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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.

Newgarden tries to regain control of IndyCar championship race at Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa – There are just six races left in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has a hard-charging Alexander Rossi closing in on his gearbox. Newgarden’s lead is down to just three points after last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Newgarden has been the leader in the standings after every race this season, with the exception of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, when he trailed Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden by one point.

Is Newgarden worried entering Saturday night’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway?

“I’m confident we have good cars,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com. “You can have bad weekends here and there. I think we can have a good result the rest of the year. But there are a lot of guys still in it. Rossi is the guy who is the closest, but you can’t count out Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon or Will Power. It’s going to be a fight until the end for this championship.

“We briefly lost the points lead after the Indy 500. Simon and I were one point apart. We’ve had better consistency this year. That is what is going to pay off at the end. We’ve been consistent up to this point and we have to continue it to the end.

“Look at all of these championship runs, most of the times it goes to the most consistent driver. You have to have clean finishes for every run. If you don’t, it’s pretty tough to make up the deficit.”

Newgarden has had a remarkably consistent season with three wins, six podiums (top three) and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

Rossi has nearly matched him with two wins, six podiums and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

These two drivers are nearly in a dead heat, so as the championship leader, can Newgarden force his fiercest foes into making mistakes?

“I’m a little bit boring,” Newgarden said. “I do the same thing every time. It puts more pressure on guys like Scott Dixon, who has to win races to catch up. They are going to be more aggressive. Our program is boring and that is trying to maximize each race individually. That is what we have to do.

“I don’t know if it is that different than being in a fight with Will Power or Simon Pagenaud or Scott Dixon. They have different tendencies. Alex is the more aggressive of those other drivers. It’s fun going up against all of them. Alex is really good. He has a certain style you have to play against. If it was Scott, it would be just as exciting, but it would be a different game.

“Alex brings a more aggressive side to the conversation.”

That aggressive fight continues to the .875-mile short oval at Iowa Speedway, site of Saturday night’s Iowa 300.

It’s one of Newgarden’s better tracks. He set an IndyCar Series record for leading the most laps in a single race when he was in front for 282 laps in his 2016 Iowa win with Ed Carpenter Racing. That was preceded by two straight second place finishes at Iowa in 2014 and 2014.

Since joining Team Penske in 2017, Newgarden finished sixth that season and fourth in 2018 in a race where he led 211 laps.

“We were pretty good there last year,” Newgarden admitted. “We qualified well, but we were a little shy of what we needed last year. The race didn’t pan out the way we needed it to. Our strategy wasn’t perfect there. But those are things we can clean up. We have a really capable group. I think we’ll have a good car there, again. I feel good about it. We’ve had good cars there in the past, we were just a tick off. I think we will be better there this year.

“We should be fine.”

Short oval racing is a unique form that adds diversity to the schedule as drivers have to get on an off the accelerator and on and off the brake, all while dealing with traffic throughout the 300-lap contest.

It’s that type of close quarter racing that real racers love.

“Iowa, for sure is a racer’s track,” Newgarden said. “It’s very bumpy, with a lot of character. It’s one of my favorite short ovals that we go to. I love that place. A lot of the tracks we go to are racer’s race tracks. There aren’t a lot of bad ones of the schedule. There are tracks with diverse challenges and you like that. Going from Toronto to Iowa to Mid-Ohio, they are all different tracks that require different setups, different driving styles.

“It’s like the championship is a driver’s championship. That is what it demands.”

An NTT IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway is a special experience because it’s played out in front of grass-roots racing fans. These are the fans that following auto racing on a regular basis, many of which are regulars for sprint car racing down the road at Knoxville Speedway in Knoxville, Iowa.

“They are all different race fans,” Newgarden said. “Toronto has a bustling city vibe. Iowa is a bunch of farmers. Really nice people who are salt of the earth farmers who come out and enjoy racing. Mid-Ohio is a hybrid. It’s very much a Midwest race but different from Iowa.

“You get these different pockets of different fans, different people, different racers but they all like IndyCar racing and that’s pretty cool.”