There’s a feeling of deja vu in the Toro Rosso garage as Jean-Eric Vergne finds himself becoming second best once again.
After missing out on the Red Bull drive, which was handed to his then team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, the 24-year-old has found himself battling with the fresh-faced Russian Daniil Kvyat.
At just turned 20, Kvyat is already garnering the praise of his bosses at Red Bull’s junior team with team boss Franz Tost, the man who saw the oversaw the rise of Sebastian Vettel in 2008, already hailing Kvyat as a future world champion.
“Yes,” Tost replied when asked by F1′s Official website, “because he’s shown that already by winning the younger classes — and especially the way he was winning. He has it in his DNA to win races and championships.”
Certainly Kvyat has outlined his speed by taking the inferior-powered STR9 and scoring three top 10 results at the first four races, all of which came on circuits he has not driven on before.
The Russian’s performances have already begun increasing the pressure on Vergne, who some believed was direction-less even before he began being beaten by a 20-year-old.
While it is fair to say the Frenchman has not been outclassed by Kvyat, indeed the pair have been relatively close throughout much of the opening four rounds, the fact he is battling him at all is a surprise to some.
Following Ricciardo’s promotion some were even amazed to see Vergne retained by Toro Rosso given the cut-throat nature of the Red Bull program.
But Tost admitted there was one key reason for Vergne’s perceived under-performance, the new brake-by-wire system.
“Jean-Eric is a quite sensible driver,” he said, “and as soon as we have this (braking problem) under control I am convinced that he will show his real potential, because he is a really fast and highly skilled driver.”
As for the man himself, Vergne has admitted there are some problems but he is keen to maintain a low profile.
“A lot of things have been happening that were not necessarily visible,” Vergne told France’s L’Equipe, “but in these cases I prefer not to look for excuses but to keep my head down.
“I feel much better than last year in qualifying, even if the race results are not yet the ones we expected.”
The biggest crumb of comfort for Vergne has been Ricciardo’s competitiveness since partnering Sebastian Vettel at the main Red Bull team. The Australian has beaten the German at three of the first four races, excluding Australia’s disqualification, and is also beating Vettel in single lap qualifying, an area Vergne himself knows Ricciardo is very strong.
“I have no regrets, because things happen for one reason or another,” said Vergne, when considering the decision Red Bull made to choose Ricciardo over himself.
“As I had the same performance as Daniel in the last two seasons, it shows what level we had, Daniel and me,” he said.
“I learned a lot from him in qualifying, and in the race I was always able to make a difference.”
Indeed Ricciardo’s performances have even taken Red Bull bosses at Milton Keynes aback, and Christian Horner believes the Aussie can only get better.
“We got him (Ricciardo) because, among the many possible choices, we were convinced that he was the best,” he told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“We knew from the test data and the simulator that he was strong. We expected performance close to Sebastian, but not what we saw in the first four races.
“And the more he integrates, the stronger he will get,” added Horner.
Heading into this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, Red Bull will be the team perhaps most have their eye on as the first European race of the year often sees teams bring their biggest upgrades of the year so far.
While most believe the Adrian Newey designed RB10 is the best chassis on the grid, the Renault V6 hybrid, which is also used by Toro Rosso, remains the big weakness.
Though not expected to catch the currently dominant Mercedes, Horner also claimed the defending champions are keeping up the pressure on their French engine supplier.
“Renault is working hard to close the gap,” said Horner.
“I know that our car is fantastic. When we close the disadvantage of the engine we will be back in top form.
“I think that out of the engine suppliers Mercedes has done the best job, followed probably by Ferrari and Renault. But we will see how it is in the end.”
Asked by Blick’s veteran correspondent Roger Benoit if Red Bull had any thoughts to change supplier, Horner replied: “The pressure is obviously on Renault to deliver a competitive product.
“But they have the right people to do that.”
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