LONDON • Former Formula One champions Red Bull replaced Daniil Kvyat with Dutch hot shot Max Verstappen yesterday in a team shake-up that punished the Russian for a nightmare home grand prix last weekend.
Kvyat will now return to the Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso sister team that he graduated from in 2014 while 18-year-old Verstappen moves up alongside Australian Daniel Ricciardo.
The next race, and fifth round of the Formula One season, is the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona on May 15.
"Max has proven to be an outstanding young talent. His performance at Toro Rosso has been impressive and we are pleased to give him the opportunity to drive for Red Bull Racing," said team principal Christian Horner.
"We are in the unique position to have all four drivers across Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso under long-term contracts with Red Bull, so we have the flexibility to move them between the two teams.
"Dany will be able to continue his development at Toro Rosso, in a team that he is familiar with, giving him the chance to regain his form and show his potential."
McLaren driver Jenson Button expressed his surprise at Red Bull's decision to replace Kvyat with Verstappen for the rest of the season.
The 2009 world champion wrote on Twitter: "Really? one bad race and Kyvat's dropped, what about the podium in the previous race? #Shortmemories".
Kvyat, the only Russian on the starting grid, has become embroiled in controversy.
The 22-year-old has clashed twice in two races with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, the four-time world champion whose place he took at Red Bull, and has struggled to match Ricciardo's pace.
Vettel branded him a "madman" in China last month for an overtake at the start that triggered a collision between the German and his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Most fans sided with Kvyat, and he was named Driver of the Day after finishing third. But he had no defenders after colliding twice with Vettel in Sochi. That accident also ruined Ricciardo's race.
Meanwhile, F1's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone told Lewis Hamilton to stop moaning as the world champion's Mercedes team on Wednesday took the extraordinary step of writing an open letter to fans who have accused the team of sabotage.
Mercedes took on the "haters, naysayers and conspirators" who flooded social media during the Russian Grand Prix in the belief that the team are deliberately favouring Nico Rosberg, who has won the last seven races.
Hamilton fuelled the fire, hinting that race stewards had made him a target by issuing him a reprimand. But Ecclestone cut through the emotion to tell the 31-year-old Briton to get on with his job.
"I told him to get on with it because there are 17 races left," he told The Times. "It is not the end of the world. He wasn't moaning when he was winning, was he? Lewis has to learn. He is still going to win this world championship. I absolutely believe that."
Hamilton trails leader Rosberg by 43 points.
The Mercedes letter emphasised team unity and and pointed out how much hard work was done behind the scenes to give each driver an equal chance.
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON