Last year, Daniil Kvyat was somewhat of an unknown to those who do not follow junior racing. The 2013 GP3 champion, still only 20 years old, is moving up from his victorious season with MW Arden to a championship chance with Red Bull at a speed often associated with Formula 1 itself.
The Toro Rosso driver is just months away from his first race with the Austrian drinks company and benefits this month from four-time champion Sebastian Vettel’s decision to leave the team that has moulded him for almost fifteen years. The line up of Daniel Ricciardo and young Russian, Kvyat, is a mouth-watering prospect with the former not far from producing career-peek performances.
Born in Ufa, Russia, Kvyat began karting aged eight and spent much of this time in Italy – a country synonymous with racing at the highest level. Success in junior categories would await Russia’s brightest young talent after victorious seasons in the 2012 Formula Renault 2.0 Alps and 2013 GP3 championships. While, ultimately, such accolades pale into insignificance once a driver is introduced to the higher echelons of the sport, wins at the start of a driver’s career often translate to F1. See Lewis Hamilton and Kvyat’s predecessor Vettel as recent examples.
2014 has been a strange year when taking into account all things Toro Rosso and Red Bull. Jean-Eric Vergne’s time affiliated with the programme has come to a close despite three mildly successful years with the sister team. Instead, they are favouring Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz Jr and their burgeoning potential.
After all, Kvyat’s 2014 statistics work in his favour this year for he joins a prestigious list of drivers to score Grand Prix points on their first attempt. At that same race, the 2014 Australian Grand Prix, he also became the youngest driver to make his mark on the championship standings, just shy of his 20th birthday.
A debut season says an awful lot of about a driver and their ability to cope with pressure. Indeed, during discussions with the media he often appears to be older than his tender years, a feat Red Bull has undoubtedly helped to instil and reward. Kvyat has not repeated Vettel’s Toro Rosso success – including a pairing of race win and pole at Monza in 2008 – but that cannot be expected; regulations have changed greatly since the German’s historic weekend.
The Red Bull Junior Programme is cut-throat in its approach to drivers; success and failure hover tentatively on a knife’s edge until a decision swings their futures to one side. Kvyat has survived the same system that has thrown Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi, and potentially Vergne, kicking and screaming from a seat at Toro Rosso.
Kvyat’s move to the bigger, more grown up, title winning team cannot be underestimated. The 2014 rookie is only the second driver of his nationality to race at the pinnacle. With Vitaly Petrov now firmly out of contention for a return, the youngster remains their only hope at championship glory in the foreseeable future. If Red Bull return to their winning ways, and they most certainly could, Ricciardo and Kvyat are well-placed to secure the fifth drivers’ and constructors’ title for the Austrian outfit.
Although he was in Italy throughout his early childhood, he remains a proud Russian and a keen representative of racing in their country. It is a sport on the rise in a highly-populated part of the world, gifting F1 with access to money and sponsorship potential after the first Grand Prix this weekend at Sochi.
Kvyat is an example of a driver enjoying a meteoric rise through the ranks – not that it will feel particularly quick for the life-long racer, of course. Red Bull has placed both pressure and trust on its latest recruit as they look to return to the top of the championship standings. Still only aged 20, he has over a decade to secure the title that is so far eluding his country. With a corner at Sochi already named in his honour, Kvyat will be Russia’s star for many more years to come.
Last week, ‘stoodonthepodium’ compared Sebastian Vettel to his team mates in a comprehensive statistical review. The German moves to Ferrari for the 2015 season on a multi-year contract.