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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.

It’s official: Laguna Seca to host INDYCAR for at least next 3 seasons

Laguna Seca, from the 1991 CART race there. Photo: Getty Images
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INDYCAR made it official today: the 2019 season-ending race will move a couple of hours down the Northern California coast to WeatherTechRaceway Laguna Seca.

Sonoma Raceway, which has hosted INDYCAR since 2005 – including the last five season-ending races (that includes this year’s upcoming season finale) – will not be part of next season’s schedule.

Earlier today, the Monterey County (Calif.) Board of Supervisors, which oversees operation of the iconic racing facility, approved a three-year agreement with INDYCAR to host next year’s season finale on Sept. 20-22, 2019.

The remaining two race dates for 2020 and 2021 will be announced later, according to an INDYCAR media release.

The 2.238-mile permanent road course previously hosted CART and Champ Car World Series Indy car races from 1983 through 2004, including the season-ending races from 1989 through 1996.

“I can’t imagine a more attractive destination location for INDYCAR’s season finale,” Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said in a statement. “Monterey is a place people want to be, and we will bring all of our guests. I think it’s a great choice for us.”

Bobby Rahal, former CART/CCWS driver and current INDYCAR team co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, won four of the prior 22 previous Indy car races at Laguna Seca, all consecutively (1984-87).

“It’s great news, but I might be biased,” Rahal said. “I personally won four Indy car races there and won my first Can-Am race there. Our Indy car team won with Bryan Herta and Max Papis and our sports car team won IMSA races there.

“So I would almost bet you that Laguna Seca is the site of more victories for me as a driver and team owner combined of any track I’ve ever raced on.

“There is nothing better than the Monterey Bay area, and it’s a great circuit that always drew great crowds. So I’m thrilled to have Indy car racing coming back to a circuit I love so much. We will put on a good show, for sure.”

In addition to Rahal as a multiple winner, two-time winners at Laguna Seca were fellow current INDYCAR team co-owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta, INDYCAR on NBCSN analyst Paul Tracy, Danny Sullivan and Patrick Carpentier.

“The return of INDYCAR to its spiritual road racing home of Laguna Seca is a tremendous honor and testament to the appeal of Monterey, and through the support of the County of Monterey will provide a significant economic benefit to our area businesses,” said Timothy McGrane, CEO of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, “We are looking forward to creating more memories in race fans’ minds like Bobby Rahal’s four consecutive Indy car wins from 1984-1987, Mario Andretti’s farewell race in 1994 and Alex Zanardi’s last-lap overtaking of Bryan Herta in the Corkscrew in 1996 that simply became known as ‘The Pass.'”

NBC Sports Group has secured exclusive domestic television and digital media rights for INDYCAR races beginning in 2019. Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, agreed that Laguna Seca is an ideal venue to close out the schedule.

“We commend INDYCAR for returning to Laguna Seca, a historic track and an inspired place for the 2019 season finale,” Miller said. “The 2019 season will be our first as the exclusive media rights partner of INDYCAR, and we could not be more pleased to broadcast the championship from beautiful Monterrey.”

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