Daniil Kvyat

Ben's Russian GP Preview

By Ben Edwards
C4F1 commentator

As autumn rolls in and temperatures drop in the UK, the holiday venue of Sochi in Russia becomes even more beguiling. Peaks of 30C are expected over the coming weekend and our TV screens will dazzle with images of the Black Sea coast bathed in sunshine.

Sochi is the country’s largest resort city in terms of population with many visitors coming from the North and Siberia. By late September most holidaymakers have returned home but the organisers of the Russian Grand Prix are keen to see thousands of people attend, and we could see Formula One’s biggest crowd of the year for race day.

Many of the fans will be keeping a close eye on Daniil Kvyat, the most experienced Russian seen in F1. He’s also the most successful, having achieved three podiums in his career including a second place in Hungary back in 2015. 

His memories of driving at Sochi, however, travel much further back in time.

Rapid Ascent

Kvyat was nine years old when he competed in his first serious kart race in Sochi. January saw colder temperatures in the area that would hold the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in 2014. Kvyat had to wear two pairs of gloves to cope, but won the race and kickstarted a career that took him to Italy for more karting before he was signed up by Red Bull in 2009.

His F1 debut came in 2014 driving for Toro Rosso and he scored points in the opening two rounds of the championship, something never previously achieved by a teenager. 

The latter part of the season was highlighted by qualifying fifth at Sochi, although points were elusive that weekend.

When Sebastian Vettel suddenly announced his departure from Red Bull towards the end of the year, Kvyat was perfectly poised to take over and join Daniel Ricciardo for 2015. The perfect climb up the motorsport ladder had been accomplished and he went into the winter with high hopes.

On the Plateau

Sadly the Red Bull team was not at the height of its powers; the second year of turbo hybrid technology was a poor one in terms of performance. 

In 2014 Daniel Ricciardo had won three races, but he failed to win any in the subsequent season, and was outscored by Kvyat by three points in the championship.

So the Russian had done his job and held his seat, but in the meantime there was pressure building up from another source. His position at Toro Rosso had been taken by Max Verstappen who delivered some fantastic results in his debut year.

The 2016 season began with Verstappen out-qualifying both Red Bulls in Australia and a power unit failure for Kvyat meant he didn’t even get to start the race. He then qualified poorly in Bahrain but recovered with a podium in China.

The next race was at Sochi, a wonderful opportunity to consolidate his position at the team. He qualified eighth, a few tenths slower than Ricciardo and just one position ahead of Verstappen.

Tumbling Down

The pressure was on, and he duly went for it at the start. The distance from the grid to the first braking area in Sochi is one of the longest on the calendar and provides opportunities to gain speed in the slipstream of another car.

That’s fine, until they all arrive at a tricky right-left combination of corners where space is at a premium.

Kvyat overcooked it and hit the back of Vettel’s Ferrari, which then clipped Ricciardo’s car, and in the subsequent scramble Kvyat hit Vettel a second time. 

Ricciardo was forced to make a pit stop, neither Red Bull scored points while Verstappen was running a very solid sixth until his power unit gave up.

Suddenly the world shifted for the Russian. By the next race, he had been swapped back to Toro Rosso as Verstappen was granted his Red Bull seat and went on to win the Spanish Grand Prix. 

A crushing blow, yet one which Kvyat has managed to recover from over the last couple of seasons, despite being dropped by the Red Bull clan completely at one stage.

Last year he achieved his most recent podium, in Germany, and at Mugello he delivered his best result of the season for the renamed AlphaTauri outfit in seventh.

Teetering Again

Yet his position is still uncertain. Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda is performing well in Formula Two and is backed by Honda which provide engines for Red Bull and AlphaTauri. 

Elevating Tsunoda to F1 would make sense, especially as Red Bull are trying to persuade Honda to stay in the sport longterm.

There are other seats up for grabs, and Kvyat has got connections with Ferrari, with whom he worked as a development driver in 2018, that could be useful in trying to negotiate a drive at the Ferrari-powered Haas or Alfa Romeo teams.

As he heads into the Russian Grand Prix, he knows his performance will be as crucial as ever.

Let’s see if Kvyat can use his fanbase to step up to another level; if not the 26-year-old may be stepping out of F1 altogether.

Follow the fortunes of all the F1 drivers with C4F1's coverage of the Russian Grand Prix. Qualifying highlights on Saturday 26th September at 6:30pm with race highlights and analysis at 5:30pm on Sunday.