By Ollie Barstow
F1 Editor

Red Bull has never been one to shy away from contentious driver decisions, but the news that Max Verstappen will replace Daniil Kvyat in the Red Bull Racing team for the remainder of the 2016 F1 season has caught almost everyone in the F1 fraternity by surprise... not least the drivers themselves, no doubt.

However, while demoting a driver just two rounds on from when he was stood on the podium has raised more than a few eyebrows, there is definitely more method to Red Bull 'madness' than initially meets the eye, while this certainly doesn't mean 'the end' for the man himself either...

For one of the most unassuming drivers on the grid, Kvyat has rather uncomfortably emerged as Red Bull's headline-grabber in the last few races, but from the darling of the Chinese Grand Prix to the villain of the Russian Grand Prix just two weeks later, the 22 year-old finds himself relegated altogether now.

As far as F1 faux pas go, Kvyat's race day error(s) in Sochi shouldn't seem enough to warrant losing his race seat alone, though as much as it seems his Shanghai podium has been forgotten by Red Bull, it's worth pointing out that that result was itself spike amidst a run of bad form that the man himself had described 'embarrassing'

Indeed, if you think Sochi was the first time he had been given a stern talking to by Helmut Marko this year, his 18th and 15th place grid positions in Australia and Bahrain are likely to have prompted discussions too.

Excuse or justification, one or two bad races are unlikely to be the sole - or even main - reason for the inter-team swap, not that it makes the situation any less galling for Kvyat who, it is easily forgotten, out-scored Daniel Ricciardo in his first season as a Red Bull driver and acquitted himself admirably in a team that declined sharply last year.

In Red Bull's defence though, Verstappen is an asset it needed to protect. Though no-one knows exactly what contract the Dutchman had agreed when he was first announced unexpectedly in 2014, it is largely assumed he was being primed for Red Bull in 2017.

What isn't clear is whether there was a clause that could have allowed another team, most likely Ferrari, to tempt him away. We have been here before, of course... the F1 landscape could have been a very different place had Red Bull not 'gazumped' BMW to secure Sebastian Vettel early in 2007.

Furthermore, though the timing of the decision has been called into question, making the change before the fifth round does in fact make sense in a Red Bull context.

No doubt keen to keep nurturing Verstappen's abilities, there was nonetheless probably a limit to what could be achieved in the 2015-engined Toro Rosso, a car that while handy at the moment is likely to slip down the order as the year progresses.

By contrast, with Red Bull priming for a much anticipated Renault engine update in Canada, it gives Verstappen two races to acclimatise to the RB12 with all the attention but otherwise not too many expectations.

Even so, with the upgrade rumoured to be worth up to half a second a lap, podiums will undoubtedly be anticipated thereafter

Indeed, Verstappen is facing a new kind of pressure to succeed in the Red Bull team. Though the youngster has remained remarkably unflustered beneath the burning spotlight of anticipation, the sheer circumstances of the swap and the fact he is replacing what wasn't exactly an underperforming driver makes this an entirely new challenge for the teen.

After all, overachieving in a Toro Rosso is one thing, matching lofty Red Bull targets is another... as this announcement alone shows, Red Bull's policies are strict bordering on ruthless.

On the other side of the joint RBR/STR motorhome, as bitter as it will inevitably feel for Kvyat initially, there is nonetheless opportunity here to be grasped if he can show resolve and refocus.

While he may struggle to see it this way right now, Kvyat must now consider this as a chance to recover some reputation, one that has never quite flourished under the Red Bull umbrella.

Considered to have some of the best car control of any driver on the grid and one of the most intelligent people in the paddock, Kvyat's unassuming demeanour has nonetheless never sat well with Red Bull's rather more brazen image. Indeed, sources within the team say he was urged to show more of his livelier 'behind the scenes' personality in front of the camera, but found it hard to do so.

By contrast, Verstappen is a wonderful story for F1 and for Red Bull's image. Inexperienced and young, yet skilful and unfazed, Red Bull's ethos may be more geared towards its brand than pushing energy drinks these days, but from a marketing perspective across the board Verstappen is entirely spot on.

Indeed, as awkward a situation it is, it should be noted that Kvyat is the first driver from the Red Bull fold to be given a 'second chance' by reverting back to Toro Rosso. He may be the hard done by 'victim' in this scenario, but Kvyat is still capable of looking quick in the competitive STR11... as far as demotions go, he isn't slipping too far down the hierarchy for the moment at least.

Indeed, since it seems Verstappen was always heading for Red Bull in 2017 anyway, given only two people have ever left (or been dropped from) the Red Bull fold and landed F1 drives elsewhere - Sebastian Vettel and Vitantonio Liuzzi -, Kvyat at least has another 17 races to place himself in the shop window or raise funds to go it alone for 2017.

As Christian Horner notes, Red Bull is privileged to have the flexibility and depth in quality to be able to swap between teams and while its supportively ruthless 'tough love' driver strategy has its critics, few can deny it hasn't been a pioneer in nurturing young talent to the pinnacle of the sport.

On this occasion, - unlike many Red Bull alumni before him -, Kvyat's F1 story isn't over and while you could consider that to be nothing more than a backhanded vote of confidence, Red Bull has seemingly galvanised itself by rearranging four drivers that each arguably now have more to prove to its employers than they did a few days ago....

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