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Damn, Daniil: Will Red Bull finally put Kvyat out of his misery?

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In a Formula 1 season filled with driver swaps and changes, 2017 offered up its latest twist when Toro Rosso confirmed on Monday it would enter this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix with its third different line-up in as many races, and fourth in the last five.

Having drafted in Porsche factory driver Brendon Hartley to replace Pierre Gasly in Austin last weekend due to the latter’s Super Formula commitments in Japan, Toro Rosso confirmed it would be fielding the 2017 Le Mans winner once again this Sunday for his second F1 start.

With Gasly returning, Daniil Kvyat finds himself on the sidelines for the second time this season – and, quite likely by the looks of it – the final time.

Kvyat’s fall over the past 18 months has been one of the hardest stories to watch in F1, with the Russian going from Red Bull’s top scorer to the sidelines, being dropped three times along the way through its B-team.

Ever since Max Verstappen burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced 17-year-old with Toro Rosso in 2015, Kvyat’s position looked at risk.

In truth, Kvyat’s F1 position has always seemed that way, as his appointments or demotions to seats have always come with an element of surprise.

He got the initial call at Toro Rosso over Antonio Felix da Costa going into 2014, which was not expected. Then, he got the promotion to Red Bull after Sebastian Vettel’s shock departure the end of that year, and after the team had reneged on a promise it’d made to Jean-Eric Vergne should it happen.

Alas, Kvyat did well to ease some of the pressure through 2015 with a solid year, taking one podium en route to finishing as Red Bull’s top scorer in a fraught season for the team as teammate Daniel Ricciardo suffered regular reliability issues.

Even so, the 2016 season begun with Verstappen already being talked about as a rival for his seat, leading to questions for Kvyat at the launch of Red Bull’s new car, the RB12, in London that February.

As would become his approach for much of the last 18 months, Kvyat brushed it off and said he wasn’t bothered by any pressure Verstappen may apply, seeming at ease in life at Red Bull’s top team.

February 2016 also saw the emergence of a viral internet meme, ‘Damn Daniel’ (or, more accurately, ‘daaaaaaamn Daniel!‘) featuring a school kid admiring his friend’s shoes, specifically white Vans. In the months that would follow, it would be Daniil who would be left saying “damn” as his Red Bull career fizzled out.

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 17: Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 17, 2016 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

An opportunistic podium in China after a bold first-lap move that earned him the nickname ‘The Torpedo’ appeared to breathe fresh life into Kvyat’s hopes at Red Bull, only for a disastrous home race at Russia to give the team the excuse it needed to swap seats with Verstappen at Toro Rosso.

The rest of 2016 proved tough for Kvyat mentally. He maintained the outer steel that the machismo nature of F1 apparently obligates, but the cracks were there below. It was good to see him refreshed after the summer break and deliver some good displays that would get him a reprieve with Toro Rosso for 2017, leaving Gasly waiting in Red Bull’s wings.

A lack of on-track success proved costly, though. A crash in Singapore saw Red Bull take action and replace Kvyat with Gasly after he’d scored just four points all season long. Teammate Carlos Sainz Jr., by comparison, had racked up 48 in the same period.

Toro Rosso stressed in announcing Gasly that Kvyat remained firmly a part of the Red Bull family, with the team announcing after Japan he would return for the rest of the season after Sainz’s early move to Renault.

Things changed when Gasly was taken out, Hartley came in and did a fair job, leading Red Bull to commit to fielding the pair in Mexico, with this announcement making no mention of Kvyat at all.

It is possible for Hartley to see out the season alongside Gasly without missing any WEC races for Porsche, although it would commit him to a brutal eight-weekend run of races, starting with Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta two weeks ago and finishing with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix via Fuji, Austin, Mexico City, Shanghai, Sao Paulo and Bahrain.

While no commitment has been made by Toro Rosso, such a call seems likely. Hartley looks set to wrap up the WEC title next weekend in Shanghai for Porsche, easing the late-season pressure. And as Toro Rosso has hit the season limit of four drivers already, Hartley and Kvyat must see out the year alongside Gasly.

If Red Bull truly does not have any plans for him in the future, it would be for the best that Kvyat does not return – for his own good more than anything.

Sportsmen rarely open up about the mental effect of defeat and disappointment, but they are human; they feel it. And Kvyat has felt it more than anyone in F1 of late. Three droppings must have sapped his confidence, particularly after delivering what he called a “perfect” display in Austin on Sunday despite limited track time and a month out. There was nothing more he could do.

Kvyat stressed in interviews in Austin he would talk to Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko to try and get some answers, wanting clarity more than anything. Why was he dropped after Singapore? Does he have a future? Apparently he has a long-term contract in place with Red Bull – will that be honored? And are both sides willing?

Kvyat needs to be given the chance to get on with his career. A GP3 and Formula Renault champion, he undoubtedly has talent, and could certainly find success in other series were he unable to find a spot in F1 given the lack of available seats. He just needs the chance to give it a go, be it Formula E, WEC, IndyCar – whatever takes his fancy.

The long-term contract in place with Red Bull is interesting. It could be that like Hartley or Sebastien Buemi, Kvyat remains a part of its wider motorsport family, just not in its F1 plans. Red Bull-backed drivers are always of interest to teams; someone with F1 pedigree even more so.

As for Toro Rosso? Hartley continuing points towards him being a contender for a 2018 seat, despite him appearing before to be nailed on for a ride with Chip Ganassi Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The absence of other Red Bull juniors vying for the seat aids his bid, but the team could yet explore other options outside the program’s umbrella to find a partner for Gasly.

