Saturday, 7 May 2016

#F1 – Red Bull's woes

The talk recently has been of Ferrari being a team 'in crisis' – all of which has let the issues at Red Bull slip a little under the radar.  Performance has dropped off in the past couple of seasons, and Red Bull – a team which had become so accustomed to winning not so long ago – are now much more used to fighting midfield battles, and high-profile fallings out with longstanding engine supplies Renault have only compounded the team's decline.

However, Red Bull's problems have come to the fore in the past couple of days, as it was revealed that Max Verstappen will be promoted from the junior Toro Rosso team to drive for Red Bull for the rest of this season, in place of Russian Daniil Kvyat.

It is a decision which comes close to completely incomprehensible.  As I remarked on Twitter on Thursday when this news first broke, when even a current driver (and former World Champion) in the shape of Jenson Button is laying into a team's decision-making process, you have to think that something is going seriously wrong.
The decision is baffling for so many reasons.  Not least because, despite a rocky couple of races this season, Kvyat hasn't really done that much wrong.  He has made mistakes, yes – but no worse than plenty of other racing drivers have made.  He needs the opportunity to learn from those mistakes.

Two first lap incidents in consecutive races is maybe a sign that the team should sit down with him, have a chat about being slightly less aggressive into the opening corners of a race, and encourage him to race smarter and come back a stronger, more intelligent racer in the Grand Prix ahead.  It shouldn't be the end of his Red Bull career.

Of the current field of drivers, I am a big admirer of Romain Grosjean – whom I think is a huge talent, and a very exciting driver.  It wasn't that long ago, though, that he was having his own issues with incidents on the first laps of races – issues which were far more serious than Kvyat's this year have been.

I wrote at the time how Grosjean could be a force to be reckoned with if he could fix the first lap gremlins, and I like to think that this stance has been vindicated in more recent seasons.  Despite a two-race ban for causing a first lap crash Belgium in 2012, his team (then Lotus Renault) kept faith with him, and gave him a chance to come back from the race ban as demonstrate he had learnt his lesson, calmed down, and matured on track.  It should be clear, now, that this was the right decision by the Lotus team, as Grosjean made the most of that opportunity and went on to score points and podium finishes for them, becoming a respected figure on the F1 grid in the process.

I believe Red Bull should give Kvyat – who is still only young, and learning his trade in Formula 1 – the same opportunity.  His recent incidents have been unfortunate – and of course frustrating for Sebastian Vettel, who always seems to be on the receiving end of them! – but not serious enough in my view for Red Bull to replace him so summarily.  Of course, we don't know the whole story – there could be other issues going on behind the scenes which have contributed to Kvyat losing his seat at Red Bull – but on the face of it, the whole situation looks very harsh on the Russian.

The other consideration is the affect that this will have on Max Verstappen, the driver who will be replacing Kvyat after only one season in F1.  Verstappen (son of former F1 driver Jos Verstappen) has universally acknowledged to be a future star after his debut season with the Toro Rosso team last year.  He is young, talented, and has superb racing instincts.  He's not without his own incidents either, of course – normally brought about by inexperience, and the impetuousness of youth – but no one who watched the 2015 season could've failed to be impressed by the young dutchman.

The trouble with the stars of the future is that Formula 1 teams have an unfortunate habit of trying to make them the stars of now – often before they are ready.  It is something I think we have seen before, most recently with Sergio Pérez's disappointing season at McLaren.

Trying to promote young talent into teams with winning cultures and high expectations can end very badly indeed, and can damage the career of the young driver promoted before he was ready – the pressure of driving for Red Bull will be vastly more than the pressures of driving for Toro Rosso, and I fear Verstappen may struggle to cope with the hype of being 'the next big thing', and having to deliver results for a team with the recent history of success Red Bull has, at such a young age and so soon in his racing career.

Maybe Max Verstappen will rise to the challenge and will be on the podium before the end of this year.  If so, congratulations will certainly be in order!  But it is an enormous risk to pile pressure – particularly in such an unexpected and sudden way as this – on a young rookie driver, no matter how talented or hungry for success he might be.  I hope Red Bull don't live to regret this decision.

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