Kvyat continues to impress in his rookie season
He has not taken the traditional route to the sport, skipping GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 – series that are often regarded as the final step on the ladder to F1 – and moving straight to a race seat after taking the GP3 title last year.
We saw glimpses of promise during two first practice outings in the USA and Brazil at the end of last year, but some expected Kvyat to be out-raced by his more experienced 2014 team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne.
Despite currently sitting two positions behind the Frenchman in the drivers’ standings, the former Formula Renault champion has certainly proved to be a strong match for Vergne and has put in several impressive performances.
The season kick started in Australia, the home country of the man he replaced at Toro Rosso: Daniel Ricciardo. The 20-year-old’s debut qualifying hour was far from straightforward, with tricky conditions to tackle and light contact with the wall in Q3.
However, he dusted himself off and managed to set the eighth fastest time, starting ahead of both Williams drivers. The youngster then put in a mature and controlled drive to 10th place on Sunday, which later became ninth thanks to Ricciardo’s disqualification. He finished just three seconds behind Vergne but fuel saving in the closing stages meant he was unable to attack. Not a bad start.
He added another point to his tally in Malaysia, at the Sepang International Circuit, advancing one position from his starting position to finish. With Toro Rosso using the Renault power-unit, he struggled to defend his position on the straights but nevertheless put in another respectable drive.
The Bahrain International Circuit was the next stop on the F1 schedule and it was another new track to learn for the Russian. He out-qualified Vergne on Saturday but the end result in the race was disappointing, as he did not have the pace to keep up with the cars ahead and came home just outside the points in 11th.
He was far from happy with his qualifying performance in China but made up for it by just sneaking into the top 10 in Sunday’s race, while his team-mate slipped down the field after a poor first lap. The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya hosted the fifth round of the season and was a track that Kvyat knew well.
However, the Faenza-based outfit’s 2014 car was not suited to the high-speed nature of the circuit and both drivers were eliminated from qualifying in Q2. He failed to make progress in the race and despite putting in another mature drive, 14th was the best he could manage with the car that he had.
Next up was Monaco and his first time driving around the challenging Monte Carlo streets. Amazingly, he secured a top 10 spot on the grid after an impressive qualifying performance. One day later he was on course to score a couple of points but an exhaust issue caused his first retirement of the year.
Kvyat may have been out-performed by his more experienced team-mate all weekend in Monaco, but for his first time driving there, he did very well indeed. Unfortunately his reliability issues continued in Canada, as he was forced to exit the race with a drive train failure while Vergne finished in eighth.
After a stand-out performance in qualifying, he lined up seventh on the grid for the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring. He lost several places after a slow start but managed to reclaim one of them. He managed to stay with the cars ahead and looked set to take the chequered flag in the top 10 before he retired with a strange right-rear tyre failure.
Last weekend saw F1 return to Silverstone for the track’s 50th Grand Prix. The race was much like Kvyat’s 2014 season so far, as he put in a quietly notable drive from ninth on the grid to maintain his position by the chequered flag, battling closely with his team-mate but ultimately finishing ahead.
Toro Rosso’s risk of promoting a driver straight from GP3 looks like it has paid off. Kvyat has a very mature head on his young shoulders and has certainly proved any doubters wrong with several strong drives. Sure, it has not been a perfect first half of his debut season, but it never is for a rookie.
With just three points separating Kvyat and Vergne in the drivers’ standings, the battle between the two drivers will definitely be one to watch as the season progresses. The pressure is on, though, for him to maintain his impressive form, with several Red Bull-backed junior drivers (like Carlos Sainz Jr and Alex Lynn) impressing in feeder series.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic
Jack Leslie is a freelance motorsport journalist. He has been part of the Richland F1 team since the very start and made his debut in the F1 paddock for the website at the 2014 Austrian Grand Prix. Jack also writes for Car Throttle and RumbleStripNews, as well as running a popular blog.