Oleg Karpov
"DANIIL KVYAT. PATH TO F1"


CHAPTER 11
«THE PERFECT BULL»
This text is a fragment of the original chapter of the book. Translation by Valentin Khorounzhiy.

For the end-of-August Spa round, Arden already came with the best car in the pack, and for the main race the front row spots were down to Sainz and Kvyat. Carlos was faster, earning the team's first pole of the season. Daniil was to line up second.

Specifically for Spa, the engineers changed the gear ratio to achieve a higher speed in the many long straights of the Belgian track. Besides that, the clutch settings were tweaked, and in the pre-race briefings the engineers told the drivers that the familiar start procedure would now be a little different.

Spa was the longest track on the schedule, so the team decided against an added installation lap. At other venues, the drivers could do a couple laps on the way to the grid – coming into the pitlane at the end of the first one to then attempt a practice start on pitlane exit. In Belgium, despite the new clutch and the longer first gear, Daniil and Carlos had to head straight to the grid.

Both knew the start would be crucial - the title chances were still realistic but the deficit had to begin shrinking right then and there. The car was prepared superbly, and Kvyat and Sainz knew they would again battle for victory – for the first time in GP3.

"Before that we worked so much on the starting procedure," Blais recalls. "In junior championships that's a more important aspect than in Formula 1. Here races are only 20-30 laps and the start is the exact moment that may decide the outcome in your favour.

"On that occasion, we were using a longer first gear for the first time. Spa's a long track, and usually you don't have the time to do an additional lap for a practice start through the pitlane. They had to go to the grid right away. Kvyat left the pits, and I was already standing at his starting spot.

Quite a while passed, and I went on the radio, because I was getting worried. 'Daniil, everything okay there?' He answered: 'Yeah, yeah, I'm still on my way. I'm at the far part of the track.' That was strange, because at that point it's been five minutes since he left the pits. He showed up three minutes before the start of the formation lap. And then he managed a perfect start..."

Sainz recalls: "That day we agreed not to go through the pitlane. We had a new clutch, a new first gear – about two times longer than previous. But we were both on the front row and we agreed that it wasn't worth it heading to the pitlane before setting up on the grid. It was the same situation for the both of us, and there was really not a lot of time for an extra lap. To make it, you'd have to push like crazy. And then you could end up having not enough fuel for the entire race distance.

"I left the pits after him, but when I arrived at the grid, Dany wasn't there. Immediately I thought: 'That bastard.' I had zero doubt – he broke our agreement and went through the pitlane again, testing out the clutch and the first gear. And of course, at turn one, he was ahead."

Kvyat won the start, then fended off Sainz's opening-lap attacks. The loss of fuel from the additional lap was made up for by three safety car periods. Daniil confidently kept Conor Daly at bay during the restarts and took to a convincing victory.

"After the race he gave us back the car, which had just a couple of drops of fuel left in it," Cyril recalls. "I asked him: 'Did you go through the pitlane before the start?' He said: 'No, I don't think so.' I said: 'Dany, don't treat me like an idiot.' In the end, he admitted it.

"He made the decision himself, calculating it in a way that he would have enough time not to be late to the grid. It was a risk. If something went wrong, he was risking serious trouble. But his plan worked. He got to do one more practice start, which probably helped him lead into turn one.

"Carlos was very angry after the race. He thought we planned it beforehand, without letting him know, but that wasn't the case. In reality, Daniil knew perfectly well he was taking a big risk, because after the race there could have simply not been enough fuel for the stewards to take a sample, for technical inspection. But he made a conscious choice.

"Was I angry? No. Because, after all, he won the race. But nevertheless I made it clear, that from now on, if we had a race plan, we were sticking to it.

"Again... we were enthralled by his driving at Spa. To overtake Carlos on the run down to turn one is one thing. But usually, if you're first through Eau Rouge, it's very difficult to stay ahead after that. The straight that follows is very long for GP3 cars and slipstream makes it rather easy to attack. But he was defending brilliantly. He was placing his car in a way that left his rival no chance to overtake. Not only on the opening lap, but during the restarts at well. He repelled all the attacks with ease."

Sainz didn't make it to the finish, retiring after a collision with Jack Harvey on lap nine. "The start didn't matter, in any case," he explains. "I had a slow puncture, and I was slowly losing pace. I would've dropped away from Dany anyway. And he got lucky with the safety car. But in reality that's how it always is – to win a championship, you need a bit of luck. He made a smart move – maybe even too smart – and luck was on his side that day. Yeah, he got an earful from the team after the race, but that doesn't matter. What will they remember about that race? That Kvyat won it. That's it.

