Three options to replace failing Albon
By Christian Moerman 21 August 2020 | 10:31
Alexander Albon is having a tough season at Red Bull Racing. The Thai-Brit can't control the RB16 and leaves a considerable gap to team-mate Max Verstappen every week. Considering the ruthless workings of the Austrian racing team, speculation has arisen around the future of the second Red Bull rider. Will Red Bull start looking for a replacement for Albon again halfway through the year? And what options are available to the Milton Keynes team? MaximumF1 lists three possible options.
Over the years, Red Bull has proven to have little patience with underperforming drivers. Pierre Gasly is the most recent example of this, but Max Verstappen also got his seat because of this attitude. In 2016 the Dutchman was promoted at the expense of Daniil Kvyat. At the time, Helmut Marko's words were harsh: "Formula 1 is a hard business. Only the very best drivers survive here".
"All our young drivers must be able to win a Grand Prix, that's the goal. If we see that that's not in it, then we react", Marko said four years ago when Kvyat couldn't make it in the Red Bull first team. Daniel Ricciardo, also active in the team at the time, looked at the course of events in shock, but no surprise: "I've seen this before at Red Bull, that's the way they work."
Is Red Bull looking?
That Albon - if he continues to underperform - will suffer the same fate is only in line with expectations. But what are the chances that Red Bull will look for a replacement? Albon has an advantage with his nationality. One of the wealthiest Thai families, the Yoovidhya family, has a majority stake in Red Bull.
That could offer Albon a foothold in these difficult times because this family would like to see a representative Thai in the sport. His background could offer Albon the support that Kvyat and Gasly did not have before. However, looking at his performance in 2020, we can only imagine a dissatisfied Marko.
A P4 at the Styrian Grand Prix is Albon's best result this year, followed by a fifth-place twice, an eighth-place twice, and a dropout in the season opener. Nothing to write home about. But if Red Bull wants to go for a replacement, what are their options?
Gasly makes a return to Red Bull?
Gasly was allowed to try out for six months in the RB15 in 2019. The Frenchman was put aside by 'team-mate killer' Verstappen, and halfway through the year, the tension was tangible in the Red Bull pit box. Gasly was judged to be not good enough by Marko & Co. and had to give up his seat to Albon.
After Red Bull gave up on Gasly in 2019, the chances of returning the 24-year-old driver don't seem high. Nevertheless, the AlphaTauri driver must be taken into account, if only because of the stable form he is currently in.
The AT01 is not the most competitive car in midfield. Regularly AlphaTauri doesn't even compete for points, mainly because the top ten competition is murderous. With Renault, McLaren, Ferrari, and Racing Point, the midfield is already overloaded this year; all these teams compete there for World Championship points.
This makes it all the better that Gasly has managed to secure a seventh-place twice this year. With another P15, P11, and DNF, this brings him to a total of fourteen points this season. By comparison, in a car in which Verstappen has shown there are races to win, Albon has only managed to score forty points.
Not only has Gasly achieved almost half of Albon's points in a significantly worse car, which already makes a top ten finish difficult, but he is twelve points ahead of team-mate Kvyat. Albon's gap to Verstappen is no less than 55 points. In his current form, Gasly would be a good alternative, although he has already shown to perform poorly under the pressure of Red Bull.
Vettel back to his old love
Option two is to retrieve Sebastian Vettel. The man, who became world champion no less than four times with Red Bull Racing, has now been shown Ferrari's door. So he has to look for a new employer if he wants to continue his racing career in 2021. He is often associated with Racing Point, but not all drivers are fixed yet either at Red Bull.
There were rumors of a possible transfer from Vettel to his old team around the Austrian Grand Prix. Vettel would like to return to his old love, and at one point it was even suggested that Dietrich Mateschitz had asked Helmut Marko to bring the German back to his team.
It didn't come to a concrete offer; after the Red Bull Ring races, the story disappeared, and Aston Martin appeared as the primary contender for the German's signature. Still, a switch doesn't seem to be inconceivable. After a dramatic start to the Italian team's 2020 season - whether it's the SF1000 or not - Vettel is sure to be willing to sign up for a role as the second driver alongside Red Bull's Protegé Verstappen. The only question then is whether Red Bull would want this.
At Ferrari, a Vettel transfer would open up a vacancy halfway through the season. Should Ferrari not be able to bring Sainz's arrival forward, for example, because McLaren doesn't want to cooperate, they could always choose to drive with Nico Hülkenberg next to Charles Leclerc for half a year.
Hülkenberg impresses Marko
It's unusual for Red Bull, but they could also indulge in outside talent. The most obvious candidate would then be Hülkenberg, who blew Marko away with his excellent performance for Racing Point this year at Silverstone. The German, who would probably also form a hilarious couple with Verstappen, did have the talent but never had the car to prove it.
Should Red Bull go for the former Renault driver, who, without practice, seemed to match Lance Stroll's speed in Great Britain easily, chances are, they can offer Verstappen the wingman he needs to make a serious run for the world title in 2021. However, Red Bull invests a lot of money in youth training and has shown in the past that it prefers internal talents to drivers from outside.
So in this scenario, Albon would have to clear the field for Hülkenberg, but that wouldn't necessarily mean an Albon exit. In all likelihood, Albon would get his seat back at AlphaTauri, where Red Bull would carefully follow the 23-year-old rider's development. Albon can then always be used again by the Austrian race stable at a later time.
That would also mean the end of Kvyat's Formula 1 career. The demotion in 2016 would then have been a harbinger of his slowly bleeding to death at Red Bull, an alternative future that seems only more likely due to his current mediocre form. (Photo: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images) Translated By Robert McGillivray
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