Being a part of the Red Bull driver programme is seen by many as the holy grail for young single-seater stars of the future. While the guidance of Dr Helmut Marko has proved crucial to both Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, Marko’s School of Hard Knocks has ended many F1 careers prematurely. Daniil Kvyat’s recent demotion from Red Bull to Toro Rosso could eventually see the Russian added to the list of drivers axed from the programme at the final hurdle.
One element of the Verstappen and Kvyat seat switch which has been missed by many is the indirect effect it could have on Carlos Sainz Jr’s career. The Spaniard has been overlooked by the senior team on this occasion and as Jean Eric Vergne will testify, that doesn’t bode well.
Of the eleven drivers to have competed for Toro Rosso since Minardi was purchased by Dietrich Mateschitz ahead of the 2006 season, only four have ever made it to Red Bull. One of those being Daniil Kvyat, who has now found himself back in Toro Rosso after just 24 races with the senior squad.
Kvyat was initially promoted at the expense of teammate Jean Eric Vergne in 2014, who also missed out on a chance to drive for the World Champion’s when Daniel Ricciardo was elevated ahead of him, after Mark Webber announced his retirement at the end of 2013.
Many considered Vergne to have been hugely unlucky to have missed out. Over the course of two seasons as Ricciardo’s teammate, Vergne fared well. The Frenchman scored a combined total of 29 points in 2012 and 2013 and while Ricciardo managed one more point across the same period, his best finish was seventh, while Vergne managed sixth at the 2013 Canadian Grand Prix.
While Kvyat was a rookie at the time, Vergne managed to out-score the Russian in 2014 as well. With three years worth of experience in F1 and having proven himself as a strong competitor against Ricciardo – who had by then established himself as a Grand Prix winner – it was a huge decision from Red Bull to overlook him. A choice which many would consider a travesty.
However, that is the nature of the Red Bull programme. If you’re not the next Sebastian Vettel then the exit door beckons.
Carlos Sainz now finds himself in a compromised position. Just like Vergne, he has been overlooked by the senior team when a vacancy has opened at Milton Keynes. Max Verstappen is widely regarded as F1’s hottest property, with parallels already being drawn to Senna and Schumacher. As such, it is no disgrace for Sainz to have been beaten by his teammate last season, and mechanical unreliability aside, the margin between the two was very narrow.
The Spaniard effectively faces three issues:
- Verstappen has been promoted ahead of him, meaning that Red Bull effectively consider the Dutchman to be the better of the two drivers. If Sainz made it to the senior team and partnered Verstappen, the number two driver tag would be difficult to downplay.
- Ricciardo and Verstappen are both young and fast, meaning that they could well cause a log jam in the young driver conveyor-belt. When a similar scenario arose with Vettel and Webber filling the top chairs in the past, Sebastian Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari stalled in the junior team.
- Even if Sainz dominates Kvyat throughout the rest of 2016, the Spaniard will only be beating a driver whose form was not of a Red Bull standard. Rightly or wrongly, his efforts are therefore devalued.
Hopefully, if the above issues do prove too difficult to overcome, Sainz can find a drive with a top team outside of the Red Bull stable. If so, he would join Vitantonio Luizzi and Sebastian Vettel as the only drivers to have ever broken away from their Red Bull ties while staying in the sport.
Like Verstappen, Sainz is hugely talented and could be a future World Champion. The only worry being that the man they call JEV was similarly a star for the future who was ultimately squeezed out in similar circumstances.