This morning Red Bull Racing finally dropped the news many within the F1 paddock had been predicted over the past few weeks. The decision to swap Max Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat at this moment seems a strange one, especially at this early stage of this season.
Four races into the 2016 season and the career of Kvyat has taken a significant turn, after only just over a season with the main Red Bull Racing team. Many have lamented the fact that Kvyat secured a podium only two races ago in China, yet after a poor Russian Grand Prix last weekend he is being replaced for the rest of the season by Max Verstappen.
Ever since his incredible debut year in cars, where he challenged for the highly competitive FIA European F3 title, Verstappen has carried the tag of a future F1 world champion. He made headlines for being the youngest ever driver to enter F1 at age 17, after a single year racing cars.
He has been in demand since he started his career, with both AMG Mercedes and Red Bull competing to sign him in his debut F3 season in 2014. He has so far impressed in his short F1 career with Scuderia Toro Rosso, and will now have a great opportunity to compete against Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo, arguably the best of the current crop of younger drivers some may say.
For Daniil Kvyat this must be the hardest point of his career so far, as he finds himself demoted to the junior Toro Rosso team, and it will be very hard for him to reclaim his Red Bull seat now. He knows the Toro Rosso team well from his previous stint there in his rookie F1 season in 2014.
Verstappen in action for Toro Rosso during pre-season. He will return to Barcelona next weekend having swapped his Toro Rosso for a Red Bull. Photo copyright XPB Images.
Much like Verstappen he impressed that year and earned a promotion to the main Red Bull Racing team after quadruple world champion Sebastien Vettel left for Ferrari. At age 22 being so publicly demoted must be very difficult to deal with, and will surely be something that lingers in his mind for a long time.
He will now have to seriously impress starting with next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, if he wants a return to the Red Bull team. At this moment it’s difficult not to think of previous Red Bull young drivers who were discarded such as Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi and Jean Eric Vergne and wonder if this is their plan for Kvyat too.
From the early news surrounding this story it appears this move has been discussed for the past few weeks even longer perhaps, suggesting this is not a decision the Red Bull management have taken lightly. Only two races ago team principal Christian Horner was publicly supportive of Kvyat and his podium place, however it seems a lot can change very quickly in Formula One. Some have suggested that Red Bull motorsport programme chief Helmut Marko has been looking for an opportunity to promote Verstappen this season, and Kvyat gave him the perfect chance after his poor Russian GP.
It may seem harsh to demote a driver after only one poor race, but clearly for Red Bull management they have had concerns on Kvyat in terms of long term potential. This move would appear to be thinking towards the future, as they would appear to feel Verstappen is the better, longer term option for the team.
Daniil Kvyat celebrating his podium in the Chinese GP. How quickly things can change in F1 as two races later he finds himself demoted to the junior Toro Rosso team. Photo copyright Motorsport.com
For now the future is unclear for Kvyat. He remains in F1 and is a very talented driver, but he will likely not be given too long with the Toro Rosso team. The team is primarily a junior Red Bull team, therefore their drivers are usually not given a lot of time before they are either promoted to dropped from the team. With the likes of Pierre Gasly waiting in the wings, the future of Daniil Kvyat may not feature F1 in three-five years time.
The future is also unclear for Verstappen. Whilst his career trajectory continues to skyrocket, we must remember he is still only 18 years old, and now finds himself in the media spotlight and competing at the front of the Formula One grid. He finds himself in a car that is capable of podiums, although the team finds itself behind both AMG Mercedes and Ferrari in the overall pecking order.
His team mate Ricciardo is in top form and is one of the best drivers in F1 right now, providing a stern test for Verstappen. He will receive plenty of advice and support, and he will need to learn from the mistakes of his father Jos Verstappen. He was promoted to F1 in 1994 at a young age, and found himself unable to meet expectation as he carved out an average F1 career.
Red Bull have now put a lot of expectation and pressure on the shoulders of Max Verstappen, but will be able to cope with it and still upstage his team mate. If he can do this, then he will have lived up to his hype as a future world champion. Only time will tell whether he can produce results whilst under major attention and scrutiny.