August 20, 2014 (F1plus/Bruno Ferreira).- OK, let’s be honest: there’s not even one single person who wasn’t astonished with the announcement that 16-yeard-old Max Verstappen will be one of Toro Rosso’s drivers from 2015 F1 season.
However, this is the kind of news that might seem shocking at a first, but with the benefit of hindsight, it makes sense, as it’s indeed a more logical than an impulsive decision. With that being said, let’s make a list of three recent milestones that led Toro Rosso to take such decision.
1 – Red Bull’s intercrop period (2013)
Since its Junior Team was founded, Red Bull managed to develop huge stars, especially the brilliant duo Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo. However, in the last few years, the Austrian company realized that the good but not great job made by Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi and Jean-Eric Vergne wasn’t enough to meet the expectations of the program. You have to go beyond in order to create new world champions.
In the late 2013, with Ricciardo’s imminent rise to its main team, Red Bull became aware that the source could be drying out. Antonio Felix da Costa and Carlos Sainz Jr, allegedly the next in the line towards F1 after Vergne, weren’t doing convincing campaigns in the junior series.
Putting the Portuguese or the Spanish into Toro Rosso seat would probably result into the same situation happened with Buemi or Alguersuari, which also would mean a precious time thrown away.
Such scenario led Red Bull to take its first shocking decision: the young Daniil Kvyat, 19, would be promoted to Toro Rosso from 2014. The Russian boy had been showing brilliant performances in GP3, so Helmut Marko and his troupe decided that the best move would be taking Kvyat straight into F1.
2 – The leap is not as big as we thought (early 2014)
As soon as Kvyat was confirmed for 2014 season, the first questions emerged: can he handle F1? For a long time we didn’t see a driver taking such a big leap, skipping GP2 and F-Renault 3.5.
The last one who did that was Valtteri Bottas, who still spent all the 2012 season dedicating himself to the FP1 sessions with Williams.
But Kvyat has been showing in 2014 that yes, he can handle F1.
Apparently the new V6 Turbo power units impose fewer obstacles to the rookie drivers, which means that the gap between the junior formulae and F1 is not as large as it used to be.
Coming from GP3, Kvyat managed to show a good pace straight away, challenging and even outpacing Vergne, a much more experienced driver.
The Russian opened F1’s eyes and showed that there are junior classes that can feed F1 other than GP2 or World Series by Renault.
3 – Verstappen, a worth taking risk (August 2014)
The recent events taught valuable lessons to Red Bull: they needed to do something to keep the wheel moving and creating world champions in potential, and the leap from junior classes isn’t as huge as everybody thought.
Meanwhile, the energy drink company was facing the same problem of the year before, as there weren’t any of its drivers ready to step up to F1 other than the well known Sainz Jr and Felix da Costa.
That’s why Red Bull had to go to the market in order to find its new star. They found Max Verstappen, the outstanding kart driver who is going through his first open-wheel season shining in Euro F3. However, Red Bull was facing obstacles in the talks, because Verstappen was also being chased by Mercedes, the top team of 2014 F1 season.
To win the battle against the Silver Arrows and avoid that a potential world champion slip through its fingers, Red Bull put on the table a card that Mercedes doesn’t have: an immediate seat in F1. Despite having only one season with cars under his belt, Verstappen has all the tools to make a smooth transition to F1, as the talented Kvyat taught us that it is possible to do well without any experience.
It was highly likely that Vergne would be dropped anyway, as his retaining for a fourth year would be a contradiction for a team that fired Buemi and Alguersuari under the same circumstances. So Red Bull reached the conclusion: hiring Verstappen to Toro Rosso was a worth taking risk. What do they have to lose?
In order to keep itself in a good position regarding new drivers, Red Bull had to revise its concepts and dare. Let’s wait and see if these decisions will pay dividends to the team in the future.