After only a few of the races at the beginning of this season, judging by how fiercely ruthless Red Bull Racing have been before with drivers, I fully expected Pierre Gasly to be replaced sooner rather than later. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, the news has been confirmed today. “Alex Albon will replace Pierre Gasly for the Belgian Grand Prix.” However, not without sending a huge shockwave through the Formula 1 community
It was only a year ago that the shocking news came through that Daniel Ricciardo was not re-signing with Red Bull, the team that had funded him through his years as a racing driver and brought him right to the front of the F1 grid on more than one occasion. Instead he would leave at the end of the season, to drive for Renault in 2019. So far, the same level of success he enjoyed at Red Bull has not yet been realised with the French team.
Red Bull’s chosen replacement was Pierre Gasly- a fully expected replacement. He had had many decent results in the Toro Rosso Honda in only his first season of F1. Outperforming Brendon Hartley on numerous occasions whilst the team was used somewhat as a development programme for the Honda power unit, to be ready for Red Bull Racing to ditch Renault power units for Honda.
Arguably, one of the main factors of Daniel Ricciardo’s career changing decision was the unstoppable threat on the other side of the Red Bull garage – Max Verstappen. Ricciardo always felt that the team favoured the Dutchman- an example being the inter-team repercussions after the crash in the race in Baku last year. He felt that the way the team handled the situation was not to his liking.
This season, in every race (and most other sessions), Verstappen has beaten Gasly, and often by huge margins. Both the Austrian and Hungarian Grand Prix embarrassingly featured the phenomenon of Gasly being lapped by his teammate. On both occasions Verstappen would be fighting for the lead, and Gasly nowhere to be seen in the same car and conditions. Gasly’s shocking performances prove Daniel Ricciardo was much more than a Number 2 driver.
The common theme seems to be Max Verstappen here. Remember, when Daniil Kvyat was demoted from Red Bull Racing in 2016 and Max took his drive. His first race for the team would be the Spanish Grand Prix, in which he won (admittedly with the help of the Mercedes drivers!)
Perhaps the mistake Red Bull are making here is them clearly wanting to help develop Gasly as a driver, but instead of doing it where he was (in the main team) they decide to ruin whatever confidence was left by demoting him to Toro Rosso, where mistakes or less-than-optimum pace is less noticed, and Verstappen can be left unchallenged as Number 1 driver.
Looking at the past, you can quite clearly see whats going to happen next to Pierre Gasly. We can refer back to the past to the chaotic career path of Daniil Kvyat. Effectively sacked twice by Red Bull management, Kvyat was firstly promoted to Red Bull after one season with Toro Rosso in 2014. However the first lap incidents of the 2016 Russian GP would result in Kvyat’s demotion back to Toro Rosso, and Verstappen’s following race win. Kvyat spent more than one and a half seasons at Toro Rosso before he was demoted from F1 indefinitely.
I believe Gasly getting dropped was always a possibility for the Belgian GP. Being 3rd in the Constructors behind Ferrari, where 2nd is a real possibility if they had two decent scoring cars, is too much of a financial issue for Red Bull. However, I can’t help thinking that if this was another team in the same situation, they would have worked with Gasly in the main team. Possibly having the luxury of owning two teams, in which one is intended for driver development, is what is hurting the Red Bull driver programme.
There is yet another elephant in the room here. Red Bull have chosen Alex Albon to be the replacement. First of all, Albon is a fantastic racing driver as demonstrated in his Formula 2 days, but he is in his first season in Formula One, in the Toro Rosso team alongside the returning Daniil Kvyat. As expected for a rookie in the tightly contended midfield battle, he has shown great pace but sits an underwhelming P15 in the Drivers Standings with 16 points (Kvyat 9th with 27 points), after various mistakes including a crash in FP2 in Hungary. Is he ready? Most likely not but time will tell of course. He will have had no track time in the Red Bull RB15 before FP1 at Spa.
18 months ago, he didn’t have a seat at all anywhere, in any motorsport category, so his seat at Toro Rosso was somewhat an overlooked surprise.
If Gasly absolutely had to be removed from the Red Bull Racing team this early on, then Daniil Kvyat should have got the drive, simply because there is no other driver involved with Red Bull with the same level of experience in the sport. Perhaps Albon could have got the seat for next season or the season after when the pressure wouldn’t be too much.
I would like to hear your thoughts in the comments below…