Martin Brundle has described Red Bull’s decision to promote Max Verstappen to its main team with Daniil Kvyat returning to Toro Rosso as a “masterstroke”, amidst rumours of Ferrari and Mercedes' interest in the Dutchman.
Having taken the sport by storm during an impressive 2015 rookie campaign, Verstappen followed this eye-catching debut with three consecutive points finishes to open the current season.
The 18-year-old was also running in a strong sixth position at last weekend's Russian Grand Prix when he suffered a race-ending failure. With Verstappen quickly becoming the hottest commodity in the paddock, rival teams reportedly enquire about the teenager’s plans for 2017.
Brundle says Kvyat’s troubled start to his 2016 campaign - highlighted by his error at the start in Sochi - gave Red Bull the opportunity to lock Verstappen in a long-term deal.
"I think it was the perfect chance for Red Bull to move [Kvyat] out the way," the star TV pundit told Sky Sports News HQ. "They want to do something with Verstappen, they have to protect him, keep him in the Red Bull team moving forward.
“They know Mercedes want him, they know Ferrari will want him and other teams too. It's a bit of a masterstroke from Red Bull actually, as brutal as it looks for Kvyat."
Brundle adds that the move will enable Red Bull to assess Verstappen in a more competitive environment with a three-time grand-prix winner as his new benchmark.
“The Toro Rosso is running the 2015 Ferrari engine, and under the rules they can't develop that engine, so [they] are going to struggle for performance as the year goes on.
“They'll want to keep [Verstappen] happy, and they'll want to validate him against Daniel Ricciardo... now there's an interesting combination – that's going to be mighty.”
Brundle also believes the shock switch leaves opportunities open for Red Bull’s other two F1 drivers.
“[They] have given Kvyat a chance to redeem himself by putting him back in the Toro Rosso, with Carlos Sainz, the man who must be a bit frustrated by all of this.
“I think Sainz has all but matched Verstappen since the moment they became team-mates at Toro Rosso, so now it's his chance to really shine, as there's been a bit of friction as well.
“Overall, you can see why they've done it and how it will benefit all parties.”