What is Going on With The Second Red Bull Seat?
Let's talk about the 'curse' of the second Red Bull seat.
Daniel Ricciardo left Red Bull racing at the end of 2018, joining the Renault team to try and find more F1 success. While this move didn't quite go as expected for the Australian, Red Bull certainly haven't had the best of times either, struggling to find a replacement that is 'as good' as Daniel Ricciardo.
This article is going to take a look at how the second seat at Red Bull seems to be a disaster for anyone that sits in it, and why that might be the case...
When did this start?
The search for a Daniel Ricciardo replacement started towards the end of the 2018 season after the Australian announced his departure from the team. Red Bull have one of the best young-driver's programmes in place, recruiting the latest talent year after year - Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo are all great examples of this. It looked as if Daniil Kvyat or one of the Toro Rosso drivers - Hartley or Gasly - would take the seat for 2019.
Image: Red Bull Content Pool.
In the end, 2018 rookie Pierre Gasly was elected to jump from Toro Rosso (Red Bull's sister team), and drive alongside Max Verstappen in the 2019 season. Many people were really excited for this change as Verstappen had proven himself as a race-winning driver in his first outing at Red Bull, and big things were expected of Pierre Gasly, despite the little experience he actually had. Red Bull had put their faith into the Frenchman, who was determined to perform to the best of his ability.
However, by the 2019 summer break, Pierre Gasly hadn't scored a single podium, and had only achieved a best finish of fourth place - while Max Verstappen had consistently finished fourth throughout the first half of the season, taking two wins and three podiums in the process. While these statistics clearly show that Red Bull hadn't delivered a car capable of scoring podiums at every race, Gasly should have been finishing close to his teammate in an equal car; but actually found himself finishing between sixth and eighth place throughout the early months. The 24-year old only finished fourth on one occasion, and fifth on another occasion - not results that the third fastest team would be expecting.
Red Bull started to get fed up of all the mistakes that Gasly made, but assured the media that Gasly's seat was safe until the end of 2019 - this turned out to not be true, as Gasly was demoted back down to Toro Rosso for the second half of the season, with Alex Albon taking his place. While this was considered harsh by a lot of the media, Red Bull insisted that the move was the best for the team.
Alex Albon confirmed Red Bull's thoughts, with the Thai driver finishing between fourth and six (always a part of the top three teams) during every race, except for Brazil - a race where he competed for a podium before a collision with Lewis Hamilton ruined his race. Ironically, this incident gave Pierre Gasly his first podium finish in Formula One for the Toro Rosso team...
The 2020 Season
The 2020 season saw the entire Red Bull and Toro Rosso (now known as Alpha Tauri) lineup retained, with Albon starting his first full year in the Red Bull seat. Albon immediately impressed, showing his skill during the first race, where he was on track to score his first podium before another collision with Hamilton and an engine failure took away those chances. The 24-year old would finish in fourth place at the Styrian Grand Prix, before losing his confidence and finishing between 5th and 8th for the next five races.
As the F1 teams arrived at Monza, Red Bull would have the most bitter-sweet weekend of the year, with Verstappen retiring from the race and Albon finishing in 15th, while the driver they dropped a year ago won the race in the slower version of their car. The wound would heal at an action packed Tuscan Grand Prix that saw Albon score his first podium; but a tenth place at Russia and a retirement in Germany goes to show that perhaps he still isn't comfortable with the 2020 Red Bull car...
What's Next for Albon?
The most recent F1 race - the Eifel Grand Prix - was not a good race for the Thai driver. Not only did he ruin his first set of tyres by the time he got to Turn 2, he seemed to lose confidence during overtaking manoeuvres, caused Daniil Kvyat to lose his front wing, ruined his second set of tyres and complained that he was 'being raced too hard'. He would eventually retire due to an engine issue, but the race itself was brutal for the number two driver.
Many people believed that this was the final nail in the coffin for Alex Albon. With talented drivers such as Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez, Pascal Wehrlein and George Russel either looking for a seat, or looking for a faster seat; does Alex Albon risk being dropped by Red Bull by someone more experienced? Will Red Bull bring Pierre Gasly back to Red Bull now that he has more experience? Will we see a Formula 2 driver make a sudden promotion to Red Bull?
It definitely like Albon is safe for the rest of the season, but whether he will secure a place alongside Max Verstappen for the 2021 season is a question that nobody but Christian Horner can answer. Red Bull have two choices:
Choice 1 - Retain Albon for the 2021 season as it's the last season before the new regulations begin in 2022. This will continue to give Albon the opportunity to prove himself as worthy of driving for Red Bull when the regulations change, possibly giving him a championship-capable car.
Choice 2 - Demote Albon to Alpha Tauri (alongside Gasly) for 2021 in order to help him gain more experience, and find an experienced driver such as Hulkenberg or Perez to take the team into the new regulations.
Both of these points could certainly happen, but Horner needs to make his mind up quickly, as F1 doesn't have time for indecision. Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg both found themselves in positions where they have nowhere to go, and are desperately trying to find an entrance back into Formula One, but the possibility of being approached by other teams cannot be ignored.
What is going on with the second Red Bull seat?
The struggle with the second Red Bull seat has been around since Daniel Ricciardo was at the team. While Max Verstappen is a very talented driver and deserves the current number one spot at the Milton Keynes-based team, it seems as if Red Bull are building the car around the Dutchman's needs.
Formula One cars are complex pieces of machinery that need to be fine-tuned in order to fit the driving style of the person behind the wheel. The setup of a car is completely driver preference, as some drivers will prefer to drive a car with more understeer, while other would prefer to drive a car with more oversteer.
Since Red Bull no longer have two number one drivers to be concerned about, the team are able to push the development of the car in a direction that the talented Max Verstappen can get along with. If Max is totally confident with the car, then Red Bull may find themselves challenging for race wins every weekend; but if Max isn't totally confident, then the team may find themselves dropping behind Mercedes by a big margin.
However, by developing a car that Max Verstappen is confident with can result in developing a car that doesn't fit with the second driver. Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon are both very fast and capable drivers; but don't seem to be 'at one' with their machines. Does Red Bull's second seat problem seem more like a driver problem, or perhaps is it actually a team problem? Be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article and would like to see more from me, click here to visit my DriveTribe profile. Why not vote in my recent poll 'Will you be getting the iPhone 12?' by clicking here?