Dropping Gasly: The Chain-Reaction Which Is Giving Red Bull A Big Headache
The poor timing of Gasly's demotion and the implications that it has on Red Bull's future!
“If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen”, it’s a popular saying in Formula 1. The sport has always been cut-throat by nature. At the pinnacle of motorsport no one is irreplaceable, and a driver is only ever as good as their last race. In recent years, nobody has been more brutal than Red Bull, but they may have tripped over themselves by dropping one of their drivers when they did.
By now, we all know the story of how Pierre Gasly was demoted at the mid-point of last season in favour of Alex Albon. In a different environment, Gasly was able to rebuild his confidence and once again began delivering the results that earned him the Red Bull drive to begin with, eventually leading to victory at the Italian Grand Prix. By contrast, Albon’s Red Bull career started well, but over time his confidence has also been hit, largely due to the morale-sapping pace of Max Verstappen in his prime. As a result we are, once again, speculating as to who will be in one of F1’s most coveted seats in 2021.
It’s fair to say that in the early stages of 2019, Gasly’s form wasn’t brilliant to say the least. More often than not he underperformed, and found himself unable to pass midfield cars instead of being in the mix with the big three teams. However, for the sake of the team, I still believe that they should have persevered with Gasly until the season was over, thereby giving him at least one full season in the main team and giving Alex Albon one full season in Formula 1.
The timing of Gasly’s transfer back to Red Bull’s junior outfit has impeded the development of both drivers in different ways. Not only did Red Bull fail to give Gasly a real chance, but they also replaced him with an even less experienced driver, as Albon had competed in only 12 races before debuting with Red Bull at Spa. Gasly’s extra time at Toro Rosso/Alpha Tauri has undoubtedly been helpful for him, but it may not have been necessary if they’d seen out the season with Gasly at the helm of the Red Bull. Ever since his first race, I have found myself rooting for Albon, but by putting him in the Red Bull too soon his confidence has also deteriorated and he’ll now likely have to go through the same rigmarole as Gasly. The Red Bull has shown to be a difficult car to drive, and it seems that Gasly wasn’t given enough time to get used to the car, and Albon still isn’t experienced enough to get the most from the car.
This process has proven to be costly in terms of the development of both the drivers, and the team. With Honda announcing their decision to withdraw from Formula 1 as an engine supplier, Red Bull needs a driver pairing who can give useful feedback about whatever power unit they decide to use, and by rushing the development of both Gasly and Albon it can’t be either of them. Honda’s departure could also result in Verstappen leaving the team if he believes that Red Bull cannot deliver him a World Championship. In any case, this now means that Red Bull are looking outside of their programme to the likes of Hulkenberg or Perez to lead the team, as Helmut Marko has already implied that the team wouldn’t take back Gasly if they decided to drop Albon.
This isn’t the first time that Red Bull has swapped drivers between teams mid-season. They famously switched Daniil Kvyat and Max Verstappen during the 2016 season, with Verstappen taking victory on his debut with the team. But this was after Max, and his team-mate Carlos Sainz had already completed one full season with Toro Rosso, and the team could’ve justifiably put either driver in the car. In fact with all of Red Bull’s success stories, they have given the drivers time to learn and grow before placing them in the spotlight, giving both Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel two seasons at Toro Rosso respectively before putting them in the main team.
Red Bull have always prided themselves on their young driver programme, and always opt to promote their young drivers into F1 wherever they can. But as exciting as this makes F1, the bi-product of youth is inexperience, and the key to helping a new driver find their feet is stability. In the grand scheme of things, being more patient with Pierre Gasly might have sped up the development of both him and Alex Albon as they would have had this stability. With rumours circulating that Gasly may partner Fernando Alonso at Renault in the near future, could Red Bull be about to lose a promising talent for good?