It’s going to be hard for Daniil Kvyat to find a bright side in the wake of his demotion to Scuderia Toro Rosso – because let’s face it, that’s what it is.
And his antics in Sochi have thus provided the opportunity for Max Verstappen to replace him at Red Bull Racing.
But, even though he’s only 22 years old and now thrust into a second major transition in his two-plus year Formula 1 career, Kvyat has been given something most Red Bull junior drivers haven’t: a second chance.
Toro Rosso, nee Minardi, has been on the grid 10 years now since debuting in 2006.
In pop culture terms, Toro Rosso is basically the F1 equivalent of Erlich Bachman’s incubator if you watch the HBO series “Silicon Valley.”
At Toro Rosso, one of two things happen: you either move up to Red Bull, or you don’t, and you almost never return to F1 again.
And that’s where Kvyat has a rare chance as the first driver to get a race seat reprieve since Vitantonio Liuzzi, and, if his head can be right, a shot at motivation.
Let’s take a look first at Toro Rosso’s driver lineups to date, and their post-Toro Rosso careers:
- Scott Speed (2006-mid-2007); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; now, 2015 Red Bull GRC champion
- Vitantonio Liuzzi (2006-2007); 41 further F1 starts after Toro Rosso from 2009-2011 with Force India, HRT
- Sebastian Vettel (Mid-2007-2008); promoted to Red Bull; 4-time World Champion… things worked out fine
- Sebastien Bourdais (2008-mid-2009); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; back in IndyCar since 2011
- Jaime Alguersuari (Mid-2009-2011); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; some FIA Formula E, now retired
- Sebastien Buemi (2009-2011); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship World Champion with Toyota; also regular race winner in Formula E
- Daniel Ricciardo (2012-2013); promoted to Red Bull; 3-time Grand Prix winner
- Jean-Eric Vergne (2012-2014); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; Ferrari test driver and Formula E driver
- Daniil Kvyat (2014, mid-2016-present); promoted to Red Bull, now, sent back to Toro Rosso
- Max Verstappen (2015-mid-2016); promoted to Red Bull
- Carlos Sainz Jr. (2015-present); future TBD beyond Toro Rosso career
So there you have it: 11 drivers in Toro Rosso’s history, none lasting longer than three years, four promoted to Red Bull, and only one – Liuzzi, in 2009 – ever returning to the grid after their post-Toro Rosso career ended.
Note, I’m not including Christian Klien here – the Austrian graduated into F1 with Jaguar in 2004 before Red Bull launched in 2005 – he never drove for Toro Rosso. Liuzzi, additionally, drove a handful of Grands Prix for Red Bull in 2005 but was never in with a shout at returning once Red Bull kept Klien alongside David Coulthard for 2006.
And that’s before you get to the countless others who Red Bull had in their “incubator” at one point or another, but never had a sniff of F1.
That includes the likes of Antonio Felix da Costa, Robert Wickens, Brendon Hartley, Neel Jani, Filipe Albuquerque, Alex Lynn, Daniel Juncadella among others (a more exhaustive list is found here).
Toro Rosso differs from its predecessor in obvious reasons. Many of the 37 drivers in Minardi’s history used the venerable Italian team as a springboard to move higher up the grid – you got your start at Minardi, you went forward from there, and you remained grateful to Faenza for giving you that first chance.
Toro Rosso? It’s a case of go big, or go home. Red Bull makes no apologies for how cutthroat its way of finding talent is, but it is interesting to note that with such short lifespans, it doesn’t give its own talent enough time to find itself before tossing them out for whomever the next flavor of the month driver may be.
That’s evident when you look around the world and see the number of ex-Red Bull folk who’ve gone on to greater things and championships in other disciplines, notably in sports car racing.
Say in a hypothetical situation that Romain Grosjean was under the Red Bull umbrella for his formative years, when he struggled in a part-time fill-in role in 2009, then drew ire from Mark Webber in 2012 with Webber’s infamous “first-lap nutcase” branding of the Franco Swiss driver. What would have happened to Grosjean’s career had he been tossed aside after a year or at most, two?
This is the precipice at which Kvyat now stands. Lewis Hamilton made the comment after Sochi that he has 17 races left, and 17 races to give Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate Nico Rosberg hell.
The same is true for Kvyat, who while offered a rare shot to continue having been the first Toro Rosso graduate to fail at Red Bull, likely only has one season left to save his F1 career… which again, seems really weird to type considering he’s only 22 years old.
But if he thrives in the now-lesser expectations bestowed on him at Toro Rosso, there could be landing places for him in 2017. It’s up to him now to seize this second chance.