The Red Bull Formula One team have demoted Daniil Kvyat to their junior Toro Rosso outfit, while Max Verstappen moves the other direction to the senior squad with immediate effect.
The surprise change follows a disastrous Russian Grand Prix for Kvyat, who twice made contact with the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel during the opening lap of his home race. Kvyat was then hit with a stop-go penalty that ended any hope of scoring points. Tension has also been reported at the Toro Rosso squad between team boss Franz Tost and the Verstappen family.
The switch still represents a significant surprise, however, with Kvyat having finished third at the previous round in China. The 22-year-old – who drove at Toro Rosso during his debut season in 2014 – also outscored his highly-rated teammate Daniel Ricciardo over the 2015 season, though the Australian has tended to be quicker overall.
Kvyat's China performance also involved a collision with Vettel, albeit a less contentious one for which the German must take a share of the blame. Former Red Bull driver Vettel argued with Kvyat after the race in China, and was seen talking to team boss Christian Horner on the pitwall after the incident last weekend.
Quite how it will affect the Russian driver's confidence remains to be seen. In a statement following the switch, Red Bull team boss Horner said Kvyat "will be able to continue his development at Toro Rosso, in a team that he is familiar with, giving him the chance to regain his form and show his potential."
Perhaps he is referring to the form and potential Kvyat showed at the Chinese Grand Prix, which took place all of 18 days ago.
For the much-hyped Verstappen, the move represents a natural ascension to the top echelons of the sport – though it has come quicker than many expected. The 18-year-old Dutchman enjoyed a stellar debut campaign last year and was already being talked of as a Red Bull driver for 2017.
To move him into the senior squad mid-season, against a highly accomplished teammate in Ricciardo and with no experience in the car seems risky at best. Then again, anyone wishing to win a world title needs to be able to cope with this kind of pressure.
But it could have been handled better. Given that Red Bull clearly already had doubts about Kvyat – why else would you demote a driver who scored a podium last month – it would have made more sense to make the change over the winter. The team's motorsport consultant, Dr. Helmut Marko, has been looking for a way to shift Verstappen into the senior team, but the manner of the change could yet harm both drivers' careers.
Perhaps we should blame it all on Vettel. He quit Red Bull at the end of the 2014 season, a year before the team expected him to go. That meant they had to quickly shuffle Kvyat up from Toro Rosso, despite the Russian not being entirely ready to join the senior team. Had Vettel hung on at Red Bull for 2015 we'd likely have seen a shootout between Kvyat and Verstappen to replace him for 2016.
That would have been considerably simpler, but then it would also have been less fun.