The paddock, and the wider F1 community, are unimpressed to the point of anger that Red Bull might dare to build up a young star like Daniil Kvyat only to spit him out in favor of Max Verstappen after just four races in 2016 — one of which ended on the podium. But is how an energy drink company markets its sickly brew any of our business?
Undoubtedly, Dr Helmut Marko chews through young drivers faster than a twenty one-year-old can chew through a four-pack of Red Bull on a wild Saturday night. “He just wants performance,” Mark Webber, who clashed with the ruthless Austrian during his own Red Bull career, said last week. “He wants the fastest guys in the best scenario as quick as possible.”
That policy of rapid promotion and violent demotion obviously results in more refugees than it does champions. But Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo got the very same chance to obtain their stardom and millions as did Christian Klien and Vitantonio Liuzzi, who also drove for Red Bull Racing. Now it is Kvyat – although being given a second chance at the junior team – on the wane and it’s Max Verstappen’s turn to deal with the searing heat of the spotlight. “Is he ready? He’s got no choice,” said Webber. “He has to be.”
Indeed, Max’s story is a fascinating one. His father, Michael Schumacher’s former teammate Jos, believed in his lad’s talent so much that they turned down champions Mercedes in late 2014 because the Red Bull programme could offer an immediate race seat at Toro Rosso. And now, it is believed the Verstappen camp pushed hard for this seemingly risky mid-season promotion at Red Bull as a means to immediately rev up Max’s contract price amid Mercedes and Ferrari’s latest interest. It is that kind of confidence, opportunity-grabbing and winning belief that the brutal Helmut Marko likes to reward.
In the end, that’s just Formula 1. The seasoned veteran Martin Brundle is open about liking Kvyat – an intelligent, tough, no-nonsense racer – and so he hopes the 22-year-old can rebuild his career as a little ‘up yours’ to Marko’s latest harshness. “I hope he really flies now in TR (Toro Rosso),” he told his half-million Twitter followers. But it’s also Brundle’s often-repeated mantra that, in F1, “You’re either giving pressure or you’re taking pressure” that applies here. It’s just Kvyat’s turn to feel the burn of that pressure, applied by Max and Marko. And now we’ll see how Max deals with the squeeze at the tender age of 18. And for that little piece of F1 soap opera, we have Marko to thank.
In a Formula 1 where today the greyscale, ultra-conservative and out-of-date McLaren drowns in the deep midfield while Mercedes dominates mind-numbingly out front, the audacious Verstappen is a rare shining light in an otherwise fading sport struggling for identity in 2016. Just like an ultra-trendy, 1-minute-30-second Snapchat video wrap, Marko slipped Max onto the grid just before the safety-obsessed FIA locked eager seventeen year olds out at the paddock gate. But who would like to send the awesome Dutchman back to Formula 3 now? As I said, we have Marko – just as willing to give a youngster a golden opportunity as he is to then throw them to the wolves – to thank.
It’s also telling that most discarded Red Bull youngsters of the past, many of them now critical of Marko’s brutality, owe their current careers to the one-eyed former Le Mans winner. Jean-Eric Vergne is now a Ferrari tester and Formula E driver. Sebastien Buemi a world champion of sports cars. It is a list as long as your arm but it would be blank unless Marko rolled the dice. And at the end of the day, how Red Bull mogul and marketing genius Dietrich Mateschitz chooses to sell his sickly, caffeinated brew is really none of our business beyond whether we choose to mix it with vodka or leave it at the supermarket.