During lockdown, it is safe to assume that re-watching classic races has filled any spare time we may be fortunate enough to have. My most recent viewing was that of Daniel Ricciardo’s 2018 Monaco GP victory but as enjoyable as this is - we are all craving new content and new stories. Step forward Tom Clarkson, who has shown that lockdown will not prevent him releasing weekly editions of his successful ‘F1: Beyond the Grid’ podcast. Freshly released for download this past Wednesday, the latest edition involves Clarkson sat in his kitchen speaking via zoom to Daniil Kvyat at home in the luxurious surroundings of Monaco – albeit still in lockdown as well.
Formula One is celebrating 70 years of racing and as Christian Horner’s meme-making soundbite on Drive to Survive said “2020 is set to become one of the biggest years in Formula One’s history.” Unfortunately, due to current circumstances, the history books are on hold and so is a most unexpected record.
This month would have seen AlphaTauri racing driver Daniil Kvyat celebrate his 100th Grand Prix at the pinnacle of motorsport – had the 2020 season proceeded as planned. 100 F1 GPs is a number many greats never reached, Jackie Stewart, Stirling Moss, Juan Manuel Fangio and Jim Clark to name a few, but also another reason as to why eras of F1 should not be compared but instead enjoyed.
Last month, on April 26th, Daniil Kvyat reached the same age as his car number – 26. All too often in Formula One, the line between F1 as a sport and F1 as a business is constantly blurred and Daniil Kvyat, in such a short space of time, has already had to overcome so much both on and off the track.
Daniil Kvyat’s F1 story is a complex one and it began towards the end of 2013, when the talented Russian was announced as Daniel Ricciardo's successor at Toro Rosso for the following season - having obtained his super licence at the age of 19. After being confirmed as Toro Rosso’s new driver Kvyat won the GP3 title in the next race in Abu Dhabi, beating rival Facu Ragalia with one race to spare. All eyes were on the young Russian to see what impact he would have in 2014 at the pinnacle of motorsport.
An immediate impact it proved to be, seeing how Melbourne 2014 saw Daniil Kvyat finish in the points on his F1 debut. His achievement of 9th place made him, at this time, the youngest driver to score points in F1. The previous record holder was Sebastian Vettel, and when the 4-time F1 World Champion chose to move onto Ferrari in 2015 – Kvyat’s acceleration to the top of F1 was complete. Red Bull, or rather Dr Helmut Marko, had made the choice to bring Daniil Kvyat across from Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing for the 2015 season. Unfortunately though, the talented Russian would not be there for long.
So many times, in sport, success is achieved after having first encountered and overcome adversity. As has been well documented, despite outscoring new teammate Daniel Ricciardo over the course of their first season in 2015, avoidable errors out on track in the 2016 F1 season would not go unnoticed. The events of the 2016 Russian GP, coupled with the pace shown by Max Verstappen racing for Toro Rosso that season, led to the decision to switch the drivers between the two Red Bull owned teams. Kvyat shared his thoughts on this with Clarkson:
“When I talk about this pressure, it’s not in a negative way, I talk about it in a positive way…It was a tough period, ever since 2016 it was a difficult year and a half for me.”
Upon returning to Toro Rosso midway through the 2016 F1 season, Daniil Kvyat’s confidence had clearly taken a hit. Then in 2017, with teammate Carlos Sainz Jr consistently out-scoring him, Kvyat was dropped six races from the end of the season and replaced by rookie driver Pierre Gasly for the rest of 2017 and beyond.
All too often, Formula One can end careers prematurely, but Daniil Kvyat was determined there was more to come and was grateful to be given the opportunity to be Ferrari’s simulator driver for 2018 but did he think he could make it back to the F1 grid? Tom Clarkson posed this very question:
“No, no way but honestly our goodbye was very normal there was no hard feelings and I never would pinpoint anything…I never said anything bad in the media…I never did think that a return would be ever possible but life sometimes can be very interesting.”
‘Interesting’ is a good choice of word because having impressed in 2018 as simulator driver for Scuderia Ferrari - Daniil Kvyat was back on the F1 grid in 2019, producing some very interesting results. Points were scored in 11 Grand Prix by the Russian that year, including the unforgettably emotional podium at the rain soaked German GP.
Daniil Kvyat’s third place finish in Germany prompted his former team boss Christian Horner to joke at the time: “Unbelievable – he should have more kids!” before then taking a more serious tone and saying “I’m so pleased for him. He’s kept his head down, he’s fought his way back into the [Red Bull] programme... For him to become a father last night and be on the podium today – it was a very mature drive by him.”
Speaking on Beyond the Grid, Kvyat shared his thoughts on where this maturity came from:
“I felt I needed a break after those a bit not so easy times. It was very, very important and very nice in a way to spend some time at home…to do some training and clear your head and not to just get ready for a championship.”
Formula 1 racers often find themselves heading to Formula E or across to America for IndyCar when they lose their racing seat. Kvyat’s former teammate Jean-Eric Vergne is the two-time Formula E champion but Daniil Kvyat knew other categories of racing would not bring him the same passion:
“I looked into it, but it wasn’t, the thought about it wasn’t, making me excited or making me happy. I felt that I had a lot of unfinished business in Formula One…I always wanted only Formula One and was considering to stop completely if I didn’t get Formula One.”
Valtteri Bottas’ 2019 success in Melbourne gave him the label ‘Bottas 2.0’. For Daniil Kvyat though, we have reached Kvyat 3.0 and the world of F1 is all the better with Kvyat 3.0 on the grid.
As the resilient Russian says: “It’s hard to surprise me now with anything. It is very competitive environment…now I am ready for any kind of scenario.”