Alexander Albon, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2019

Analysis: Just how good is Alexander Albon?

2019 F1 season

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Have Red Bull chosen to keep Alexander Albon on for 2020 because of how much he’s impressed them in the seven races since he joined the team?

Or did they simply not have a better alternative available? After all the two drivers Red Bull passed over for the seat – Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly – are already known quantities. Kvyat spent over a year alongside Daniel Ricciardo before being ushered out to make way for the team’s latest rising star.

That was, of course, Max Verstappen, the punishing benchmark against which their latest recruits are judged. Gasly was measured against Verstappen over the first 12 races of 2019 and found badly wanting. Did Albon do significantly better after replacing Gasly?

In qualifying, Gasly showed some promise up against Verstappen, occasionally getting within four tenths of a second of him. But he never out-qualified his team mate on merit. Gasly got ahead in Canada, where Verstappen was caught out by a red flag, and set a quicker time in Q1 in Azerbaijan, but was later excluded from the session for a technical infringement. Removing these outliers, Gasly was Gasly 0.497 seconds slower on average than Verstappen.

There are not as many useful data points when it comes to Albon. Besides only being in the car for seven races, engine penalties prevented a comparison in Belgium and Italy, and Albon crashed in qualifying in Russia.

Based on what little data there is, Albon’s average has been slightly worse than Gasly’s, at 0.542s off Verstappen. And like Gasly, he hasn’t been able to use harder tyres to get through Q2 as often as Verstappen.

Albon measures up against Verstappen much better when it comes to the races.

Gasly’s race performances were a conspicuous weak point. Too often he got trapped in the midfield and at times was even lapped by his team mate, such as when Verstappen won in Austria. “We shouldn’t be racing Saubers and McLarens,” Horner despaired, not long before Gasly was shown the door.

For Albon, again, the picture isn’t entirely clear because of the compromised races the team has had since the summer break. But the trend is clearly much more positive. Only in Austin, where he was involved in a collision on the first lap, has he finished anything like as far behind Verstappen as Gasly did.

He hasn’t managed to take a podium finish year, but in seven races he has consistently placed inside the top six – the group a Red Bull has no business finishing outside. In seven races he’s not only scored more than Gasly did in his 12-race stint at Red Bull, he’s out-scored Verstappen since the summer break too.

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Arguably, Albon has been flattered in that the Red Bull is a better, more sorted car now than it was at the beginning of the season, when the team were struggling with set-up problems. Verstappen’s woes in Japan and Mexico clearly flattered him too.

Albon’s first F1 run came at Misano in February
But Albon’s race performances are much closer to Verstappen’s level than Gasly’s were. This is particularly impressive when his relative lack of experience is taken into consideration.

Albon was dropped from Red Bull’s junior programme in 2012 and didn’t drive an F1 car for the first time until he joined Toro Rosso at the beginning of this year. Gasly, in comparison, was nurtured by the team throughout his junior career and had several real-world F1 test chances.

After getting his F1 break Albon scored his first points in his second race. The first time he drove an F1 car in the rain, at the Hockenheimring, he ran fourth and took sixth – winning a feisty battle with Gasly as he did.

Clearly Red Bull discounted its two in-house alternatives to Albon. And it chose not to look beyond its current talent roster.

They could have looked further afield – to Renault, for example, where Nico Hulkenberg is searching for a seat. But taking a driver from outside their own programme is not the Red Bull way. Particularly when it’s a driver who’s found himself without a seat for next year. Even more so when that driver has been shown the way this year by the man who quit Red Bull at the end of last season.

But while this is true, it’s also clear Albon built a convincing case for himself over his first seven races at Red Bull. Though he hasn’t been as quick as Verstappen and he has had a few crashes, he’s never lost sight of the importance of bringing the car home and bagging the points. Red Bull are banking on him proving the perfect foil to the spectacular Verstappen in 2020.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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38 comments on “Analysis: Just how good is Alexander Albon?”

  1. Your system has taken the 0.000 s difference at Suzuka and assumed the data is missing rather than including it in the average, thereby overestimating the qualifying gap. Use something other than zero for that purpose to prevent this error in future

  2. To save anyone a few clicks: i recalculated the qualifying difference average using +0.001s for Japan and i got some 0.407s, slightly better than Gasly’s average over a significantly smaller sample size. The next 2 races (Abu Dhabi even more so) will be a good yardstick for Albon’s performance in qualifying relative to Verstappen

    1. Oops, this was in reply to @ilanin

      1. @xenn1 combo, two of this site’s congenital problems highlighted in one go

      2. José Lopes da Silva
        13th November 2019, 9:37

        You and @ilanin are amazing. I would hire you for my company if I was a company owner. Congrats! As indeed Albon “feels” quicker than Gasly in qualifying too. By the way, do you have any stat (or do you any f1 site) that mentions how many times there were 0.000s differences on qualifyings? I don’t recall others aside from the 1997 Europe GP.

  3. Albon is the new Ricciardo for Redbull. A bit slower than max butt better at accumulating steady points. Basically the story of Redbull between 2016-2018.

