Opinion: Why Williams should sign high-risk, high-reward Kvyat
Robert Kubica? Paul di Resta? Pascal Wehrlein? As Williams considers who should fill its vacant Formula 1 seat alongside Lance Stroll for 2018, Valentin Khorounzhiy argues there's a better - if unfashionable - choice to be had.
Is it absurd to suggest that Williams, a team that currently has F1's most coveted free seat and a whole host of drivers waiting in line for try-outs, should make Red Bull outcast Daniil Kvyat a priority target?
On the face of it, such a play doesn't make much sense, does it? As Williams has finished ahead of Kvyat's former team Toro Rosso in every year of the hybrid era so far, and will almost certainly do it again this year, a move to the Grove-based team would represent a promotion of sorts. A promotion in no way justified by the nine points Kvyat amassed since his ill-fated return to STR.
But key players in Formula 1 don't appear to recognise Kvyat's Williams bid as an absurdity. Christian Horner, providing the only human touch in Red Bull's otherwise rather unceremonious sacking of the Russian, told Sky he felt Kvyat had done enough to stay in F1, and reckoned he was a "good candidate" for Williams.
And from the Williams team itself, Paddy Lowe confirmed Kvyat would be considered, calling him a "very respectable driver".
This could, admittedly, be lip service, but it shouldn't be. Kvyat, after all, once looked more than good enough to feature in F1's midfield – and who's to say a change of scenery wouldn't help him look that way once more?
Rise and fall
Photo by: Zak Mauger / LAT Images
Formula 1 is littered with stories of unfulfilled potential, of promise not delivered on, and if Kvyat never contests another grand prix, many would argue him deserving of his fate.
In hindsight, it might feel like his shock promotion to F1 for 2014 – subsequently trumped in the collective consciousness by Red Bull's other, considerably more successful shock promotion of a teenager to F1 the year after – was too soon. But Kvyat wasn't exactly half-bad in his first year of grand prix racing.
Was the issue, then, that he was placed in the seat vacated by Sebastian Vettel just 19 races into his F1 career? Was that too soon? Maybe, but this is another matter of hindsight, as it sure didn't look like a bad call in 2015.
Red Bull clearly had faith in Kvyat, probably more than it had in most drivers that eventually wound up dropped. His mid-season demotion last year came out of the blue, but drivers like Jean-Eric Vergne, Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi can point to his subsequent 2017 extension to say that he was afforded more patience than Red Bull usually displays.
That the patience finally ran out was no huge surprise. Kvyat's defenders – largely concentrated in his native country's national press – will rightly point to an admittedly above-average prevalence of technical issues (amid the usual suggestions of nebulous intra-team politics and nationality-based bias), but even they won't deny the Russian has had a rough old time since his demotion.
He never looked like he fully recovered from the Spain swap, and that mid-2017 stretch - during which he once triggered a crash that eliminated one of the main team's cars, another time took his teammate out and finally broke the camel's back with the crash in Singapore – was justification enough for a demotion.
But his qualifying head-to-head with Sainz suggests the speed which enabled Kvyat's rapid ascent through the ranks is very much still there. And that he ultimately couldn't cope with the pressure that Red Bull demands doesn't mean that another team, with a different atmosphere, shouldn't take a turn and have a go at extracting that obvious potential.
Williams' other options
Admittedly, Kvyat would not be the best decision for Williams marketing-wise. He is not yet 25, which creates a problem for title sponsor Martini, and he is not nearly as popular as one of his prominent rivals for the seat, one Robert Kubica.
The Polish racer ticks all the boxes for 2017, as long as his injury doesn't impede his performance – which is something Williams has already had two tests to find out.
At the same time, he will be 33 next month, so he would probably not offer long-term stability in the way Force India prospered during the Nico Hulkenberg/Sergio Perez years.
Kvyat has seemingly been around forever and his F1 career has already endured more ups and downs than most, but he is only 23. He was born after Antonio Giovinazzi. McLaren rookie Stoffel Vandoorne is two years older.
And despite his torrid recent record, his usual pace suggest he wouldn't be that risky an option – certainly no riskier than a Kubica, or even a Paul di Resta.
There's also Pascal Wehrlein, another driver who has serious potential and one that has valuable Mercedes ties to boot. But the German, while only a few months younger than Kvyat, is markedly less experienced.
He's probably had more headline-grabbing performances than the ex-Red Bull man in the last year and a half, but has not managed to regularly assert himself over Marcus Ericsson at Sauber - an underrated driver himself, but surely an easier challenge than Kvyat's long-time teammate Carlos Sainz.
There was also Williams' lowest-risk option - keeping Felipe Massa for another year - but as of Saturday, this is no longer on the table.
All the remaining rival candidates do provide things that Kvyat cannot, whether that be strengthening ties with Mercedes, stability or raw star quality. And it is not clear how well Kvyat would work with Lance Stroll, given that the Russian didn't exactly make a great combination with Sainz (although that whole situation surely wasn't helped by years and years of baggage between the two).
Photo by: Andrew Hone / LAT Images
Many of those considerations will probably outweigh Kvyat's considerable but as-yet-unrealised promise, which is fair enough. But if so, Williams should make an effort to get him involved all the same, even if it's in a third-driver role with a view at a future race seat promotion.
That would make sense for both parties. It would give Williams a year to evaluate how Kvyat fits within the team, and it would allow the Russian to remain around the F1 paddock.
And if he does enough in a behind-the-scenes role, he'd surely have a good shot at the race seat in 2019 (theoretically helped also by the fact he reaches the magic age of 25 in April of that year).
Whatever the strategy, Williams really should find a way to make use of Kvyat's availability.
That he was given a vote of no confidence by Red Bull is not insignificant – but, as one of F1's youngest-ever starters, points-scorers, podium finishers and formerly one of its most promising talents, Kvyat is too high-reward of an asset to be collectively passed up by the championship's midfield.
Article amended to reflect Saturday's announcements from Felipe Massa and Williams.
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