October 23rd, 2013 (F1plus/Bruno Ferreira).- Last Monday, the F1 community came across some surprising news on the driver market. Toro Rosso confirmed that Daniil Kvyat will join the team as their race driver for the 2014 season, beating the favorite for the seat, the Portuguese sensation Antonio Felix da Costa – who seemed to be the more experienced, successful and prepared Red Bull Junior driver to join F1 next year.
Actually, until then it was unclear even whether Kvyat was the second man on Red Bull’s line towards F1, especially after the Milton Keynes squad had put the promising Carlos Sainz Jr, and not the Russian, to drive the RB9 at the Young Driver Test at Silverstone in July. But at the end of the day, it was Kvyat who celebrated the opportunity to become a F1 driver, and he made his happiness very apparent by showing his appreciation to his new bosses.
However, after the excitement comes the tough reality. From now on, he needs to understand the biggest challenges he’ll have in the next 12 months, period in which he’ll face the doubters with the same intensity as he’ll face the opponents on the track.
First and foremost, Kvyat will go through a very difficult scenario where relentless pressure for good results starts straight away. Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg showed that it takes at least two complete seasons for a driver to start to show his full potential.
Look at Esteban Gutierrez’s season. The inaugural GP3 champion who also contested for two years in GP2 is just showing some real good pace at the end of his first campaign in F1. Even then, his seat is in jeopardy for next year.
There aren’t lots of drivers who really get to survive to this initial turbulence – and there are several examples including at Toro Rosso, whose owners didn’t even think twice before cutting off the head of Scott Speed, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari.
Furthermore, the 2014 season will be totally different than anything that has been seen in the last decade. There are going to be massive technical changes, and even Toro Rosso will go through additional transitions, as they will switch from Ferrari’s engine to Renault. That means the team itself will have it’s own homework to do, and that might affect their focus when supporting Kvyat in the first few races on 2014.
Daniil Kvyat during July's testing at Silverstone (Getty/Red Bull)
Kvyat may also struggle due to the lack of experience at junior classes, given that the young Russian will skip the last step – GP2 or F-Renault 3.5 – before F1. The clever reader will probably remember the case of Kimi Raikkonen, who kicked-off his F1 career in 2001 coming from F-Renault 2.0 to shine with Sauber, or how about his countryman Valtteri Bottas, who also took this big leap coming from GP3 to Williams.
However, Kvyat will face an even trickier situation, as the current rules doesn’t allow as many tests as Kimi had back in the day. Even Bottas, had tons of mileage under his belt before his F1 debut, as he drove in 15 free practices and over 2000 km aof testing in 2012. Kvyat will start his first pre-season as race driver with just 22 laps (or 129 km) on a F1 car in his CV.
Although he’s a rookie, Red Bull doesn’t have plans to ease the pressure over the young Russian. The motorsport advisor Helmut Marko made clear that he expects Kvyat to match his very talented and experienced teammate, Jean-Eric Vergne, after just “six to eight races” – and that is a very tough task. The new F1 driver has been showing great driving skills in F3 and GP3 and he survived a very rough driver development program – otherwise he wouldn’t have been promoted to F1. But in 2014 he’ll face his ultimate test.
It’s worth to remember that other current F1 stars emerged in moments of intense pressure in their debut season; Lewis Hamilton in 2007 is good example.
Only the Russian himself will be able to show whether he’ll join this group or he’ll succumb to the cruel world of F1.