    1. @knightameer That’s what I imagine Red Bull want, a Ricciardo-level replacement but without the ‘first driver’ expectations of RIC. Verstappen is the fastest new driver in F1 since Hamilton, it’s doubtful anyone Red Bull pick will get that close to his qualifying speed on a regular basis. However Ricciardo’s quality was during races, and Albon, like you said, has been delivering so far.

      1. Ricciardo never had a ”first driver” expectation. He simply wanted fair and even treatment. That’s not what he got.

        1. José Lopes da Silva
          13th November 2019, 9:41

          @keithcollantine schedule, for December or January, a long article on evidence that Ricciardo was treated by Red Bull the same way Irvine was treated by Ferrari. It well get you lots of clicks and views during the off-season. And I’m still waiting about all that evidence.

        2. @Initially You’re right, I phrased that badly without explaining the quote marks round ‘first driver’. What I actually meant was the fact he was the first of the two at the team (and ‘senior’ in that sense), but like you imply, the situation was almost inverted with all the attention, at least, seemingly on Verstappen. Red Bull could have handled their excitement about VER’s arrival a lot better, but subtlety doesn’t seem to be one of their traits. That cost them the ideal driver line up.

        3. he wanted 25 mil. reasons…..

    2. Better at accumulating steady points? Hmm, first off there’s hardly been much time to prove that experiment and secondly you are using some races in which Max was compromised. Let’s look at Max’s points count per race throughout the season, and one can see his steady points accumulation that has him splitting the Ferraris in the drivers standings, in the third best car no less.

      Albon is doing great and I have absolutely nothing against him and wish him only big success, but using him at this stage to compare to Max or DR is folly. AA has everything to prove yet. Let’s honour AA by not selecting races where Max was compromised in order to elevate him. Let’s just let AA’s own work speak for itself. He’s not DR, he’s AA.

      It’s like a component penalty and a whack off the track by Leclerc, and a racing incident with LH at the start, all since the summer break and suddenly Max is now the old Max of pre-Canada 2018. I don’t think so.

      1. @Robbie

        Without disagreeing with a word you wrote, because of course it’s still very early days, Albon does seem to have something that isn’t as eye-catching as Verstappen’s approach and talents but may be fundamentally sounder. He has raced within his talent, so we haven’t seen it all yet, and he’s driven the race he has, rather than the race he wants, which is unusual among mature drivers, let alone rookies.

        I wouldn’t be too surprised if Albon turns out better than Leclerc and Verstappen – or too surprised if he doesn’t, of course.

        1. Dave, fair comment. Personally I think Max is in a class of his own, but that’s me, and of course there are hundreds of variables that will decide where they stand each race and each season, which is why they run all the races, lol.

          I think it is going to be really exciting to see an Albon that has the off-season and next year’s pre-season with the car to then start 2020 off on the right foot, or…a better foot. He must be absolutely stoked. What a miracle year this has turned out to be for him.

          1. Personally I think Max is in a class of his own, but that’s me

            @robbie No way, really? I would never have deduced that from the amount you gush over him on a daily basis.

          2. @Robbie

            You could well turn out to be right about Max, and however g good he ends up he’s very entertaining, but I’m thinking about whether different kinds of talents will be more or less obvious at an early stage of a driver’s career. Banging in very fast laps and making overtakes gets noticed – even if it doesn’t actually result in a better finishing position. Doing just enough to secure the best possible finishing position is harder to see.

          3. Dave, fair comment again. Let’s just see where this goes, like we have a choice lol. Here’s hoping they’ll be racing for 1’s and 2’s soon and that ‘just enough’ is actually for wins.

          4. RB13 Lol too true. Almost as bad as an LH fan, eh?

    3. Lol ricciardo got more poles and more wins and beat max almost half the time he was at red bull. Albon has yet to beat max once on level playing field. Also shocker gasly is faster in a torro roso then a red bull can’t have Max’s teammates on equal footing as max

  4. Given recent history, it’s not like Albon is guaranteed a seat all season. They’ve probably decided to give him a few more races, and see how it goes.

    1. Doesn’t sound like that.

      1. @Robbie

        No, but the recent history is that Red Bull’s statements in this regard can’t be relied upon.

        My opinion of Albon so far is that he’s been flying under the radar, and might actually be better than Verstappen overall in a few years (although probably won’t) and has a very good chance of continuing his excellent start. All I was saying is that while most teams almost never change drivers midseason, Red Bull have shown that they’re quite willing to do so.

        1. Dave, fair comment but when I said it doesn’t sound like that it was because you have suggested they just mean with this signing that he’ll only have ‘a few more races’ to secure his seat. Given that we have all seen how solid AA has been so far, and that it has now been confirmed that RBR also thinks the same of AA with this signing, I doubt AA still only has a few more races to prove himself…it sounds like he already has in their eyes.

          Of course it is undeniable that RBR have changed drivers mid-season, but realistically they have only done so for good reason, and I simply do not see AA giving them said good reason.

