Max Verstappen is one of the most refreshing young talents Formula 1 has seen in years. The 18-year-old driver has made exceeding use of what Toro Rosso’s cars have had to offer, and his radio communications would take even Kimi Raikkonen aback. In theory, coming through the Toro Rosso team is a farming intention by Red Bull Racing to bring you up into their primary team. With popularity and ability in his favour, Verstappen was certain to be in the team’s top ride in the future. However, he’s not the first driver to be in this position with Red Bull/Toro Rosso, and he will not be the last. In fact the last driver to be in such a position was Daniil Kvyat, the very driver whom Verstappen will be replacing at Red Bull. This leaves fans wondering about the effectiveness of the Toro Rosso system and the intentions of the Red Bull race team with their young drivers. In this instance, Red Bull is being incredibly hasty in their swap between Daniil Kvyat and Max Verstappen.
In 2016, Red Bull has been consistently one of the strongest and likeliest competitors to knock Mercedes, namely Nico Rosberg, off of the top of the podium. The only other team that has come as close has been Ferrari, with former Red Bull driver and champion Sebastian Vettel. Kvyat has been the closest at Red Bull to dethroning Mercedes, with a 3rd place podium finish at the Chinese Grand Prix, with teammate Daniel Ricciardo coming up 4th. That podium was one position behind Vettel, who he would go on to wreck on the first lap of the Russian Grand Prix in the incident that would spark the swap with Verstappen. How quickly Red Bull has gone from celebrating a podium to releasing a driver from his seat. Honda McLaren driver Jenson Button seemed to feel something was odd in this decision, tweeting: “Really? one bad race and Kyvat’s dropped, what about the podium in the previous race?
#Shortmemories”. Short memories indeed, especially with the podium considered.
This is not to say that Verstappen does not deserve a top ride, the young driver has put up impressive performances in lesser equipment. Kvyat, however, also is deserving of a top ride regardless of a costly mistake. Journalist Will Buxton cited the names of Alugersuari, Bourdais, and others as drivers who were not “given the time to develop, mature and become the complete racers who might have achieved so much” by Red Bull. This is continuing with Kvyat, who is only 22 years old. Having Verstappen coming up at 18 with his hot-headed attitude may prove to be troublesome if they are looking to avoid incidents, especially with the comparatively cool and composed Ricciardo leading the team. This just puts Red Bull back into their cycle of running drivers out of the sport. Top Formula 1 seats are hard to land, and there are many drivers who are willing and able to fill those seats. However, the sport is unforgiving and constantly pushing forward, and teams like Red Bull do not wait to let their drivers catch up. They want results, and they want them now. Who could forget the departure of Red Bull driver Mark Webber to WEC after years of frustration racing under the dominance of Sebastian Vettel. In that case, Webber left the sport entirely. In this case, Red Bull has assured that Kvyat will still be around, although they have expressed that he most likely will not be returning to the team in 2016.
Red Bull Racing is far from the only team guilty of shunting young talent such as Kvyat. Even as recent as 2015, Honda McLaren took away Kevin Magnussen’s seat and handed it to Fernando Alonso. This incident was different in that McLaren had just taken on the Honda engines and was looking to have veteran drivers take on what would essentially be a building project for the team. Still, this instance left the young and very talented Magnussen without a seat despite a strong rookie season that even saw a 2nd place finish in his debut at the Australian Grand Prix. Before Magnussen, it was Sergio Perez who was seemingly on the rise; leaving Sauber to replace Lewis Hamilton at McLaren and hopefully show off his true potential in a top-tier ride. Unfortunately, that year was the beginning of McLaren’s struggles and saw Perez return more or less to where he had started with Force India. Magnussen and Perez both share that they were left on the outside looking in thanks to McLaren, but also seem to have found a comfortable home with their lower tier teams. Perez has found considerable success and respect at Force India while Magnussen has put up some unlikely strong performances, including a 17th to 7th drive in Russia, with the new Renault team. Despite some obvious struggles, Magnussen has found stability with Renault, stating: “We knew it was going to be a tough start to the season, and it has been… We just have to look forward to the stuff that is coming later on in the season, and also next year and the year after”. Kvat does not have this luxury in moving back down to Toro Rosso, as any success that the team has will ultimately be poached and taken by Red Bull to benefit their top team over their farming system. So while Perez and Magnussen have the potential to breathe new life into their careers, Kvyat is just falling further down a rope that could drop him out of the sport like so many Toro Rosso drivers before him.
Only time will tell how this Daniil Kvyat and Max Verstappen swap plays out. Undoubtedly, they are two very talented drivers who have yet to show their true potential. They are young, and the system that they are driving in demands great maturity. Unfortunately, the Toro Rosso – Red Bull Racing system does not seem to be patient enough to allow their drivers to achieve this maturity before deciding on their future in the sport. The eyes of the racing world are on these two now, with pressure on Verstappen to perform at the top level at the age of 18, and pressure on Kvyat to impress once again on a lower tier team for a ride that has already been taken from him once. The difference is that Kvyat has already been chewed up and spit out by this system, whereas Verstappen’s journey with Red Bull is just beginning.
BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN – APRIL 19: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Scuderia Toro Rosso is followed by Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit on April 19, 2015 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)