He earned his first chance with Toro Rosso in 2014 as the reigning GP3 champion. When Sebastian Vettel caught Red Bull unawares by jumping ship to Ferrari, Kvyat was at the head of the queue for a promotion to Red Bull, where he seemed to justify his place by out-scoring Daniel Ricciardo in 2015.
But the rapid rise of Max Verstappen spelled an early end for Kvyat’s time at the front-running team. His double-foul start at his home race in 2016 didn’t help matters, as he compromised three of the four Red Bull/Toro Rosso cars.
He got a second chance to impress at Toro Rosso over the rest of the season, however. He had little to show for the rest of the year, however, and as the season wore on it seemed the team had every reason to replace him. Carlos Sainz Jnr was consistently out-scoring him, and the team’s latest young talent Pierre Gasly was in the thick of the GP2 (now F2) title fight.
Surprisingly, Red Bull seemed less impressed by Gasly’s GP2 form than they had by Kvyat’s in GP3 three years earlier, and handed Kvyat a third opportunity to prove himself at Toro Rosso. But 2017 yielded more of the same: Sainz was by far the more productive of the two, as Kvyat racked up more penalty points than championship points.
Singapore seemed to capture the state of affairs at Toro Rosso. A jubilant Sainz claimed fourth place, while Kvyat binned his car in tricky conditions 10 laps in. It soon transpired Kvyat didn’t have long left at the team, and he was shown the door a few races later.
It seemed the 23-year-old’s Formula 1 career was at an end. Yet through another strange turn of events Sainz is no longer a Red Bull driver and Kvyat is about to embark on another stint at Toro Rosso.
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What persuaded Red Bull to give him another shot? Undoubtedly there is a degree of expedience involved: the team needs a replacement for Gasly, who has been promoted to Red Bull almost as quickly as Kvyat was.
You could also point to the value Kvyat has gained to the team and Honda’s power unit project by spending a year in the Ferrari simulator. Or the other kind of value he presents in being the sport’s only Russian driver following the departure of Sergey Sirotkin.
But what teams prize above all else is raw speed. And in the eyes of those best-placed to appreciate it, Kvyat has that potential, even if he wasn’t always able to access it or capitalise on it previously.
“When he left Formula 1, I don’t know why, but I had the feeling he could make it back,” said Sainz last year. Few know Kvyat better than his F1 team mate of 2016-17. The pair also shared teams during their time as Red Bull Junior Team drivers, and Kvyat often came out on top.
“I’ve known Dany for a while and I know how well he recovers from setbacks. And I’ve been together with him since we were both 13 years old so I had that feeling.”
Sainz said he is pleased to see Kvyat get another chance. “I’ve seen how talented he is in all the categories that we’ve been together, before Formula 1, and I’ve seen how talented he is in a Formula 1 car when he gets things together and right. I think he deserves a Formula 1 seat.”
It’s easy to forget Kvyat did fewer races as a Toro Rosso driver before his F1 promotion than Verstappen did. The driver who was team mate to both of them over the past four seasons believes Kvyat has suffered in comparison to Verstappen and expects he will be a better driver for having spent a season away.
“I think the year off will actually be quite good for him,” said Ricciardo. “It’s probably made him realise a few things with himself and I think he’ll appreciate being back in the sport and I think he’ll be more mature. I’m not saying he was immature but I think these things will help him keep a cooler head so he’ll be able to fully reach his potential more consistently.”
Ricciardo was usually the quicker of the two during their only full season together, but Kvyat out-scored him by three points that year.
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“On his day he was quick,” said Ricciardo. “Some days I was like ‘hey, he pulled that out’ but I was never sure if he really knew how he was doing it when the next day or maybe a week later he was eight tenths off.
“So the natural talent was there and he definitely knows what he’s doing. He was very young as well. I think some young drivers are able to handle it but I think they’re exceptions.
“Normally, I don’t think a 20-year-old should handle F1 easily. Obviously Max and all that, there’s a few exceptions but to put everyone in that category, it’s too high an expectation.”
There are many examples of F1 drivers like Felipe Massa who arguably came into the top flight too soon and benefited from a season away. Massa was a much more complete driver when he returned to Sauber in 2004, and went on to become a race-winner and championship runner-up.
Kvyat’s occasionally destructive streak in his first F1 stint earned him the nickname ‘torpedo’. If 2019 becomes the first chapter in a long career in the sport, perhaps ‘boomerang’ would be more appropriate. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to some of those already on the grid.
“Dany on his day is very difficult to beat,” said Sainz. “Extremely difficult to beat.
“Mostly [I’m] not here to speak well about my direct competitors but I just want to say I have a lot of respect for him. I keep to myself why and all that but he is definitely a guy who deserves to be in Formula 1.”
@HazelSouthwell contributed to this article.
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