Formula 1

Are ‘lame duck’ drivers taking post-F1 futures seriously?

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
6 min read

“I am doing enough [to stay] for sure but it’s not everything up to me. There are other things out of my control, and I am just focusing on enjoying these last five races of the year and then we’ll see.”

That was Daniil Kvyat’s assessment after his breakthrough fourth-place finish at Imola. Most in Formula 1 expect Kvyat to lose his seat at the end of the year, and clearly it’s an outcome that would not surprise the Russian.

How could it? Even including Imola, he’s been handily outqualified and outscored by his team-mate Pierre Gasly in the last year, and the AlphaTauri team is already giving F1 mileage to his heir apparent Yuki Tsunoda.

Red Bull could not be more open in its plans to replace Kvyat, and has been very open about it for a while. Even if Tsunoda somehow falls short of the superlicense threshold that he’s long been on pace to make, Kvyat would probably still face losing the seat to Alex Albon.

He must know this better than anyone, especially as every weekend now he faces questions about his future. At Imola, as Gasly was confirmed for 2021, Kvyat said he had “no news” and was focused on the remaining races “and then we will see”.

This was after he had gone into more detail a week prior at Portimao. “Honestly, I’m not at all worried,” he said. “If I’m going to be in Formula 1 next year, it’s good, if I’m not then so be it.”

But it was the next answer that piqued this writer’s curiosity. Asked about his interest in other series, he said: “I’m completely at the moment not thinking about this, it’s not my priority right now.”

Completely normal answer at first glance, yes, and yet read it again. Kvyat has been in the position he’s currently in for most of the season. Red Bull’s interest in promoting Tsunoda is not news (and is strong enough to have withstood Honda’s exit announcement), and the fact Kvyat’s been dropped before – as well as repeatedly passed up for any opportunities to return to the main squad – shows Red Bull doesn’t really see him as a long-term option. This, again, has been clear for a fair while.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Preparation Day Imola, Italy

So, “not thinking about this”? What else is there to possibly think about? The Electoral College? A solution to Fermi’s paradox? Delicious recipes?

Do forgive this bit of needless snark, Daniil, for you are far from the only example here. A lot of fellow really good, really valuable drivers find themselves in similar positions in F1 (see also the Haas pair for instance), and it almost always feels like they’re reluctant to ponder, at least publicly, the possibility of dropping out from grand prix racing, and to make plans accordingly.

And maybe such claims shouldn’t be taken at face value, but if they are, it’s a huge disappointment. The nature of F1 is such that lots of relatively young drivers find themselves surplus to requirements, but the vast majority of them are still absolutely good enough and talented enough to really light it up somewhere else – otherwise they wouldn’t have made it to grand prix racing in the first place.

Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean are two good drivers who both should’ve known there’s a good chance they will be replaced for 2021. And Grosjean, somewhat as an exception to the general rule, has long been very open in discussing a post-F1 future. But it’s November and going by their public positions neither has anything concrete lined up for 2021.

Both fancy IndyCar, but neither is loaded enough – almost certainly – to just make a good seat materialise out of nowhere. And you’d have to imagine they would be two really strong candidates for any seats that had been labelled ‘vacant’ for 2021, but those seats have been filled – and maybe they wouldn’t have if either had moved earlier.

Jb4 3830

The oval-averse Grosjean said recently that he’d regretted not checking the IndyCar 2021 calendar earlier as the ratio of ovals to road/street courses would’ve appealed to him.

That does seem like a bit of an own goal – if you’re an F1 driver in a contract year, the Indy schedule is surely something you should go over as soon as it’s made live – but top marks for honesty at the same time.

And Magnussen? McLaren’s Zak Brown indicated he would’ve been high on the list for its IndyCar outfit if his availability was made clear sooner.

And honestly, if that seat was truly available, it may even have been a better option than to continue living contract-to-contract at Haas – but it’s pretty clear that most F1 drivers don’t see it that way.

But back to Kvyat – let’s say we don’t take his nonchalance at face value. After all, almost nobody in F1 really admits to being “worried” about anything, either for fear of it being seen as a sign of weakness (ridiculous) or for fear of it being turned into needlessly sensationalist headlines (a lot less ridiculous).

Yet if Kvyat and those in similar situations to him are deeply considering their future, is there any great reason not to voice that? Maybe it’s contractual and drivers are effectively shushed by their current teams – but that’s unconscionable to imagine. Teams, after all, openly mention having shortlists and targets all the time, and have no issue discussing potential signings, so it shouldn’t be any different for the other side of the equation.

In Kvyat’s case, he might very well have a 2021 team option in his Red Bull deal – that’s how they usually seem to work for AlphaTauri drivers – but given that he was already released mid-season once in 2017 (below) and that the energy drink giant is not really hiding that it prefers someone else for the seat, there wouldn’t really be anything to gain to bar him from putting himself out on the market.

Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso Singapore 2017

If it’s not team-related, what then? Maybe drivers believe projecting a confidence over staying in F1 means any non-F1 offers that come in will be better – but I can’t imagine that would do much to influence any bosses outside of grand prix racing, especially when the vast majority of the F1 grid is filled.

And isn’t it better anyway to make it clear you’re listening to offers and that you’re keen and motivated to continue racing somewhere? After all, a lack of commitment and motivation seems to be a fairly common theme – or a common perception anyway – for many ex-F1 racers’ subsequent exploits.

But maybe that’s the answer. Maybe many drivers, having strived for F1 since they were borderline toddlers, just struggle to find it in them to hustle for opportunities elsewhere and just want to bet exclusively on F1. Look at Jolyon Palmer, for instance, who’s basically called time on his racing career after leaving Renault, or someone like Nico Hulkenberg, who only had a single guest appearance in ADAC GT Masters lined up for this year before COVID-19 handed him three Racing Point outings.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

Maybe Kvyat is the same way. At Portimao, he said he “can afford a year off or anything I want”, before adding: “I said everything is still open, in these crazy conditions everything can happen, you need to keep fighting until the end and take your chances.”

He did already once transform a Ferrari simulator role into an F1 return, so maybe the plan for the future is similar. But pulling off a similar trick a second time sounds incredibly difficult. And if it’s F1 or bust, you can easily imagine Kvyat being done with full-time racing, which would be a huge shame for a massively-talented three-time F1 podium finisher.

Ultimately, he’s tested Euro NASCAR during his first hiatus and is known to have sounded out Formula E teams, so he doesn’t sound like somebody who’s done. And if so, I hope his 2021 nonchalance is a bluff.

Especially in the current climate, he should be thinking about what he wants to do next, and thinking about it hard. And so should any F1 driver who finds themselves in a similar position.

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