Oh, Danii boy. How quickly fortunes and perceptions can shift in Formula 1.
Two weeks ago Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat was lauded for standing up to Sebastian Vettel in China as the four-time world champion criticised him in full public view.
“Madman”, “suicidal” and “torpedo” were just some of the words used by the German in relation to Kvyat, who dived down the inside of the Ferraris while the red cars were busy crashing into each other.
A laughing Kvyat responded: “That’s racing,” and added: “We didn’t crash.” To which Vettel replied: “You didn’t. You were lucky this time.”
That was not the case at his home race in Russia as Kvyat rear-ended Vettel twice in quick succession, at the second corner and then the third, forcing Vettel into a spin into the barriers and instant retirement.
Kvyat was given a 10-second stop-go penalty for his errors but worse – much, much worse – was that this happened right in front of Red Bull motorsport kingmaker Dr Helmut Marko and Russia president Vladimir Putin.
And, for Kvyat, the wrath of Dr Marko is much more serious than embarrassment in front of Putin.
Dr Marko ‘not afraid of bruising egos’
An Austrian, 73-year-old Dr Marko is the head of Red Bull’s driver development programme, which supports promising drivers in junior formula with the best progressing to its two Formula 1 teams – Red Bull and Toro Rosso.
He was a driver himself and won the Le Mans 24-hour race in 1971 before a brief Formula 1 career was ended a year later at the French Grand Prix when a stone thrown up by Emerson Fittipaldi’s Lotus pierced his helmet visor, blinding him in his left eye.
Dr Marko is not afraid of bruising egos and has had some blunt words for notable drivers.
In January 2013, in the company’s own magazine, he said then Red Bull driver Mark Webber “falls relatively easily into a downward spiral” while two-time world champion Fernando Alonso was “busy with politics and funny comments”.
Last year he also threatened that Red Bull would quit F1 altogether “if we don’t have a competitive engine in the near future”.
Analysis from BBC chief F1 writer Andrew Benson:
It would take a hard heart not to feel some sympathy for Daniil Kvyat after the Russian Grand Prix.
It was his 22nd birthday on the Tuesday before his home race.
He was blown away in qualifying by team-mate Daniel Ricciardo for the fourth consecutive time this season.
He was at fault in two crashes with Vettel in two corners at the start of the race. The first of these wrecked Ricciardo’s race. The second put Vettel into the wall.
And, as Vladimir Putin watched from the stands, the country’s racing poster boy trailed to the finish in 15th place.
Kvyat’s problems are bigger than that, though. They are that a hard heart is exactly what beats in the chest of Red Bull’s notoriously ruthless motorsport chief Helmut Marko.
Kvyat is a very decent F1 driver, but he knows he is driving for his career this season. In the drinks company’s junior team – for which Kvyat himself drove two years ago – are two highly promising young stars.
One of them, 18-year-old Dutchman Max Verstappen, is already being touted as a future world champion, and attracting the attention of other top teams.
Verstappen is under contract for next season. But if they do not want to him to be attracted by the bright lights of, say, Ferrari, Red Bull will surely have to promote him next season. Now, there are rumours it could happen sooner than that.
Last year, Kvyat outscored Ricciardo in terms of points, but the Australian was undoubtedly the faster driver; he was just unlucky. This year is going the same way.
Vettel was wrong to lambast Kvyat after the Chinese race – but there was no doubt who was in the wrong in Russia. Kvyat had simply rammed Vettel from behind, twice in the space of a few hundred yards.
“Of course it’s easy now to attack me,” Kvyat said, “and I guess everyone will. But I am OK with that.”
It is not the public criticism he needs to worry about, though.
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