Daniil Kvyat losing his Red Bull seat to Max Verstappen a reminder of the high pressure atmosphere that comes with the opportunity that is being a young Red Bull driver.
At the end of last season we spoke of the “Elephant in the room” at Red Bull. Last year was, by previous high standards, an unmitigated disaster for the team. In the midst of that it was new boy Kvyat who outscored Ricciardo 95 – 92, but then often Ricciardo’s superior pace went unrewarded by a slow and unreliable car. While Ricciardo out qualified Kvyat 12-7, both drivers only managed a solitary 2nd place finish each. When the car was right it was the Australian that had a few tenths in the bag, but it counted for very little when the only Red Bull driver that was grabbing the spotlight was the Dutchman over in Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Red Bull aren’t interested in being good enough, or a capable Formula 1 driver. Red Bull want stellar drives, X Factor, star quality. If you wanted that from a Red Bull emblazoned car last year you had to go over to the B Team. To be fair you’d find it in either driver, but it was Max who was grabbing the spotlight. Not least because Ferrari and Mercedes made no secret of their interest in the driver.
“He is a boy to look at, I personally rate him. I like the way the father and son approach things and the way the relationship has tackled his sporting career functions. He definitely has his place in F1”.
“He is not a topic for us because he is under a long-term contract with Red Bull”.
“If there is one thing with all the controversy in F1 which I will always acknowledge, it is that if you develop a driver into F1 like Red Bull have done and taken risks, then I think that should be honoured”.
“We will not interfere in such a relationship. If things come towards us, then good. But if not, not.”
At the end of last year Red Bull knew that if they were to fend off the attentions of their fiercest rivals then a seat would have to be made available for Verstappen at Red Bull, sooner rather than later.
That’s the environment in which we must view how things have developed over the last few weeks. The perspective which is needed when criticising Red Bull over how harsh Daniil Kvyat has been treated. This is the same driver who only two races ago finished on the podium in China. So why Daniil over Daniel? Have two races of histrionics really resulted in his career taking a step backwards?
If we look at it in terms of pure performance then the Honey Badger has come out fighting pretty hard this season. Yes Kyvat had the podium in China, but only because a puncture deprived of us what could have been a classic race from Ricciardo after his barnstorming start into the lead at the beginning of the race. Before Kvyat misjudged his braking and ended both Red Bull drivers chances in one corner he’d been consistently out qualified and out paced by Ricciardo:
|Australia||Q – 8, 1:25.5||R – 4||Q – 18, 1:28.0||R – DNS|
|Bahrain||Q – 5, 1:30.1||R – 4||Q – 15, 1:32.2||R – 7|
|China||Q – 2, 1:35.9||R – 4||Q – 6, 1:36:39||R – 3|
|Russia||Q – 6, 1:37.1||R – 11||Q – 8, 1:37.4||R – 15|
When Ricciardo needed to get it right he did. Under pressure in the New (now old) qualifying format was when the Aussie did most of the damage. If Russia was the opportunity that presented itself in the extraction of Kvyat from the Red Bull seat then qualifying for Australia and Bahrain was when the decision was made that when the time came it was he and not the Honey Badger that would head down the pit lane to Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Max Verstappen’s career has been a juggernaut. A masterclass in how to manage a career to be in the right place at the right time. From karts, to F3, to F1 & now Red Bull. Maybe what suits Max and Red Bull so much to each other is both sides refusal to compromise. Their total commitment to be successful. If Renault bring upgrades that deliver performance for both then records for youngest winner await. What certainly waits is a ferocious and fearless Honey Badger.
The score sits at 2 – 0 for Daniel Ricciardo. He’s seen off Sebastian Vettel. He’s seen off Daniil Kvyat. Somehow it feels like that was all a warm up. He was the rookie against Seb. He recovered his steel under massive pressure to see off Dany. Now the irresistible force that is Max Verstappen has arrived on the Red Bull Racing landscape. Will he find, as his predecessors did, that Daniel Ricciardo is quite the immovable object?
He may be grinning from ear to ear and on the surface look calm but underneath all of that Ricciardo is kicking, and kicking hard.