6 Red Bull F1 ‘rejects’

15th July 2018
Damien Smith

‘Reject’. That’s a bit strong. But when it comes to Red Bull’s tough attitude to its young Formula 1 drivers, there really is no way of dressing it up. If you don’t cut it, Red Bull’s strict driver development ‘headmaster’ Helmut Marko doesn’t think twice: you’re expelled from the hardest, most unforgiving school in motor sport.


Then again, you could argue Marko has every right to treat his drivers this way. For most of them who have come through his ranks since the energy drinks brand took over the Jaguar team in 2005, they wouldn’t have made it to F1 at all without him. They should count themselves lucky – and if they don’t live up to expectations, there is always someone new to replace them.

They find themselves spat out of F1, still in their early 20s – and that’s just hard cheese.

But for the young man himself who suddenly finds himself out in the cold, such brutal treatment has to be traumatising. That’s why for those who remember him in F1, Jean-Eric Vergne’s achievement at the weekend might well be greeted with a little fist pump. The Frenchman, who was kicked out of Red Bull’s junior Toro Rosso team at the end of 2015, clinched the Formula E title in New York on Saturday.

By taking his first title since British F3 in 2010, there’s now some redemption for Vergne. His racing career has survived and thrived following his abrupt F1 exit. He wasn’t the first, nor the last, to start again after being ejected from the Red Bull bubble.


1 Christian Klien

Here was a driver tipped for greatness after a rapid rise through the junior ranks (you’ll have read that sentence before…). In 2004 Klien was team-mate to Mark Webber at Jaguar Racing when Red Bull had bought the team. Where did he stand for 2005? Sharing a drive with Vitantonio Liuzzi, that’s where…

For 2006 Red Bull at least retained him, while Liuzzi (another eventual reject) was shipped off to Scuderia Toro Rosso, formerly Minardi which Red Bull had just bought to run as its junior ‘B-Team’. But after a poor season, Klien was out – and replaced by his old team-mate Webber.

Testing duties with Honda and BMW-Sauber led nowhere. He briefly pitched up at the short-lived HRT team in 2010, but has since built a career racing sports cars and GTs. Oh, and since 2017 he has been a member of the Bundesheer – Austria’s army!


2 Sebastien Bourdais

This was no wet-behind-the-ears junior when Toro Rosso signed him for 2008. Having shone in Formula 3000, lack of opportunity had forced Bourdais to head west. Four consecutive Champ Car titles with Newman-Haas was hardly a bad return.

Unfortunately for the intense but likeable Frenchman, his F1 chance came in the same year a precocious young talent called Sebastian Vettel broke through. While Vettel incredibly won the Italian GP on a wet day at Monza, Bourdais found himself in the shadows – despite qualifying fourth himself. Just his luck.

To be fair, Toro Rosso did keep him on for a second season. But he struggled to match his new team-mate Sebastien Buemi, and by the middle of the summer he was out.

Still, there was always Indycar, plus Le Mans – he won the GTE class with Ford in 2016. Last year at Indianapolis he suffered nasty injuries in a qualifying accident for the 500, but has since returned to the cockpit and won heroically at St Petersburg this year.


3 Jamie Alguersuari

The 2008 British F3 champion replaced Bourdais at Toro Rosso in the summer of 2009. At the Hungarian GP he beat Mike Thackwell’s long-standing record to become the youngest man to start a world championship F1 grand prix, at the age of 19. It was a record that would be lowered by 17-year-old Max Verstappen six years later.

Alguersuari showed promise and was retained for 2010, but by the second full season alongside Buemi in 2011, the writing was on the wall. Alguersuari was hardly a disgrace – far from it; he just wasn’t setting the world alight (as harsh as that sounds given what he was driving). He was out for 2012.

After a spell in Formula E, Alguersuari announced his retirement – at the tender age of 25. But he had another life to go to. Today, he’s enjoying a thriving career as a DJ (and no, not like Tony Blackburn).


4 Sebastien Buemi

It’s harsh and not entirely true to label the Swiss driver a Red Bull ‘reject’ – because he remains very much part of the ‘family’. But the fact remains he was another to be ejected from F1 after failing to make enough impression on the daunting Dr Marko.

Buemi joined Toro Rosso in 2009 and outshone Bourdais during a first season of high promise. He narrowly out-pointed new team-mate Jamie Alguersuari in 2010, but by the end of 2011 was shown the door along with the Spaniard. He hadn’t done much wrong – but Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne were the next pair waiting to fill the hot seats.

He has since reinvented himself as one of the world’s best sportscar drivers, becoming World Endurance Champion with Anthony Davidson in 2014 and finally winning Le Mans beside Kazuki Nakajima and some bloke called Fernando Alonso this year. Already a Formula E champion, Buemi is well established as a dual-discipline hero. Who needs F1?


5 Jean-Eric Vergne

Our new Formula E champion raced for Toro Rosso for three seasons between 2012 and 2014. You might say that was plenty of time to make the right impression, and if so, you’d be right. Then again, some reckon he did show enough to deserve a shot in the Red Bull ‘A-team’. But his timing was off.

It all went wrong ahead of the 2015 season. Not that he’d done much wrong – he was just left standing in a ruthless Red Bull game of F1 musical chairs.

Teenage sensation Max Verstappen was signed for Toro Rosso, alongside promising Russian Daniil Kvyat – yes, the wheel had turned again. Then Sebastian Vettel announced he was leaving Red Bull for Ferrari. That meant a promotion for Kvyat to Red Bull Racing. Surely Vergne would have his Toro Rosso seat back – but no: the team signed Carlos Sainz Jr…

Scarred by his F1 rejection, Vergne has since thrived in Formula E. Now with his third team, Techeetah, he now has the high-profile title his talent deserves.


6 Daniil Kvyat

The Russian at least had his shot in the Red Bull Racing ‘A-team’. As described above, he landed his big chance in 2015, scored his first podium in Hungary and finished seventh in the world championship. Respectable.

In 2016 he was on the podium again in China, then immediately became a ‘villain’ at his home race in Sochi after colliding with Vettel’s Ferrari. What happened next must have been humiliating. With Max Verstappen the hottest property since Pompeii, Kvyat found himself relegated to Toro Rosso with immediate effect. In Spain, Verstappen won his first GP. Ouch.

Kvyat deserves credit for sticking it out, but his Red Bull career was never going to recover. He left the team after the US GP last year and is now a Ferrari ‘development driver’.

Whether he ever starts a GP again remains to be seen. He deserves to, but as his forbears can attest, deserving means nothing in the unblinking world of F1.

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