Jean-Eric Vergne: Forever Overlooked

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Jean-Éric Vergne is in his third Formula One season and this is seemingly going to be his last. Despite his proven track record, he has been overlooked by Red Bull Racing as somebody who can drive for their team, even with the announcement that four-time champion Sebastian Vettel is seemingly off to Ferrari. Vergne has shown steady progress throughout his Formula One career and I think it would be very sad to see the popular Frenchman be made to leave the sport.

2011 Formula Renault 3.5 runner-up Vergne joined Daniel Ricciardo at Toro Rosso. Ricciardo had half a season with backmarkers HRT whilst Vergne had just three FP1 sessions under his belt. It was a pretty solid if unspectacular season for Toro Rosso, picking up a position that was no higher than eighth in races. Vergne, not Ricciardo was the only one to achieve this – four times in his rookie campaign. Vergne ended the season as the higher-placed driver, with 16 points to Ricciardo’s 10. What was noted was Ricciardo’s exceptional speed on a Saturday, something which he has shown at Red Bull this season; however Vergne was the one who delivered on the Sunday, when the points mattered. For 2013, both drivers were retained, which was somewhat expected as no Red Bull Junior seemed ready at the time. Ricciardo picked up his best result to date, a seventh place at China early in the season, but Vergne went better than that at the Canadian Grand Prix. After qualifying well in the rain, Vergne had a very strong race to finish sixth. At the race previous, the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix, he managed eighth whilst Ricciardo crashed. So on paper, when Mark Webber announced his retirement prior to the British Grand Prix, Vergne should have been given the nod, right? No, it was in fact Ricciardo who was to make the jump. Vergne’s season dropped from that point and he failed to score again, whilst Ricciardo consistently picked up points and beat Vergne 20-13. So during their time as team mates, Ricciardo only scored one more point than Vergne, and we don’t need to mention how well Ricciardo has done this year to know just how good Vergne is then, surely?

Vergne was partnered, somewhat surprisingly by Daniil Kvyat for 2014. The very young Russian received a lot of praise for adapting to the cars very quickly, but everybody had that issue because of the significant change in regulations. Vergne showed notable improvement on a Saturday in the early stages of the year, and has made a fair few Q3 appearances, something which he didn’t do whilst partnered with Ricciardo. Vergne again has shown excellent speed on a Sunday too, having equalled his best result at the Singapore Grand Prix, but it was all too late. It was announced that Max Verstappen, aged just 17 years old was to replace Vergne alongside Kvyat at Toro Rosso which left Vergne without a drive. The reason: “I’m too old” according to Vergne, 24. With the news that Vettel is leaving Red Bull for 2015, that left a seat vacant at the current champions. Instead of going for the driver who has clearly performed better this year, Red Bull has elected to put the 20-year-old who is currently losing the team mate battle 19-8 in terms of points. It seems very unlikely that Red Bull will u-turn the decision to axe Vergne, especially with Carlos Sainz Jr. en route to the Formula Renault 3.5 series title, leaving Toro Rosso with two rookies for 2015.

With a serious lack of top seats available at the moment, Vergne’s only options appear to be the struggling Lotus and Sauber teams, or one of the backmarkers. Should Vergne choose to go to any of those teams, he would need serious funding, and I very highly doubt that Red Bull would be willing to offer that. Also, Lotus already have a top driver in Romain Grosjean, who I am sure they are trying to hold onto. Force India could well be an option should one of their drivers move on, but I don’t see why the consistent Hulkenberg or the improving Perez would move without good reason. It looks as if Vergne could well be off to the World Endurance Championship, quite possibly with the brand new Nissan team, along with fellow Red Bull rejects Sébastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley who drive for Toyota and Porsche respectively. If not that, he could replace his countryman Simon Pagenaud at the SPM team in IndyCar, who has joined Penske. Either way, a driver of Vergne’s calibre has been overlooked twice now when it comes to a Red Bull Racing seat, and is out of the job entirely for 2015 and that’s quite sad to see at the end of the day. You never know, he might be overlooked by the WEC and IndyCar teams too.

Motorsport, it’s a harsh world sometimes.

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