- Commenting on ... Toro Rosso's 2014 line-up
The case for KvyatChris Medland October 22, 2013
There are often surprises when Toro Rosso announces its driver line-up - think back to the ditching of Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari - and Monday night's selection of Daniil Kvyat appeared to fit that bill, but there shouldn't be that much surprise even if Kvyat's name is relatively unknown outside of the paddock.
With the influx of Russian funds recently in Formula One - most notably at Sauber and Marussia - it's understandable for the immediate reaction of some to be that another young, unproven driver has bought an available seat. Just because it's Toro Rosso doesn't mean the team is immune to that; Johnny Cecotto Jr certainly doesn't get his tests with the team off the back of the talent he's shown in GP2…
Antonio Felix da Costa was expected to be Daniel Ricciardo's replacement in 2014; racing in Formula Renault 3.5 he was the member of Red Bull's Junior Driver Programme competing at the highest level and had been strong in 2012. Kvyat, however, was racing in GP3 and normal Red Bull form would be to move him in to FR3.5 next year.
But normal form has been ignored, and it could have a lot to do with Felix da Costa's relatively disappointing season. Having won four of the final five FR3.5 races in 2012 - and finished second in the other - Felix da Costa finished the season fourth despite having missed the first three rounds.
That led to big expectations for 2013 which he's not been able to match, and this year he may have finished third in the championship but won only three races in total. That his season petered out with a 13th place while fellow Red Bull protégé Carlos Sainz Jr finished sixth says it all.
However, Kvyat has done the opposite to da Costa and been exceeding expectations as the year has gone on. After three fourths and a fifth from the opening eight GP3 races, Kvyat has emerged as the title favourite in the second half of the season. Two wins in the last four races has left him seven points behind the championship leader heading to Abu Dhabi and with momentum on his side. Add in impressive performances on Hankook tyres in European Formula Three and Kvyat's been on a steep learning curve this year.
Should he go on to win the title, Kvyat will follow in the footsteps of 2011 GP3 champion Valtteri Bottas and skip GP2/Formula Renault 3.5 to move straight up to Formula One. Though Bottas did get numerous Friday practice sessions, nobody said he wasn't ready, and Friday sessions this year would only have limited value with such a step change in cars for 2014.
While Red Bull has seen plenty of Felix da Costa in Formula One machinery at various Young Driver Tests, Kvyat only got his first taste at Silverstone this year driving for Toro Rosso but obviously impressed sufficiently as he finished his running just 1.6s off Jean-Eric Vergne after only 22 laps, albeit with a trip through the gravel for good measure.
Ultimately, Felix da Costa is still a quick Red Bull young driver and has shown strong potential, but timing is everything and his performances this year have been unconvincing. It's not surprising to see Red Bull be ruthless where young drivers are concerned, but the man sitting least comfortably at this stage could well be Vergne.
It's somewhat surprising that Toro Rosso is so keen to keep Vergne for a third season despite Red Bull deeming him not good enough to replace Mark Webber next year. However, he'll go in to 2014 under real pressure with Felix da Costa still without a seat and Carlos Sainz Jr next on the conveyor belt. Toro Rosso is no stranger to changing a driver mid-season, and while the expectation on Kvyat will be small, Vergne has to perform.
Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1