"Before Spa we didn't have the fastest car, but we found a few good solutions ahead of that round, and we could finally unlock its potential. I took pole, but in that race my season turned around 180 degrees. Dany won, I was crashed into by Harvey. So as a result he kicked off his title chase, and I couldn't score any points because I had to start from the back in race two."

Marko was delighted: "A fantastic race by Daniil. Three restarts... You know, Conor Daly used to race in America, where they have a lot of restarts. But Daniil stayed ahead each time. I have nothing to add – a fantastic performance. Today, he was the best."

In race two, Kvyat scored a few more points thanks to a sixth-place finish, which moved him up to fifth in the drivers' standings. The leading pack was a tight one, headed by Argentine Facu Regalia, who was two times third in Spa. Kvyat was 27 points behind him, with only two rounds to go in the championship. To make up the deficit, Daniil needed a small miracle. But he was lucky, because the next round was to take place at a track where he worked miracles fairly consistently. From Belgium, GP3 followed Formula 1 to Monza.

"He always liked the track," Blais said. "Even before we came there, he kept telling us: 'You'll see at Monza. I love the track, I won a bunch of trophies there.' All drivers have certain preferences. For example, Daniil was not too comfortable at Silverstone. He said: 'I like it, but I've never been too fast there.' There he had to work. But at Monza he knew all the moves. It was his territory. The track's very high-speed, where we put on the lowest level of downforce – and he has fantastic car control. This was one of the weekends where we really understood just how good he is."

Daniil set the best time in practice, and followed it up with a rout in qualifying. The second-best result of the session belonged to Robert Visoiu, who even ran in Kvyat's tow on the straight. There were 15 drivers within a second of the Romanian's time – so close were the results. But Kvyat's best lap was 0.511s quicker than his teammate's.

"I was very self-confident arriving to Monza," Daniil recalls. "It was the most correct level of confidence. I knew that if I did everything right, I'd probably be first – in qualifying and in the race. That's the best feeling you can have as a driver. When you know beforehand that you're going to be first. I had great confidence in the car, and each corner a pleasure."

Kvyat won the opening race and then, starting the second race in eighth, nearly won that one, too. Having made several overtakes, he even caught up with leader Harvey, but ran out of time to pass him before race end. If the race was even a lap longer, Kvyat, quite possibly, could've taken a second win, too – he was less than a second behind his rival. Still, the principal goal was achieved – during the race Kvyat passed Regalia, which was very important in terms of the title fight. Facundo also did well in Monza, finishing third and fourth, but now he was only seven points ahead of Kvyat.

Three weeks later, Kvyat took another win – this time at Zandvoort, during a European Formula 3 round. "Certainly, a driver's mindset, his mental condition, has a big influence on his results," Jose Garcia says. "At that point, he was in incredible spirits. He came to Zandvoort with five Formula 3 race weekends under his belt, he now had enough experience, he learned his lessons from a few difficult rounds in the middle of the year and he knew what he needed to do with this car. Also, at Zandvoort we'd done a small test, so he didn't need to take any time re-focusing after GP3. He had a great feel for the car from the opening practice, and was only battling with Felix Rosenqvist, who was in his fourth year in the series and was basically unbeatable at Zandvoort – he was winning almost every race there for several years straight. That weekend, nobody in the field could go as fast as those two.

"I still fantastic memories from that weekend. He won the first race, and I stood on the podium with him – I have that photo framed and hung on the wall of my home."

"Formula 3 had a very strong roster that year. Alongside Rosenqvist, there was a superb Raffaele Marciello, an also very rapid Alex Lynn, Harry Tincknell, Tom Blomqvist, Jordan King – and the experienced Alexander Sims, who returned for a few races.

"We weren't scoring points for the championship with Daniil, but we did do our own calculations. We would've been very close to fifth place. If he did the two season-opening rounds at Monza and Silverstone, and also ran in the Hockenheim finale, I am certain he could've challenged Marciello for the title."

In September, Daniel Ricciardo was officially announced as Mark Webber's replacement at Red Bull Racing for 2014. As such, one of the seats at Toro Rosso would indeed be free. De Costa, meanwhile, was still going through a rocky Formula Renault 3.5 campaign – and was out of the title fight for good in early fall. In one of the Hungary races, Antonio made an unforced error, colliding with Mikhail Aleshin and, as a result, dropping further back from Magnussen and Vandoorne.

