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Red Bull Love Rotating – And They Tend to Get it Right

Red Bull Racing have show their ruthlessness once more my demoting Daniil Kvyat, but past decisions suggest they know what they're doing.
EPA/Srdjan Suki

Formula One is renowned for being a cutthroat sport, with Red Bull Racing perhaps the least forgiving of the teams involved. Neither sentiment nor emotion are considered when the Anglo-Austrian outfit make driver decisions, with their hugely influential motorsport consultant Helmut Marko happy to bruise egos and effectively end careers if he believes it to be in the team's best interests.

That much was confirmed between the Russian Grand Prix and this weekend's race in Spain, with Daniil Kvyat abruptly moved aside at the senior Red Bull squad to make space for 18-year-old wunderkind Max Verstappen. Kvyat has not been dropped altogether, instead finding himself back at Toro Rosso in Verstappen's place, but his career has clearly taken a considerable step back. At just 22, his best opportunity in F1 may have already passed him by.


History would suggest as much. While the Russian has not been fired – that would have been excessive even for Red Bull – his demotion to Toro Rosso holds little promise of a reprieve, F1 tending to be a one-shot-at-stardom kind of sport. It's more likely that he'll be an ex-Red Bull employee at the season's end, unless he can rapidly repair his damaged confidence and convincingly beat new teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. Given Sainz's own obvious ability, that will be bloody tough.

Kvyat fell foul of Vettel in China and especially Russia // Diego Azubel/EPA

Not for the first time, Marko has wielded the axe without hesitation. The Austrian – himself a former F1 driver whose career was ended when a stone pierced his visor and left him blind in one eye – has delivered more dramatic blows, such as mid-season sackings, but those tended to follow spells of bad form. Kvyat hasn't been kicking arse, but he did secure a podium in China just 19 days before he was moved aside for Max. His Russian Grand Prix was a mess, but then he is a 22-year-old with less than 50 races to his name.

Much has been made of Verstappen's role in the switch. The Dutchman – or more accurately his father Jos – has clearly had his eyes on the main Red Bull team since day one; no matter that he is still just 18 years old. Some feel that the Verstappens effectively held Red Bull to ransom by threatening to switch to a rival team if Max wasn't promoted.

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But clearly Red Bull wouldn't make this kind of concession unless they genuinely believed Verstappen to be special; nor would they shuffle Kvyat down the order if they thought he was their next star.

It's not just Marko's call, of course: he communicates his opinions to Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz. Billionaires tend to be a dispassionate bunch, and Mateschitz is particularly wealthy breed of billionaire; neither Kvyat's inexperience nor his feelings will have been considered.

The hugely influential and no-bullshit Helmut Marko // Jan Woitas/EPA

Red Bull have a history for this kind of aggressive driver management – and, honestly, it's hard to disagree with their past decisions. Since the company entered F1 full time in 2005, Red Bull's young driver programme has produced 11 drivers for their senior team and the junior Toro Rosso (this excludes "hired guns" like David Coulthard and Mark Webber).

Sebastian Vettel is the clear standout, with four world titles to his name for Red Bull Racing. With time on his side, Vettel could yet add several more to that haul.

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Current Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo is the other legit success story. The Australian won three races in 2014, which involved trouncing a burnt-out Vettel, and is still improving as a world-class grand prix driver. It'll be fascinating to see how he fares against Verstappen, but the signs are that Ricciardo is a genuine talent capable of fighting for the title in the right car.


Three more drivers are still on their books in F1: Verstappen, who is widely viewed as a multiple world champion in-waiting; Kvyat, who is perhaps not of that level but is clearly talented; and Sainz, who showed well against Verstappen and could yet get a crack at the big time.

There's certainly been an upward curve in recent years, with the drivers Red Bull promotes to F1 looking more like the real deal. The programme has improved, as have the team's methods for easing their protégés' paths into the sport.

Verstappen is next to try his luck at Red Bull Racing // Valdrin Xhemaj/EPA

Of the other six who they have promoted to F1 but dropped, there has been no post-Red Bull resurgence to suggest Mateschitz and Marko made a mistake. Christian Klien, Tonio Liuzzi and especially Scott Speed had the feel of guinea pigs, Red Bull's first test cases who were paving the way for Vettel. None have gone on to great things post-F1.

More can be said of Sebastien Buemi. After leaving Toro Rosso he signed for Toyota's World Endurance Championship programme and won the drivers' title in 2014. He also signed up to the Renault-backed e.dams Formula E team and was runner-up in the electric category's first season. He's still got links to Red Bull, too.

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His long-time Toro Rosso teammate, Jamie Alguersuari, retired from motorsport last year aged just 25 after an underwhelming season in Formula E. The Spaniard had lost his love for the sport, which suggests he wasn't a long-term Red Bull option.


Jean-Eric Vergne is more in the Buemi bracket. The Frenchman quite often looked quick in F1, but he rarely found the necessary consistency. He's since had some good showings in Formula E, but was he world champion material? You'd struggle to make that case.

And this is what Red Bull are looking for: definite world champions, potential multiple world champions. They want another Vettel. And while Buemi and Vergne may be very good indeed – they could win a grand prix in the right car – they're missing the last 5% that makes a Schumacher, a Senna, or a Hamilton. After Vettel, the only one who's looked capable of getting near this level is Ricciardo. Now Verstappen will get that chance, too.

Vettel remains by far Red Bull's biggest success story // Diego Azubel/EPA

Perhaps Kvyat will be the exception and flourish after this setback. He seems like a mentally resilient guy and performed well in his first press conference since returning to the team. As part of the Red Bull programme he's been forced to grow up fast, which should help him survive the first major crisis of his career.

Kvyat can come out of this a better driver; whether he can return to a front-running team is another matter.