It was a very tough weekend for Russia’s local hero Daniil Kvyat at his home Grand Prix. A first-lap incident with Sebastian Vettel – his second in two races, has put some serious pressure on the young Russian. Despite a podium at the Chinese Grand Prix, his lack of strong performances this year has resulted in him coming under fire from the hard-to-impress Helmut Marko. But after the Kvyat crashes at Sochi, Red Bull should support their young driver, rather than slam and threaten him with the chop.
The opening-lap at the Russian Grand Prix was eventful: Esteban Gutierrez caused Rio Haryanto to get airborne, and in turn ruined the race of the Indonesian and that of Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India. On the same lap, Kvyat braked too late heading into the second turn, which (in lieu with Sergio Perez suffering the effects of a puncture just up the road) caused Vettel to take the frighteningly quick turn 3 somewhat more cautiously than usual, and Kvyat simply had a brain fade and wiped the Ferrari driver out.
The penalty awarded to Kvyat was a ten second stop-and-go penalty – the harshest of all sporting penalties within F1 bar the disqualification black flag, and he was given three points on his superlicence. On the day, the penalty on the day was sufficient for the crime, in the same way that no action was taken over the incident at China, which was a racing incident where Vettel, Kvyat and Raikkonen could have all avoided causing the melee there.
There were calls on social media for Kvyat to have been black-flagged from the race, or the extreme comments saying that he should be thrown out of F1 altogether for what he did, however that would certainly be too harsh especially given how he has not triggered this sort of mess before during his time at Red Bull or at Toro Rosso. Perhaps part of the issue is that Kvyat is under severe pressure to perform.
Kvyat entered F1 at just 19 on the back of a GP3 title, impressing against Jean-Eric Vergne. By the time he was 20, he was already with Red Bull’s senior team alongside Daniel Ricciardo, who was coming off the back of a truly exceptional 2014 campaign. However despite a non-start at Melbourne and an engine failure at Shanghai at the start of the 2015 season, he was already being given the hurry-up from Helmut Marko, who sees over Red Bull’s junior drivers.
By the end of the season, Kvyat had scored strongly in an unreliable car, equalled Ricciardo’s best result of the season with second and was unfortunate not to secure a second podium at Mexico that year. He finished the year with more points than Ricciardo, although it is worth noting that Ricciardo often had the edge over his team mate, but it was closer than it was at the same team when Vettel was there in 2014. He was given another season at Red Bull for 2016.
The ludicrous qualifying system caught Kvyat off-guard on both occasions in the first two races of 2016, and once again the rumours that he was to be axed for the incredibly young Max Verstappen arose, despite Kvyat securing his second podium at China after Ricciardo ruined the tyres through overdriving.
What happened at Russia was absolutely Kvyat’s fault, but now is not the time for Red Bull to start threatening him with unemployment. We only need to rewind back to 2010 when Vettel was being dubbed the ‘Crash Kid’ to see this. Vettel wiped several drivers out at the Belgian Grand Prix that year, including Jenson Button, provoking the reaction from Martin Whitmarsh. That, with the Vettel-Mark Webber collision at Turkey in mind as well saw Vettel gain a reputation he seemed to drop over time. After that race, Vettel would go on to secure three wins, a second and a fourth (and a DNF whilst leading) to snatch his first world title from Webber and Fernando Alonso.
However the situation is different this time: there is another former Red Bull junior in the other side of the garage on this occasion, and it is painstakingly obvious that Marko is aiming to get young Verstappen in that second Red Bull as swiftly as possible. Vettel had Webber in the other side of the garage (the latter not getting on with Marko very well at all) and very little pressure from either Jaime Alguersuari or Sebastien Buemi (who have had contrasting post-F1 careers after their simultaneous axe after the 2011 season).
However if Red Bull could support Kvyat in the way that they did with Vettel, or in the sort of manner McLaren did with both future World Champions Jody Scheckter and Mika Hakkinen and Lotus did with Romain Grosjean, then Red Bull would not need to rush Verstappen (whom it is still questionable as to whether he would crack under such pressure too) into the car whilst he is still far from the finished product.
Kvyat may be massively under pressure to perform. He may be getting a reputation as the new “First Lap Nutcase”. He may be not performing to Daniel Ricciardo’s standards right now. But for all the backing Red Bull has given Kvyat in the past en route to his current position within one of F1’s top teams, they should back their driver now more than ever so he can fulfil his potential, as opposed to potentially leaving him out of F1 at the grand old age of 22.