Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Daniil Kvyat

Within the Formula 1 paddock, 2014 is going to look substantially different to how it does today. The regulations have had one of the largest changes from year to year in the history of the sport, and Mark Webber's move away from the Red Bull Racing team to Le Mans has prompted many changes in driver lineups also. Daniel Ricciardo's promotion to Webber's vacant seat left at least one space at the Toro Rosso team, and it was believed that seat would be taken by Antonio Felix Da Costa, the most senior of the Red Bull development drivers. The news instead broke that relatively unknown driver (though still part of the Red Bull development program) Daniil Kvyat has instead landed the promotion.

The anouncement was a couple of weeks back now, with the comments boards already moving onto other news. Daniil Kvyat has gone on to win the 2013 GP3 championship in Abu Dhabi, Red Bull have anounced that Antonio Felix Da Costa will remain a development driver for the team, and Jenson Button has stated his belief that Kvyat will regret taking the seat. It is true that he is coming from a relatively inexperienced background, but he has been selected by Toro Rosso based on his performance and feedback during the young driver test earlier this season. He obviously has the talent required to drive the car and by making his debut at 19 years and 324 days he will be the joint 6th youngest career start in Formula 1. Toro Rosso should be congratulated for selecting a driver for those qualities rather than just the financial backing they bring, and that will certainly be true if he impresses like former Red Bull development program graduates.

Seeing Toro Rosso sign a driver to Formula 1 who had not competed at the GP2 / Formula Renault 3.5 level, I looked back at the previous drivers to do this and see how they fared with the seemingly large performance gap. There are in fact already 3 drivers on the current grid who did exactly that, and the first of which only joined it this year. Valtteri Bottas graduated to a full race drive this season after spending last year concentrating solely on his test driver role within the Williams Formula 1 team. He had a busy year in 2011 before this, as he won the GP3 championship, competed in 4 Formula 3 races (including the headline Macau Grand Prix) and a number of Friday practice outings as the then new test driver within the AT&T Williams team. So far in his debut season, Williams have struggled to make an impact on either championship and are the next cars ahead of the Marussia / Caterham fight at the tail end of the field. He has only had 1 retirement this year to Pastor Maldonado's 3, and comparing the other races, Valtteri Bottas has finished ahead on 4 occasions and behind Pastor at 9 Grand Prix. Williams have only scored a single point this year, which was also by Pastor Maldonado at the Hungarian Grand Prix where Bottas had his retirement. It would be difficult to judge Bottas on this year alone, and Frank Williams is known to be keen on the young Finnish driver. It looks increasingly likely that Bottas will remain with the team in 2014, and may be partnered by Felipe Massa, a difficult challenge for Bottas.

For the other 2 drivers, we go back over 10 years to their debut Grand Prix. In 2001, Peter Sauber caused a stir by testing and subsequently hiring a driver with only 23 career races to his name. The talent was undeniable though - of those 23 races, Kimi Raikkonen had won 13 of them (a win rate of 56.5%) Despite the concerns shown by others and the pressure placed on his debut with the Sauber team, Raikkonen managed to score a Formula 1 World Championship point in his 24th ever race and is still racing at the very top level. The other "inexperienced" driver prior to joining the current grid, was none other than Jenson Button himself having graduated straight from Formula 3 following a successful shoot-out test between himself and Formula 3000 driver Bruno Junqueira (who went on to win the Formula 3000 championship that year). At this time before Formula Renault 3.5 and GP2, Formula 3000 was the last stop gap for drivers before Formula 1. Kvyat getting the Toro Rosso seat ahead of Antonio Felix Da Costa is reminiscent of Button beating Junqueira to the Williams drive back in 2000, and so for 2009 Formula World Champion Jenson Button to be claiming that he would regret the decision is quite a shock itself. Time will of course reveal more of the plot, but with a pair of Formula 1 World Champions having skipped Formula 3000 in their day, there is no reason that a champion of tomorrow could skip both GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5, if they live up to the hype.