AUSTIN, TX – OCTOBER 22: Brendon Hartley of Scuderia Toro Rosso and New Zealand during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

What Kvyat does next will be of interest to the entire F1 paddock. Nobody likes to see a driver go through prolonged struggles. To see him move on and enjoy success elsewhere after a tough couple of years would be a real good news story in the sport.

But his time here does seem up. Results do not lie. Under the old points system, Kvyat would never have scored a point during either of his stints with Toro Rosso.

And that’s not the ‘old old’ points system that only saw the top six score points – that’s the top eight being covered, as used from 2003 to 2009. Kvyat’s highest finish for Toro Rosso is P9.

And in F1’s most cut-throat driver program at Red Bull, that simply does not cut it.

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Fast Facts

Image courtesy Barber Motorsport Park
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Here’s what you need to know about this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama:

Race weekend: Friday, April 20 – Sunday, April 22

Track: Barber Motorsports Park, a 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course (clockwise) in Birmingham, Alabama

Race distance: 90 laps / 207 miles

Entry List:  Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (PDF)

Push-to-pass parameters: 200 seconds of total time with a maximum time of 20 seconds per activation.

Firestone tire allotment: Seven sets primary, four sets alternate

Twitter: @BarberMotorPark @IndyCar, #HIGPA, #IndyCar

Event website: www.barberracingevents.com

INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com

2017 race winner: Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet)

2017 Verizon P1 Award winner: Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet),1:06.9614, 123.653 mph

Qualifying lap record: Sebastien Bourdais, 1:06.6001, 124.324 mph, April 23, 2016 (Round 2 of knockout qualifying)

NBCSN qualifying telecast: Saturday, April 21 (4 p.m. ET, live)

NBCSN race telecast: Sunday, April 22 (3 p.m. ET, live)

Leigh Diffey will be the play-by-play announcer for NBCSN’s telecast of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller are the pit reporters.

Radio broadcasts: The Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network is led by chief announcer Mark Jaynes, with analyst Anders Krohn. Turn reporters are Jake Query and Nick Yeoman, with Rob Howden and Michael Young reporting from the pits.

All Verizon IndyCar Series races are broadcast live on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app. Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying is broadcast on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app and Verizon IndyCar Series practices are broadcast on  IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Video Streaming: All practice sessions will be available on RaceControl.IndyCar.com and on the INDYCAR YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/indycar)

At-track schedule (all times EASTERN):

Friday, April 20

12:15 p.m.-1 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (live)

3:50-4:50 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (live)

4:55-5:10 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series pit stop practice, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (live)

Saturday, April 21

11:50 a.m.-12:35 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (live)

4 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of Verizon IndyCar Series knockout qualifications), NBCSN (live)

Sunday, April 22

3 p.m. – Driver introductions

3 p.m. – NBCSN on air

3:35 p.m. – “Drivers, start your engines” command

3:42 p.m. – Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (90 laps/207 miles), NBCSN (live)

Race Notes:

* Alexander Rossi firmly established himself as a championship contender, claiming his first win of the season at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15. The 26-year-old Californian leads reigning series champion and defending Barber race winner Josef Newgarden by 22 points heading into this weekend’s race.

* The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will be the ninth Verizon IndyCar Series event conducted at Barber Motorsports Park. Helio Castroneves won the inaugural race in 2010.

* Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud are the entered drivers to have won at Barber Motorsports Park. Power won the race in 2011 and 2012, Hunter-Reay in 2013 and 2014, Newgarden in 2015 and 2017 and Pagenaud in 2016.

* Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud are the entered drivers to have won the pole position at Barber Motorsports Park. Pagenaud won the pole in 2016. Power claimed the pole position in 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2017 and Hunter-Reay won the pole in 2013.

* Three drivers have won the race from the pole – Will Power in 2011, Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2013 and Simon Pagenaud in 2016.

* Scott Dixon has finished on the podium in seven of his eight previous starts at Barber Motorsports Park – including five runner-up finishes – but he has yet to finish on the top step of the podium at the picturesque road circuit.

* Eight drivers have competed in every Indy car race at Barber Motorsports Park – Marco Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Will Power, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato. Castroneves is not entered this year.

* Team Penske has five wins at Barber Motorsports Park (2010, 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017). Andretti Autosport and Ed Carpenter Racing are the only other teams to win at the track. Andretti Autosport won in 2013 and 2014 with Ryan Hunter-Reay. Ed Carpenter Racing won with Josef Newgarden in 2015.

* Six Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders – Rene Binder, Zachary Claman De Melo, Jordan King, Matheus “Matt” Leist, Zach Veach and Robert Wickens – are entered this weekend. It is the most rookies entered for a Barber race since six rookies started in 2011.

*  Eighteen of the 24 drivers entered in the event have competed in Indy car races at Barber Motorsports Park. Ten entered drivers have led laps: Will Power 208, Ryan Hunter-Reay 93, Simon Pagenaud 87, Josef Newgarden 60, Scott Dixon 44, Graham Rahal 24, Charlie Kimball 14, Sebastien Bourdais 2, James Hinchcliffe 2 and Marco Andretti 1.

* Tony Kanaan seeks to start his 286th consecutive race this weekend, which would extend his Indy car record streak that began in June 2001 at Portland. Kanaan will attempt to make his 347th Indy car start, which ranks third on the all-time list.

* Scott Dixon has made 227 consecutive starts heading into the weekend, which is the second-longest streak in Indy car racing. Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti has made 203 consecutive starts, which is the fourth-longest streak in Indy car racing.

* Scott Dixon, the longest-tenured driver for Chip Ganassi Racing, is fourth on the all-time Indy car victory list with 41 wins. 2018 St. Petersburg race winner Sebastien Bourdais is sixth on the all-time list with 37 wins and Will Power ranks ninth on the all-time list with 32 wins.