Some were surprised when Red Bull announced Jean-Eric Vergne would be staying at Toro Rosso for a third year in 2014.
Indeed after the shock departures of Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi two years prior most believed that as one man stepped up to replace Mark Webber at the Red Bull team the other would follow the Swiss and the Spaniard out the door.
However, I was less surprised at the decision to retain him for a couple of reasons: heading into a year with the changes in regulations like we have had this year, keeping one experienced driver, in this case Vergne, made more sense.
That need for knowledge was only exacerbated as it was announced the then 19-year-old Daniil Kvyat would be stepping up to replace Daniel Ricciardo.
Also, most people forget that Vergne himself is still just turned 24-years-old, the same age as Alguersuari, so clearly Red Bull believe he still had time to prove himself.
The problem the Frenchman appears to have is he is partnering drivers who could well become future champions, Ricciardo has proven his worth beating Sebastian Vettel for much of the first four races, while his latest team-mate, Kvyat, is also showing huge potential with three points finishes in an underpowered STR9.
Those performances by the Russian have already started talk in some circles as to just how long Vergne may have left at Toro Rosso, given the cut throat nature of Red Bull’s young driver program.
Though there are no such noises yet coming from the likes of Helmut Marko, who leads the program, and bosses at the Faenza-based team, would leaving the Red Bull system actually benefit Vergne?
Using the post-Toro Rosso experiences of Buemi and Alguersuari you could argue either way. Buemi remained in the Red Bull fold and has been working as a Red Bull reserve while racing for Toyota in the WEC.
As for Alguersuari he left the Austrian drinks company and has not raced competitively since. He has remained a part of F1 developing tyres with Pirelli, however, the future for the Catalan in the premier Motorsports category remains bleak.
Being a part of the stable that has produced some great talent already and has plenty more waiting in the wings carries pressure but also opportunity as Buemi found, while for Alguersuari he has become a victim of the ‘pay driver’ culture that has kept so many good young drivers out for several years.
That would be a key part of any decision Vergne makes if he was to move elsewhere on his own accord, is there the opportunities available at another team? Can he be assured of maintaining a drive in F1?
Looking around right now, you would have to only say Sauber could have an opening while there may also be the new US-led team Formula Haas that could benefit from an experienced young driver like Vergne.
There is no doubt he does have the talent to be in F1, despite being outclassed in qualifying by Ricciardo he was more than a match for the Australian on Sundays while his skills in the wet are also arguably among the best on the grid today.
What is clear, however, is despite the lack of public pressure being applied on Vergne by Red Bull, you can be assured he is constantly watching over his shoulder.
The likes of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Antonio Felix da Costa, the guy many feel should have replaced Ricciardo, are always banging on the door trying to impress.
And if Kvyat does continue to out-pace Vergne over the next few races, at circuits both men will know very well, then the foundations under the Frenchman’s seat will start to get increasingly less stable.
For now Vergne is in the right place and should do everything to remain a part of Red Bull, but if performances don’t improve then an Alguersuari-style fate may ensue and that would be a rotten shame.
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