Why Vergne must give up on Formula 1 for the good of his career

JEV Jean-Eric Vergne

Jean-Eric Vergne has done a solid job at Toro Rosso, but after being dropped by the team he must leave F1 to secure his long-term career.

It is less than three years since Jean-Eric Vergne was the beneficiary of Toro Rosso's cut-throat driver policy. Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari were dropped by the team, making way for the Frenchman and Daniel Ricciardo. Neither Buemi nor Alguersuari had done a bad job, but Red Bull clearly wanted more. They were searching for a new superstar - another Sebastian Vettel.

Vergne had more than earned his shot in F1: British F3 champion in 2010 and Formula Renault 3.5 runner-up in 2011, his junior career was extremely impressive, more so, it could be said, than Ricciardo's. Their Toro Rosso opportunity was clearly an audition to replace Mark Webber at the senior team.

And so it transpired, with Ricciardo eventually getting the nod to join Vettel for 2014. Few argued with this choice at the time and, given Ricciardo's performances this year, absolutely no one is querying it now.

Vergne was retained by Toro Rosso for 2014 to provide a benchmark for the inexperienced Daniil Kvyat. Once the Russian had shown he was an F1 natural, JEV was effectively surplus to requirements; that moment came within the first 10 laps of the Australian Grand Prix.

There is no need to get misty-eyed about Vergne's plight. He is a very good driver, though not brilliant by any stretch, and has had three years to impress at Toro Rosso. He was beaten by Ricciardo when the best job in F1 was up for grabs, and is now no better than level with rookie Kvyat. He’s a solid pro, not a world champion in waiting.

So the Frenchman was always going to be dropped at the end of this year, regardless of his tidy performances in 2014. The identity and age of his replacement may be a shock, but the fact he's departing isn't.

So what next?

Vergne's future F1 prospects are bleak - though not because he doesn't possess the talent to compete in the sport. Having had his career up to this point supported by Red Bull, the Frenchman does not have wealthy personal sponsors willing to pay for a new seat. So while he may be a fundamentally better driver than the likes of Marcus Ericsson at Caterham, or Marussia's Max Chilton, it is unlikely that he will be able to take one of those berths.

There is a slender chance that Renault will want a French driver in one of their cars, which could help him into a Caterham, but this would be a bad move for Vergne. Driving for a tail-end team is a thankless task for an experienced F1 driver. You can make a name there as a newcomer - look at how Jules Bianchi's reputation is growing - but for a man with three seasons' F1 experience there is not a great deal to gain. Just ask Kamui Kobayashi. He has spent the year comfortably out-performing Ericsson at Caterham, but it has done nothing to boost his F1 career. The Japanese driver’s future in the sport looks about as good as the 2014 Caterham’s nose.

And Vergne can forget a move to a midfield team. While he is undoubtedly a good driver, he has never shown the sort of quality Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas or Romain Grosjean plainly possess. They are among the few drivers outside the big teams not bringing significant money to drive; Vergne is simply not in their league.

Meaning his best option lies away from full-time F1. He must now put grand prix racing aside and make a career as a professional elsewhere in motorsport.

When Buemi and Alguersuari were dropped by Toro Rosso, both were offered new deals by Red Bull. While they weren't seen as future world champions, no one doubted that they had a great deal of talent behind the wheel of a racing car. The job on offer was as a reserve to the senior team, with a bit of testing and demo work thrown in for good measure. Buemi accepted, Alguersuari said no thanks.

Almost three years on their careers have converged once more - but after taking very different trajectories.

Alguersuari was vocal in his anger at Red Bull for being dropped very late in the year. He then went in pursuit of another F1 drive but, without significant backing, couldn't find a seat. He has not raced competitively since the 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix. He will finally return in this year's Formula E championship, where he will come up against former team-mate Buemi.

But while Jaime has been sat on the sidelines for almost three seasons Buemi has been very busy. With the Red Bull deal in his pocket, the Swiss had a secure wage and could pick and choose his future options. He soon landed a seat at Toyota's sportscar squad for 2012 and has contested three Le Mans 24 Hours for the team. He also currently leads the FIA World Endurance Championship.

As team-mates it was Alguersuari who earned more praise. But, having taken different career paths, Buemi is now the man enjoying more success. His decision to stick with Red Bull and accept that his F1 career was probably over proved correct.

Junior driver Antonio Felix da Costa also received a lifeline after missing out on the F1 seat that went to Kvyat. Rather than drop Da Costa, Red Bull are now funding him to race in the DTM. The Portuguese driver recently remarked: “I have never enjoyed a season as much as this year in DTM with BMW and Red Bull.” There is life outside F1.

Vergne should be mindful of these cases. If, as is likely, Red Bull offer him a deal as their F1 reserve, with the promise of work elsewhere, he should take it without hesitation. His F1 career is effectively over. Perhaps he could spend a few years at the back with Caterham, but this would merely be delaying the inevitable and wasting time in which he could be winning elsewhere.

But if he leaves F1 there is a world of opportunity open to him. From sportscars to Formula E, there are paid drives on offer for a proven racer with solid F1 experience. He is still just 24 and could build a fantastic career elsewhere - and the sooner he begins that the better.

But first, Vergne must accept that F1 is not the be-all and end-all. He has given it a shot and will be remembered as a decent driver, but without Red Bull support he has nothing but hard times ahead.

Just ask Kamui Kobayashi if he regrets giving up a Ferrari sportscar seat for a season of woe at Caterham. After all, he’s not busy this weekend.