Why Alex Albon is the best driver for the Red Bull seat
The Thai driver is deserving of a future in Motorsport with the Red Bull team.
Red Bull's game of musical chairs has been one of the most hotly discussed topics of silly season. The team are yet to confirm the driver to partner the inimitable Max Verstappen, with rumours currently circulating that speculate either Sergio Perez or Nico Hulkenberg, both currently seatless for 2021, will fulfil this second driver position. But is this fair to Albon?
Team principal Christian Horner has been extremely vocal in his assurance that the seat is Albon's "to lose", however the sands of time are slipping away, with only the desert races of Bahrain, Sakir and Abu Dhabi left to go for the 2020 F1 season. Considering Albon's recent results, it's not looking likely that we'll see him on the starting grid for Melbourne 2021. However, he's easily the best choice for the seat.
It's been made abundantly clear that both Christian Horner and Dr Helmut Marko are looking for a driver that can keep up the pace with Verstappen, wanting a secondary car to support the dominant Red Bull and to help them to more consistently challenge the supremacy of the Mercedes.
This is an expected but unfair ask of Albon, plucked from the junior Toro Rosso team halfway through his rookie year of F1, who eagerly jumped into the grave of Gasly only to apparently succumb to the same fate as the Frenchman, a mere year later. Albon is still a relatively fresh face to the F1 grid, and certainly still extremely inexperienced when compared to most. To expect him to be able to reach Verstappen's pace in the Red Bull in a matter of months is a dubious ask at best.
Max Verstappen holds the impressive and likely unbeatable record of the youngest F1 driver to ever race on the grid, entering his first Grand Prix in Australia in 2015. This means that not only does Verstappen have 5 years more experience on the grid than Albon, but he has also been able to gain a wealth of experience of being with the Red Bull team itself.
Albon is a talented driver, evidenced in his junior racing results as well as flashes of excellence shown in the 2020 season, but it's unfair to compare him to the prowess of Verstappen so immediately to his joining of the team. This intense pressure and expectation was the unbecoming of Gasly, who since transferring to Alpha Tauri has seen his best year in F1 yet, evidenced in his recent podium in Monza.
Signing an older, more experienced driver such as Perez or Hulkenberg seems like a natural progression as Red Bull consistently fall short of favourable results, however there must also be a consideration of the overall team dynamic when choosing a driver. Formula One has a unique sporting dynamic, in that a driver's teammate can often be their greatest rival. But whilst this makes for more exciting viewing for motorsport fans, Red Bull cannot afford for such a rivalry to occur if they wish to cinch the Constructor's Championship in the future. Verstappen and Albon reside comfortably in an obvious top driver/support driver relationship, coupled with a healthy relationship between outside of the car too.
A more established, expensive driver coming in may upset this delicate balance, and force the team to pull focus from Verstappen to cope with the other driver's team preferences and driving style. Having two top drivers hasn't worked well for Ferrari over the course of the 2020 season - with Sebastian Vettel seemingly suffering sub-par strategies and less support than Charles Leclerc, despite being a four time world champion. To consider the future of the Red Bull team we must first look at the past, and examine the reasons why Daniel Ricciardo, also an older, more experienced driver, felt the need to leave at the end of 2018.
However, Red Bull are not a team without options. Equally, they could look internally at their own driver pool and the up and coming talent of Yuki Tsunoda to fulfil the role. Tsunoda currently races in F2 and is an impressive 3rd in the standings. So why not sign him?
Red Bull are reluctant to upgrade the talented Japanese racer to F1 for the very same reasons that they are currently struggling with - Tsunoda is too young, has no F1 experience and would likely end up in the exact same position as Albon is, and Gasly was before him. Red Bull need to stop playing musical chairs, and give Albon the space to become who they want him to be.
Verstappen's 3 year deal with Red Bull holds him with the team until 2023. In that time, if Redbull keep Albon as a driver, they can mould him perfectly into the driver that they want supporting Verstappen. As Albon strengthens as a driver with the full backing of the team, he can more readily help Verstappen to challenge Mercedes in the Constructors' Championship, without ever threatening to oust the Dutch hero.
He will also be able to more consistently achieve results such as his podium at the Tuscan Grand Prix, and display the aptitude that he does in tracks that allow for greater over taking opportunities. Albon's 2020 season has made it apparent that he needs time to mature and improve as a driver in order to showcase his true potential.
Undoubtedly, Albon deserves to keep racing in the navy blue of the Bulls.