With the news that Max Verstappen will replace Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso for 2015, Dan Paddock questions where the Frenchman’s future now lies, and asks whether it could be best served by a move away from Formula 1?
Early last week Jean-Eric Vergne was delivered the news that his time with Toro Rosso, and as a part of the Red Bull junior programme, is to come to an end at the close of the 2014 season.
After three years with the team, the Frenchman is to be replaced by Formula 3 racer Max Verstappen from 2015. Verstappen, just 16-years-old, and in his first year of car racing, having graduated from karts only late last year, will partner Daniil Kvyat, still just 20, next season.
Toro Rosso will go into 2015 with the youngest line-up on the grid, but where does this all leave Vergne? Just 24-years-old, but out of a drive, and the latest ‘victim’ of the success of the Red Bull junior programme.
Speaking to the media on Thursday, Vergne was insistent that he still has a future in Formula 1, but the question is, where?
His time at Red Bull is up, and he now faces the prospect of finding a new drive for 2015 without the assistance and bankroll of the Austrian fizzy drinks giant, which has backed him since 2007.
A brief glance up and down the current order suggests a lack of top quality drives available, meaning aside from a possible move to fill the seat of his want-away countryman Romain Grosjean’s at Lotus, a drive with Sauber, Caterham or Marussia is all that is left on the table for Vergne – three fairly unattractive options. Especially considering all three would warrant a vast sum of money to secure, something that Vergne, long-sponsored by Red Bull, currently lacks.
The 24-year-old made clear last Thursday that he has no intention of simply staying in Formula one for the sake of it, telling reported at Spa: “I have my place in F1, in a good seat to win races because I know I can do it. I’m not the kind of guy who likes to be in F1 just to say ‘I’m an F1 driver.’”
Vergne certainly believes he is good enough to stay in the sport, and claims that he would have been able to match the performances of his now former team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, if he, not the Australian had taken the Red Bull seat made vacant by Mark Webber for this season.
“When you look at Daniel in Red Bull last year we were always fighting together,” he said. “He was sometimes better than me in qualifying but that is the biggest point I’ve improved this year.
“I think I’m a much better driver than last year. I don’t like this kind of comparison, but I would be more or less doing what he is doing at Red Bull.”
Bold words, but Vergne was never embarrassed by Ricciardo in their two seasons together. The Frenchman, in his first season in 2012 outscored his team-mate, and was arguably the more impressive Toro Rosso driver in the early part of 2013, before he seemingly buckled as the pressure to fill Mark Webber’s vacant Red Bull seat ramped up at Silverstone.
Vergne might well have a point, he did not compare badly to the man now showing up four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, but ultimately, that alone is not going to earn him a top seat, and he has ruled out sitting in a Caterham for the sake of things.
If not a drive in F1 then, what else could the future hold for the Frenchman? Vergne might well choose to sit out a year, in a similar vein to Kamui Kobayashi and Adrian Sutil.
Could he, as the Japanese racer did, turn to the World Endurance Championship, which has proven a viable alternative for those who have struggled to find a drive in Formula 1 in recent years, with Koabayshi, as well as Sam Bird and James Calado turning to the series? With Nissan set to debut in the sport in 2015 with a two-car team, could Vergne well find himself a new home away from Formula 1.
Nissan will likely look to Jann Mardenborough and a Japanese driver to fill one of their cars. Vergne, fresh out of Formula 1 could well be a solid option to lead the Japanese manufacturers attack on the established teams of Audi, Toyota and now Porsche.
If Vergne does head to Le Mans with hopes of returning to F1 he will be hoping the journey back does not take him quite as long as Andre Lotterer’s, who after missing out on a Formula 1 drive for 2003 had to wait 12 years before he could return.
Image courtesy of Red Bull Media/Getty Images