Da Costa was also an Arden driver that year. Cyril Blais was working in both championships, and he could observe the campaign from within.

Cyril Blais:
"I respect Antonio a lot, he's a fantastic driver. But Red Bull have their own methods of working with drivers, they can make harsh decisions. They can either make a star or break a driver. For Antonio, that year wasn't going to plan from the start. He was almost guaranteed a Toro Rosso seat, but he was unlucky in the end.

"And, sure, many circumstances can affect the outcome, but in the end only you make your own luck. He came to the team at the end of 2012 and won half the races that he started. The year after he had the same car, the same team, he was working with the same people, but the result was different.

"It's hard for me to judge how it is to work with Dr. Marko, but I think he knows what he's doing. The communication between us was only a couple of encounters. Before the season-opening GP3 race at Barcelona, he came to introduce himself. I remember he looked at me, asked who I was. I said: 'Chief engineer'. He asked where I was from. I said: 'France.' He looked me over, turned around and left without saying anything. I didn't really know how to feel about that, and next time I talked to him was below the podium, when both of us were celebrating Daniil's victory. He congratulated me for getting 'all the shit out of the car'. I responded: 'Our car hasn't changed, but we did fix your driver.' He has a great sense of humour.

"He has to make a lot of difficult decisions. He doesn't always appear the kindest man in the world, but in actuality he does a fantastic job. He definitely knows what he's doing.'

In Kvyat in the fall of 2013, Helmut Marko had a driver who managed to turn around a difficult season and start winning races, one after the other. A driver who managed to adapt to entirely new machinery over just a single weekend and then immediately claim pole position in one of the most competitive junior series – and then later achieve a race win. Finally, a driver who proved he's willing to do almost anything to win – even to defy his team's instructions.

After the Formula 3 weekend at Zandvoort Marko called Kvyat up to Graz and offered him a Toro Rosso deal for the 2014 season. Daniil only had to ask for a pen.

Marko needed no further proof, but he did ask Kvyat to win the GP3 crown. There was one more round to go before the season's end, which was to run alongside F1's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – around two and a half months after Monza.

Like that one time back in karting, Kvyat didn't need to win. His future was secure and he knew he was moving up in 2014.

"I was a little worried because of that," Blais recalls. "I knew he already had a deal with an F1 team, that he no longer needed to prove anything. For him, it didn't make a difference whether he won or lost the title – it didn't affect anything. But he quelled my doubts right away, and that's something I really value in him. The firs thing he told me when we met in Abu Dhabi was: 'I have unfinished business here. Here in GP3. I want to win this title. I'll be happy only when the job is done to the end. We worked long and hard this year, and we deserve to be champions. I want to assure you that I'm 100 percent focused on GP3.' He looked at me in the eyes and added: 'Right now, this is my only goal. I will be 100 percent focused.'

"We were all a bit worried because we didn't know what was going on in his head. He was a nobody, and then suddenly the whole world found out about him. After the announcement he received 120 calls in a row, and he even had to change his phone number. When you're 19, all of that can make your head spin.

"Everyone was talking about him, and his 'friends' from the Red Bull junior team, unhappy about his promotion, tried to throw him off balance, telling the media: 'It's not fair. Dany hasn't earned this.' But he didn't react, and finally managed a perfect weekend.

"He came to the track and worked the full programme: 'hello' – fastest lap in qualifying – pole – victory – fastest lap in the race – title won – 'thanks a lot, see you later.'

"Even on Sunday. It was all clear about Saturday: he won and secured the title, but there was still another race to go, one which would give him nothing. During the day on Sunday, in the heat, he was still working like crazy. He was so unhappy not to make in onto the podium in the final laps after starting eighth. With the title in the bag, he was still trying, overtaking backmarkers, because he really wanted another podium. And that's Dany. In the end, having trailed the leader by almost 40 points with three rounds to go, he then won by almost 30. Truthfully, it was a pretty solid run."

The Red Bull management was criticised for putting a GP3 driver at Toro Rosso over da Costa. But for Helmut Marko, it was the only right decision. "Of the three drivers in contention, he fared best that year," he said in an interview, explaining he decision. "Especially when you consider that he was simultaneously competing in two top championships, GP3 and Formula 3.

"In Formula 3 – without pre-season testing – he was competitive right away. That shows that, whatever category he's in, he can deliver results from the get go.

"In GP3, his team had serious tyre wear issues at the start of the season. But he didn't give up. It shows how mentally strong he is. We're looking at the medium-term here, because, no doubt, he's still very young. But we are confident we can expect a lot from him."