Lewis Hamilton stood in the pitlane talking to Martin Brundle taking it all in. He’d just completed a run of 6 races in 8 weeks and overturned a Championship deficit that at the Spanish Grand Prix was 43 points and now stood at 19 points in his favour.
After a pretty horrible home race for his team mate, Hamilton declared that he was now off to the beach where he intended to have a Pina Colada in his hand as soon as possible.
And why not? He’s earned his time in the sun.
Meanwhile further down the Paddock thoughts of a Pina Colada were about as distant from Daniil Kvyat’s mind as his podium in China back in April. Looking at his current demeanour you’d argue that his summer break is more Siberia than Ibiza. He started the season with all the hope and now he’s answering questions about his future, things have changed so dramatically that some time in Siberia might seem like an attractive proposition at the moment.
His head is down and his form is suffering with it, just 2 points scored since losing the Red Bull seat. Off the track, he’s far from the happy soul of Austin 2013 who we dragged aboard the Sky Sports F1 bus, just so we could establish whether he really was the Russian twin of Simon Lazenby! Seriously, separated at birth and by a few thousand miles!
At that stage the world was his lobster (technically that should be oyster but I always prefer their clawed crustacean cousins). Soon to be GP3 Champion, he’d spend the next season at Toro Rosso finishing 15th in the Championship but doing enough to earn a promotion to Red Bull the season after. Kvyat finished 7th in the Championship that year, helped by a 2nd place in Hungary, and finished ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.
With that in mind it’s hard not to feel sorry for Daniil at the moment. Even Sebastian Vettel, who struck the Russian off his Christmas card list after Sochi, might have some sympathy for his current situation. It’s true that Christian Horner’s arguments as to why Red Bull went for the seat swap with Verstappen by Spain, have proved the right move. But nonetheless, Kvyat’s form has nosedived ever since. Is that as a result of the decision to move him back to Toro Rosso? It appears too obvious to ignore.
And the fear now is that if Kvyat continues to struggle, he’ll be out, replaced by another young hopeful in the Red Bull stable and his Formula 1® career could be over. Which would be a huge shame, but a fairly obvious outcome for a junior development programme that supports drivers in the junior series. It accelerates their development and eventual arrival in F1®, but runs the risk of ending too many careers before they’ve been given a chance to really get going.
For every Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, there’s a Jaime Alguersuari, dropped at 21, Sebastian Buemi, who was 22 when he was replaced at Toro Rosso and thankfully for him, now a champion in WEC and Formula E. Scott Speed, Antonio Liuzzi and Jean Eric Vergne, all picked up, given a brief chance and then let go.
You could argue that F1® is no place for sentiment, that Red Bull are the only ones giving young drivers a proper pathway to the top. And that if a driver doesn’t meet the standards set, why should he be kept on out of loyalty or compassion? But you could also argue that to bring drivers into F1® at such a young age, runs the risk of seriously damaging their careers way too soon.
In the case of Kvyat, there’s a real argument for me that he was promoted from Toro Rosso to Red Bull too soon. An immediate replacement for Sebastian Vettel when he decided he was off to Ferrari, sending out a signal that no one driver was irreplaceable. Red Bull have the luxury of picking a replacement from the subs bench if you like, but if you’re then going to sub the sub a year and a half later, don’t you want to tell him that it’s ok and that he’ll still be around beyond the end of the season. That way, Kvyat won’t spend the rest of the campaign fretting over his future.
Paddock rumour has it that the Russian is to be replaced by Pierre Gasly for next season, Gasly has been doing very well of late in GP2, 2nd, but level on points with Sergey Sirotkin, in the Championship after two wins in three race weekends. He would be leading had he not been disqualified in unfortunate circumstances in Germany.
I don’t know if the rumours are true, but I do know that Kvyat is mightily unhappy about them, if you’ve seen his interview with Austrian TV, you’ll know what I mean. Speaking to Rachel Brookes after qualifying at Hockenheim he admitted that he drove badly and then in answer to a question about his radio message at the end of Q1 where he said he didn’t know what was going on, intimated that it was aimed at the team and his current situation re the rumours of his future.
If that’s the case and he’s not getting the reassurance he’s looking for, nor being told straight by those in charge that he needs to find another drive for next year, that’s hugely unsettling and counterproductive. We see Kvyat making mistakes, racing below the standard he’s shown in the past or the standard his team mate is showing at the moment, but it’s understandable that he’s not performing to his best when his confidence is at an all-time low.
A former England football manager once told me that even at the top level, some players needed a cuddle from time to time, just so that they realised they were good enough to go out on the field and do the job expected of them. It’s not an approach that appears to be used in the Red Bull junior development programme, but maybe an arm round the shoulder from Helmut Marko and some words of encouragement and compassion, might just see a different Daniil return from the summer break.
He may have got that cuddle already, but I doubt it, and I fear that if he doesn’t start to feel some love and support, he could end up a broken man by the end of the season, if he isn’t one already.