What he did last year
China – and a robust first-corner attack that memorably raised the ire of Sebastian Vettel – was the high point, but things went south soon after that. His home race in Sochi was a disaster, hitting Vettel at the second corner, who clattered into Kvyat’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo, and then hitting Vettel again, feeding the fuming German into the barriers. Ricciardo limped back to the pits and eventually finished 11th (his one non-scoring race all season), Kvyat was 15th, and the writing was on the wall. Verstappen was named as his replacement four days later, and promptly won his first race for Red Bull’s senior team in Barcelona. From there, Kvyat managed to score points in only three Grands Prix (Spain, Great Britain and Singapore), and his harrowing interview after being eliminated in Q1 in Germany (“I should be better than this, I know it’s not my real self driving my car and it’s very painful”) was hard to watch. Having his 2017 future confirmed in late October was a relief, and as good as the second half of last year got.
What changes in 2017?
Perhaps the more pertinent question is ‘what has to change?’, and the answer is plenty. Kvyat clearly has the pace – remember, he out-scored Ricciardo over a full season as teammates in 2015, the year after Ricciardo had put Vettel in the shade in his first season at Red Bull in 2014, and a year before the Australian produced a season that many felt was the best of any driver in 2016. Speed isn’t an issue. Can he show better judgement under duress? Can he drag himself out of the dark place he found himself emotionally in the second half of last year? Dr Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s motorsport advisor, wouldn’t have persevered with Kvyat unless he felt there was something worth salvaging from the wreckage of 2016. Now it’s up to the Russian to repay that faith.
Number to know
In 17 races as teammates last year, Kvyat managed four points, while Carlos Sainz scored 42 in the sister Toro Rosso.
See ‘Number to know’. Sainz starts his third season with STR this year, Kvyat his fourth in F1. The list of graduates from Red Bull’s ‘B team’ is much shorter than the collection of drivers who didn’t stack up and were shown the door – Vettel, Ricciardo and Verstappen all cut their F1 teeth with Toro Rosso – and you get the distinct impression that whoever emerges on top of this intra-team battle this season will have a secure F1 future, and whoever doesn’t may be seeking alternative employment.
A strong, convincing and points-scoring start in Australia isn’t make or break, but it’ll undoubtedly help to relieve any tension. The omens aren’t good though – for the past two seasons, Kvyat hasn’t even made the start Down Under, transmission problems eliminating him before the lights went out in 2015, and an electrical issue seeing him stranded on the warm-up lap last year. How he handles round four in Russia in late April after last year’s erratic display will be worth watching too.
Simple. A continuation of last year, where he played a distant second fiddle to Sainz, just can’t happen in 2017. Kvyat says he’s trained harder than ever in the off-season and has cleared the slate mentally from 2016, which should translate into him being much more competitive.
Expect it to be tight between the Toro Rosso pilots, and expect Kvyat to make the most of his reprieve. Repeating his seventh in the world championship from 2015 looks near-on impossible, but nibbling on the fringes of the top 10 overall is in play, and would make for a strong bounce-back campaign.