Toro Rosso should re-hire Vergne to help guide Verstappen

JEV Jean-Eric Vergne

They've already made the decision to drop him, but Toro Rosso should consider re-hiring Jean-Eric Vergne to help guide Max Verstappen next season.

Sebastian Vettel's departure from Red Bull Racing has begun a domino effect in the F1 driver market. He has all but confirmed Fernando Alonso's departure from Ferrari, leading most to assume that the Spaniard is McLaren-bound; this in turn leads to the conclusion that Jenson Button's spell with the Woking-based outfit is drawing to a close.

Seb's decision has consequences closer to home, too. His departure has seen Daniil Kvyat called up to the senior team, creating a vacancy at the Toro Rosso junior squad. The Italian outfit already have 17-year-old wonderkid Max Verstappen on board for 2015, but at the time of writing his team-mate is yet to be confirmed.

The consensus appears to be that Carlos Sainz Jr. will land the seat. The young Spaniard was the favourite to replace the incumbent Jean-Eric Vergne until Verstappen was chosen instead, and it thus follows that he will get the nod now that Kvyat has been handed a promotion.

However that would mean pairing a 17-year-old rookie with a 20-year-old rookie. What's more, the Red Bull hierarchy have already shown that they do not have complete faith in Sainz - why else would he have been overlooked for a driver who is not even a year out of karts? Perhaps there is a long-term place for the Spaniard in their programme, but this is not it.

Instead, the man to partner Verstappen should be the same man he replaced; to put it more plainly, Toro Rosso should re-hire Jean-Eric Vergne for 2015.

This is nothing to do with giving Vergne another chance out of sympathy for the Frenchman. The team were right to drop him for next season: he has had three years in F1 and, while excellent on occasion, has not shown the consistency required to win world titles. Red Bull's only interest these days is in producing champions, so why hang on to someone who they do not believe capable?

But in these rather unique circumstances there is a reason: Verstappen. Helmut Marko sees something in Max that he hasn't glimpsed since first getting to know a young Sebastian Vettel. The Dutchman is seen as the future of Red Bull, a potential multiple world champion; he is an investment in success.

Common sense dictates that you must protect and nurture your investments to the best of your abilities - and pairing Verstappen with another rookie would not be in his best interest. In fact, it would leave the team completely lacking in experience and likely to disappear down blind alleys on setup.

What makes far more sense is to provide Verstappen with a proper benchmark and an experienced driver to learn from. Vergne may not be the fastest or most consistent man on the grid, but he is a very competent one nonetheless. He knows Toro Rosso inside-out, understands how everything at the team, and indeed in F1, works. He's made the wrong setup choices, he's dipped a wheel on to the wrong white line and quickly found himself facing the opposite direction; he can help Verstappen, just as he has undoubtedly helped Kvyat this year. Yes, Max is very mature for his age, but he'll still need all the support he can get as a 17-year-old F1 debutant.

If Verstappen comes in and blows Vergne out of the water, it's fair to say the Dutchman is a unique talent; if he's at the same level, we know he's good; if he can't get on terms with the Frenchman, then perhaps Marko was wrong on this one. But if you pair two rookies you cannot make these calls.

There is also the fact that Sainz is not necessarily Red Bull's great white hope any more, if he ever was at all. They have shown that they do not have complete faith in him - if they did he would already have a 2015 Toro Rosso contract in his pocket. Instead they passed him up for a 17-year-old with less than a year in single-seaters. It suggests they do not rate him as a future world champion and, as we know, that is all Red Bull are interested in.

This is not to write Sainz off as a racing driver - he is doing an excellent job in Formula Renault 3.5 - nor as a future F1 competitor. But if Red Bull do not believe he is on Verstappen's level, they would be foolish to pair the two at Toro Rosso next year.

Vergne offers the team stability and could act as a mentor to Max. He will score the team points, teach his young team-mate the ropes, and then depart at the season's end - at which point Red Bull may very well elect to place Sainz at the team. After all, he'd still be just 21 years old at that stage.

But that is a decision for next season. Right now, Red Bull and Toro Rosso have another choice to make. Ironically, the most forward-thinking approach they can take is to re-hire the man they elected to drop a few months ago.