By Hillary Chinyere
Harare, 11 May 2016
Vettel and Kvyat on the Chinese GP podium, after clashing earlier during the race.
Last Sunday, during the 2016 Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom, the youthful Russian supposedly miscalculated his braking point as the cars were approaching the tight right handed Turn One and he tapped Sebastian Vettel into Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull. As Vettel was trying to figure out what had happened to his car, Kvyat hit him again (harder this time) from the rear, sending him into the tyre barriers and out of the race. This led to widespread condemnation of Daniil from F1 fans, with some already drawing parallels with Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, famed for his abilities to crash into other drivers (Kvyat will cause even more chaos at TR being a mid-pack torpedo!).
The Putin Curse
The fans’ sentiments also remind me that the Russian has never been ‘loved’ since his entrance into F1. What has he done to be so hated in the F1 world? He is only 22 years old, in his third season and he outscored his teammate Ricciardo at the end of the 2015 season. We may argue that it doesn’t count for much but he was also on the podium at the previous race, Chinese Grand Prix! He made a ‘mistake’ at Sochi, but hey who hasn’t? There could be something else, maybe he isn’t a hard worker or doesn’t give useful feedback to the garage, but I doubt that you can be at a top team and not excel in those areas. Maybe he slept with someone else’s wife? I could be stretching it but I think it is because he is Russian. I saw lots of socialist digs at Pastor Maldonado and it’s hard not to relate it to Daniil’s case. Maldonado is now a closed chapter in Formula 1, do fans now have a new heel who tickles their moral indignation? Are people just stuck in their ways?
There seems to be a general lack of enthusiasm for things Russian, particularly in the West. One may argue depending on their political affiliation, that Russia has not in recent times necessarily endeared herself to so many outside the (and within) country. Interestingly, the same argument could be applied to some countries in the West. I am of the opinion that the harsh realities of the dichotomy in the political landscape between East and West, has perhaps crept into the psyche of so many in the West and a few in the East and that is why someone as harmless as Kvyat gets far more flak for someone who isn’t even in the spot light and possibly viewed without as much endearment as many from different places on the F1 grid.
Questionable Entry Into F1
Many expected Carlos Sainz to be promoted to Red Bull ahead of Kvyat when the exit of Sebastian Vettel created an unexpected vacancy last year, supposedly because of Russian financial backing. If that is true, then Daniil is a pseudo-paying driver and that is something that is looked down upon in as far as the driver’s image is concerned, when it comes to his perceived talent.
Paying drivers have never been liked in F1. Think Pastor Maldonado, Max Chilton, Pedro Diniz, Vitaly Petrov, to name a few. It is not their apparent inferior talents that make pay drivers receive less love but the fact that they get seats ahead of arguably better drivers, in most cases ending the careers of the latter. A recent example is Japanese Kamui Kobayashi who was dropped for lack of sponsorship. However, some F1 legends had to start their careers as pay drivers, the most notable being Juan Manuel fangio. The Argentine, a five-time world champion in the 1950s, would probably never have made it to Europe without the backing of the government of Juan Peron.
Red Bull’s PR Faux Pas
Dropping Kvyat less than halfway into a championship over a racing incident proved to be a massive PR disaster for Red Bull. Their actions including but not limited to their indifference to fans’ reaction to their constant slaying of Renault in the past, makes me wonder if the team indeed get a kick from being the dark lord. While I’m indifferent to the team, a lot of fans will percecute them for dropping Kvyat mid-season, and majority of them may not even be Kvyat’s fans, as I said above. In contrast, Haas’ team principal Guenther Steiner publicly defended his driver Esteban Gutierrez after his Lap 1 clash with Nico Hulkenburg in the same race.
Even if Gutierrez had a race-ending crash, his team stood by his side.
On the Verstappen issue, I honestly don’t understand the rush to move to a senior team. Front row seats in F1 are brutal and there is a lot at stake for those teams. Either you perform or you are out. So, either Max throws caution to the wind (by choosing not to spend 1 or two more years in the mid-field to hone his craft) choosing to rush toward a front seat at an age less than 20 or he prepares himself for a brief F1 career if things don’t go as planned. And that happens quite a lot in F1. I admire Max’s talent, and him having a short career will be quite unfortunate to everyone including those who looked forward to a more mature racer whose talents would have brought more excitement to the sport in the near future.
Some More Conspiracy Theories
I got told late last year that Helmut Marko wanted Max Verstappen in the second Red Bull seat for this current season & that ever since he got overruled on it he’s been looking for any outside reason to drop Danii Kvyat to get Verstappen in the car.
It became apparent fairly recently that Helmut Marko is still really close to Vettel and despite Kvyat’s podium in China he still laid into him and sided with Vettel on the Sochi incident and still talks about Vettel as been part of the family, with whom it is said to be just as unacceptable to have contact with as his Red Bull or Toro Rosso peers. So Vettel’s words with Christian Horner after the incident would have carried more weight than we had initially thought.
At Least Kvyat Isn’t One of Red Bull’s Rejected Drivers (Yet!)
I still rate Kvyat as at least a podium-quality driver and would love it if, after being released by Scuderia Toro Rosso, he replaces Felipe Massa at Williams for the 2017 season. Daniil has a good 17 races to prove himself worthy of driving the white car or any other cars on the grid for that matter. Otherwise, he’ll join the long list of damned Red Bull alumni of Christian Klien, Sebastian Buemi, Scott Speed, Sebastien Bourdais and lately Jean-Eric Vergne.