Did you know that two Russian drivers took part in the country’s first grand prix weekend, held in Sochi in 2014? Daniil Kvyat was the only local representative in the race (for Toro Rosso), but the then-20-year-old was joined on track during Friday practice by an even younger compatriot: Sergey Sirotkin.
Russia was seen as a lucrative new market for Formula 1, Sirotkin had caused quite a stir in 2013 when Sauber signed a relatively unknown 18-year-old with a plan for him to race for the team in the following season.
Those in the know knew that Sirotkin was showing some signs of promise. With the racing scene in Russia still in relative infancy, the Moscow-born driver headed to Italy to make his first steps in single-seaters, where he won the Formula Abarth title at 16 before winning races in Auto GP. Then came two years racing in Formula Renault 3.5. While the race seat at Sauber never come to fruition, he stayed with the team as a test driver and got that first practice run at Sochi.
But it was in GP2, the forerunner to today’s Formula 2, where Sirotkin really made people sit up and take notice. So much so that, at the end of his rookie season, he received the Pirelli Trophy for his great use of the tyres, a skill that helped him finish third overall in the standings. That was a result he repeated a year later, when he challenged Pierre Gasly and Antonio Giovinazzi for the title.
Sirotkin’s results helped him get a role with the Renault F1 team, which included another practice outing in Sochi in 2016, before he graduated from GP2 and focused fully on his duties with the team in 2017.
Then came his big break as a race driver for Williams in 2018. He brought sponsorship to the team, but it was an impressive test against Robert Kubica that really helped him seal the deal. A tough season followed though, as Williams struggled for competitiveness with an inexperienced driver line-up.
But in difficult circumstances, Sirotkin made a positive impression with many, beating his team-mate Lance Stroll in qualifying across the season and looking particularly quick on the streets of Monaco: a true driver’s circuit if ever there was one.
And of course, last year he was the only Russian in Formula 1, with Kvyat taking an enforced year off after being dropped by the Red Bull empire.
This year, the situation has come full circle. Red Bull has reinstated Kvyat, via Toro Rosso, while it's Sirotkin’s turn to take a back seat: at least for a little while. Nonetheless, the young Russian certainly hasn’t given up on F1. With his growing experience, he quickly returned to Renault to take up the role of reserve driver, a position he is also now fulfilling at McLaren: doubling his chances of at some point being seen back on the grid.
And it was driving for Renault that Sirotkin recently undertook an important first for F1 and Pirelli, completing the maiden test for the 18-inch tyres for 2021, notching up 213 laps across two days at Paul Ricard to help collect important data for the tyres’ development.
At the same time, he’s also been engaged in an endurance racing campaign that included Le Mans, and he’s also tested a Formula E car.
Returning from his own season on the sidelines, Kvyat will ensure that the Russian fans still have a driver to cheer for in Sochi, as they’ve had every year that F1 has been there. And as he watches from on the pits, Sirotkin might take inspiration from his compatriot’s comeback to maintain his hopes of getting back on the grid himself one day. With Robert Kubica’s recent announcement, there’s now a seat free at his old team: Williams. Stranger homecomings have happened. Just ask Dany Kvyat.
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