Promoted, demoted, fired, hired, fired again – Daniil Kvyat has had a rollercoaster Formula 1 career that has yielded several podiums, over 100 races and a handful of P45s. But what now for the 26-year-old Russian?
For the second time in the space of four years Daniil Kvyat finds himself on the lookout for employment after losing his seat at Red Bull’s sister team.
The Russian has been replaced by Honda-backed Yuki Tsunoda, who has spiralled up the single-seater pecking order and into the seat alongside Pierre Gasly.
Kvyat’s career has often, but not always, been marred by being at the wrong place at the wrong time. He prematurely joined Red Bull during its least competitive spell over the last decade, and was ousted at the senior team to make way for Max Verstappen, to protect the then 18-year-old’s future at the energy-drink backed team.
The misfiring Kvyat was shuffled off the F1 grid at the end of 2017, parting ways with Red Bull, forcing him to re-evaluate his options to keep his motorsport career alive.
In came Ferrari, who swooped up Kvyat and placed him in a development role, allowing him to keep his connections to F1 and ensure teams up and down the grid didn’t lose sight of him.
“I felt I had a lot of unfinished business in Formula 1,” Kvyat said earlier this year, referring to his first year on the sidelines. “There were talks in different areas, but I always wanted [to drive] in Formula 1. I was considering stopping completely if I didn’t get a Formula 1 deal again.
“I tested that year’s [Ferrari] car once in Fiorano, and that was very emotional for me, because, first of all, it’s a Ferrari, Fiorano and a current car – it was really cool.
“I [hadn’t] driven anything for six months or something. I was enjoying it so much, and that day I understood I want to come back at any cost to Formula 1: ‘This is what I want to do, what I’m best at’.”
Retaining that presence in the paddock is an underrated factor in finding the way back onto the F1 grid – in recent years many drivers, such as Nico Hulkenberg, Esteban Ocon, Adrian Sutil and now Fernando Alonso, have taken that path. Kvyat’s role in the simulator in 2018, alongside Antonio Giovinazzi, was very well received at Maranello.
It worked for Kvyat and this time fortune was on his side. In 2019, when Red Bull realised it was lacking viable juniors to promote to its junior Toro Rosso team, it dropped a line to Kvyat, offering him a return to the grid.
Nonetheless it soon became clear that Kvyat was unlikely to secure a Red Bull return. Despite a podium finish at the 2019 German Grand Prix, which was the team’s first since Sebastian Vettel’s 2008 victory at Monza, Alexander Albon was trialled at the senior team when Pierre Gasly was deemed surplus to requirements.
Kvyat entered year two in stint three with AlphaTauri/Toro Rosso already with one eye on the next batch of juniors rising through the ranks. When Tsunoda began to impress in F2, Kvyat’s position at the team came under increasing threat, and Wednesday’s announcement was confirmation of a deal that had been expected for a couple of months.
Kvyat quickly accepted his fate and seemingly made peace with the fact he wouldn’t be on the grid next year, switching his immediate focus to 2022, when he believes his experience of 112 races – 89 of which were with Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri – will be a big benefit to a team as F1 tackles a new era composed by a technical regulation overhaul.
“I think, ideally 2022 would be the logical year to come back,” he said. “Because there are new regulations, the team needs experience and I can assure you that actually experience is quite important, especially when new regulations come into place and, of course, I would be looking to come back, because I have a lot to give to the sport.
“If it has to happen that it’s my last season in F1, then you look on it from a bright side. You know, that it’s been – what is it, 110 or something races, a few podiums and other strong races – of course, it’s not bad.
“But of course, I always wanted to have a proper fight for the world championship as a driver. And this is why I will always have more hunger, you know. Regardless, I will always try to come back and have another shot. And as my career shows you can always have a shot again, if you’re in the right place at the right time.”
Whether Kvyat will be in that ‘right place at the right time’ or not next year is a dilemma that only time can answer. A return to AlphaTauri for the third time seems unlikely, especially if Juri Vips, now equipped with a Super Licence and a full-time F2 drive next season, enjoys a positive campaign. AlphaTauri, despite Red Bull’s insistence that it is now a sister team rather than a junior squad, remains a test bed to unearth potential world champions.
Could Kvyat slip back to Ferrari and take on a development role there, attempting to mirror the scenario that brought about his original return in 2019? It is not inconceivable, but with Callum Ilott now signed up as the team’s Test Driver, and a host of youngsters squabbling for spots, Kvyat would be an outlier.
Other teams may have vacancies, as simulators play an increasing role, with several drivers who lost their F1 seats employed by teams. Mercedes has Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Gutierrez, Pascal Wehrlein and Brendon Hartley replaced Kvyat and Giovinazzi at Ferrari, while Red Bull has kept Sebastien Buemi on its books for almost a decade. However none have ever got near a full-time return nor have started a grand prix since losing their seats.
Kvyat will no doubt work closely with well-connected manager Nicolas Todt to salvage the best deal for him going forward. But it’s abundantly clear that his goal is to stick around in F1 and not settle for anything less – a stark contrast to IMSA-bound Kevin Magnussen, who has accepted a return to F1 is not likely going forward. Given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and the fact three drivers had unexpected 2020 race chances, remaining on standby as a reserve is far from a terrible choice.
Considering it all, a return to the grid for a third time appears to be improbable, given the years he’s already had and the upcoming talent looking to make their names in the sport.
But as he’s already shown, very little of Kvyat’s F1 career up to this point can be considered ordinary…