          Also, to say they are ‘quite willing’ to do so…sure, that’s a way of putting it, but I think the reality is that they do not take these decisions lightly. They certainly gave Gasly all the tools and the help they could to try to retain him, and Gasly didn’t capitalize on that. So before RBR is ‘quite willing’ I think they start by resisting the temptation and rather would try to work with a driver first and foremost just to make sure they are treating him like family and also to confirm for themselves that they are making the absolute best decision for the team.

    2. @Dave Indeed. He’s got to keep this level of consistency for next season to stay in the senior team throughout the season.

  5. Perfect lap dog material.

  6. They took Hartley back on (after a similar gap in time) & then ditched him, so RB aren’t exactly known for being fluffy with drivers. If they’d wanted to ditch Albon, they would have regardless of having a contract etc. I’m guessing things would have been closer for Kvyat & Gasly if Pato O’Ward had enough points for a Super License.

    They kept Albon on because they decided he was better than Gasly, Kvyat and Hulkenberg, and doesn’t appear to trash the car that often (see Kvyat’s Suzuka barrel roll in P3 was it?).

    Marko is of (apparently) similar temperament to Niki Lauda, who was renowned for starting a sentence with “it’s very simple…”. There’s not much analysis needed here.

  7. Gasly was Gasly 0.497 seconds slower on average than Verstappen :)

    1. I think that sums it up pretty well :)

      He indeed was Gasly and almost a 0.5 second slower than Max.

  8. I’m glad because I like him a lot, and not just as a driver. The guy seems very cool, and funny.

    1. He does, I agree. Really nice, and likeable guy. Great sense of humour. Level headed. Grateful.

  9. First season in an F1 car and he’s already been promoted, matched Max in qualy, bagged a nice haul of points, and brought a lot of positive press. Not a bad start really.

  10. For now, Albon brings the points he is expected to deliver. But next season, I think RedBull will ask more of him, more than a 5th or 6th place every race. Not to become a “first driver”, obviously, but they need him to get among the front runners, battle with them and ruin their strategies to help Max win more races. It was pretty bad to see Max fight this whole season alone against 2 cars from 2 rival teams, without having a helping hand from his teammate(s).

    1. I hate to reply on my own comment, but I forgot about the best example for not getting help from his teammate: in Hungary, if Gasly was closer to Max (15 seconds or so) it wouldn’t have made things so easy for Mercedes strategy with the extra pitstop. And RedBull would have probably won that race.

  11. In the RB races albon has had, could Kvyat have achieved a higher finish? Probably yes.

    In the RB races albon had had, would Kvyat have ended up with a higher points tally? Probably not.

  12. Regardless of whether or not Albon ends up being a “great” driver, he’s certainly demonstrated the skill and temperament to thoroughly deserve both the promotion this year and to retain his seat at RBR.

    I’m also really pleased that Red Bull continue to keep their philosophy of promoting young drivers from within rather than trying to lever someone out from another team contract or chasing an old hand that has no seat.

    Quite a lot of people laughed at their approach but largely it’s worked for them.

    A huge congratulations to Albon.

  13. Pay Kimi based on points ..and he will deliver.

  14. I tend to agree with the the narrative. It is really hard to evaluate Albon’s performance because both Redbull drivers have not had straight forward races. Even qualifying has been inconclusive. The only thing in Albon’s favour is he has consistently scored reasonable points based comparable to the team’s position in the pecking order.
    Perhaps he isn’t as much under any pressure line Gasly was or maybe the car has improved since earlier in the season, but he definitely has appeared to be doing a much better job than the driver he replaced.

  15. José Lopes da Silva
    13th November 2019, 10:12

    I think Red Bull’s driver changes create lots of emotions with the fans because they’re not used to frequent promotions and relegations in Formula 1. This is an historic novelty. I would love to know the average age of critics of Reb Bull management.

    Marko does not evaluate drivers in a fundamental different way than any other manager, present or past. He just changes them quicker because he has 4 seats. Verstappen made an appearance in F1 similar to Schumacher, Senna and other big drivers, right from start. And right now half the people will say that I’m comparing Verstappen to Schumacher and Senna and they’ll go berserk. Kvyat got beaten by Ricciardo in 2015, and I can’t understand how can people justify that “Kvyat score more”, like if that was the single evaluation item – or the most important, aside from championship-fighting teams. Would you hire Kubica over Russell? Yet, the man has more points!

    Kvyat and Gasly should be thankful for their opportunities. Roberto Moreno did not have a Benetton B-team when he was sacked in mid-1991. Gasly’s demotion was a matter of time; you can’t be lapped by your teammate without outliers. And Albon was slightly faster while less experienced than Kvyat. And better in the rain, by the way. But no rain performance this decade was better than Verstappen’s in Brazil ’16.

    I don’t remember any example in history of a driver starting with a 0,4s consistent deficit per lap to a team mate, over several grand prix, just for later being better than that teammate. But is Albon better than Gasly? Of course. He always finishes in the top-6. And his race pace doesn’t seem that far off. And yes, he probably has margin to improvement. The prospect of watching Albon in the Red Bull next season is way more interesting than Gasly was, a year ago.

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