Alexander Albon, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020

Albon has been closer to Verstappen than Gasly was, says Horner

2020 Sakhir Grand Prix

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Alexander Albon is unlikely to return to Red Bull’s junior team if he does not keep his seat alongside Max Verstappen next year, according to team principal Christian Horner.

Red Bull are weighing up whether to replace Albon in their line-up for the 2021 F1 season. Verstappen has out-scored him by 189 points to 85 so far this year.

However Horner said Albon’s single lap-pace in qualifying has compared more favourably with Verstappen’s than Pierre Gasly’s did. Albon replaced Gasly in the team’s line-up during last season.

“I think you’ve got to look at how Max has evolved over the last few years,” said Horner. “If you look at his average, Alex’s average is still closer than Pierre’s was last year, to Max.

“We know we’ve had some issues with the car that have made life particularly difficult, which I think we’ve worked hard to address and been addressing so we’re confident that situation will hopefully improve for him and for any driver.

Drivers, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
2021 F1 drivers and teams
“Max is a tall order to go up against, he’s arguably the most in-form driver, probably, currently in Formula 1 and I think it would be tough for any driver to go up against him.”

However Horner admitted Albon is unlikely to be on the F1 grid next year if Red Bull do not keep him. The only remaining seats are at Mercedes, who are expected to re-sign Lewis Hamilton, and Red Bull’s junior team AlphaTauri. Horner doubts AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost will rehire Albon, who made his F1 debut at the team last year, when it was called Toro Rosso.

“I don’t believe he forms part of Franz’s plans for next year so it’s very much a Red Bull seat or a year on the bench,” said Horner.

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Horner said Red Bull’s priority is allowing Albon to prove himself worthy of the seat next season, “The focus is on giving him that opportunity. He’s got two races, he did a good job last weekend, his second podium in Formula 1.

Tsunoda could make his F1 debut with AlphaTauri
“He’s had a good first practice, a good start to the weekend here and two more weekends to demonstrate that he is absolutely the right guy to be in that car alongside Max next year. We’re giving him all the support we possibly can to achieve that goal.”

Speaking at the Bahrain Grand Prix last weekend, Tost indicated AlphaTauri will either retain Daniil Kvyat for another season or promote Formula 2 driver Yuki Tsunoda next year.

“Red Bull will think about the driver line-up for AlphaTauri and then they’re going to make a decision,” he said. “Which driver is currently not 100% decided, there’s a discussion between the drivers Kvyat and Tsunoda and in December we will decide.”

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2020 Sakhir Grand Prix

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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23 comments on “Albon has been closer to Verstappen than Gasly was, says Horner”

  1. Barry Bens (@barryfromdownunder)
    4th December 2020, 17:30

    What bothers me most about Horner/Marko in this entire thing is the fact they know deep down that it really isn’t a benefit for the team to keep Albon. Yes, he scored a podium, but as Max rightfully said: ‘being half a minute slower despite all the stuff that happened’ in the Bahrein GP, Albon merely finished third. Which is nice when Ferrari got caught with their hand in the cookie jar, but it isn’t going to do you any good when they’re back up and running or you can take the fight to Mercedes.
    Albon is ‘alright’ when Red Bull has the second place in the constructors in the pocket because there’s no competition (and Mercedes is out of reach), but Albon only gets by. He doesn’t impress at all and when he does, it’s with a podium which isn’t worth all that many points. Regardless of whether he may or may not perform better than Gasly back when, it’s still not impressive at all. Especially not for a top-team which Red Bull claims to be.

    I’m not saying it’s easy to be the teammate of a clear first-driver such as Verstappen, but anyone in their right mind would agree that Perez or even Hulkenberg would be a better fit. They seem to not have to try as hard to fight for a good enough result. Albon seems to have to go to the absolute limit (which he only manages one every blue moon) in order to get a podium in a top-tier car.

    1. @barryfromdownunder Hard to argue with what you have said. Gonna be up to AA to prove his worth. I’m assuming CH knows he’s got Perez if he wants him and it would take a simple nod in his direction at this point as they have already had the conversation. Must say I’ll still feel bad for AA anyway if it means he’s out of F1, and I was assuming he’d get to go back to AT, but apparently not.

      1. Yes, I don’t know, there seems to be a mindset at red bull to not take drivers outside their own academy, even when the best performing are clearly outside.

      2. RB have the luxury of Perez as a reserve driver for next year already.

    2. Perez running Ocon off the road numerous times probably isn’t helping him get into Red Bull. Perez is talking about the importance of the team now, but with Ocon he was quite willing to risk both cars for his own gain, multiple times… Perez and Max qualifying on the second row every race could result in a lot of crashes as neither of them likes to play it safe.

  2. Well, after 3 times as much time in the car, one would expect that to happen, right.

    To me it just seems that the Thai connection is what makes the difference. And maybe whatever riled Marko about Gasly. I see no real great difference between the two for speed and I think Red Bull will have to rely on their car still being clearly second best behind Mercedes and Verstappen bringing the goods to stay in that place in the points.

    1. @bascb My understanding regarding ‘whatever riled Marko’ from what Tost said upon PG’s return to AT, was that at RBR PG wasn’t trusting the engineers and that made things difficult for them to help him.

      1. I’m rewatching the older seasons and PG’s time in the RB wasn’t exactly stunning, I can certainly see what Horner is saying here when you look at how they line up. I would want to throw out there that I wonder how much MV is out-driving the car he has given how dominant the Mercs have been this year; if MV wasn’t in the RB can we honestly say it would still be that far ahead of AA?

        Speculation aside, Ocon spent a year away from F1. So it’s not exactly a career sentence for AA if RB goes with a Perez experiment for a year. Now if Perez pushes up to MV I think everyone, in all camps, would have their answer. And if he can’t then maybe AA gets back in that seat and continues his development.

        1. Ocon wasn’t dropped for poor performance.

      2. @robbie I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the problem was Red Bull’s decision to designate Mike Lugg as Gasly’s race engineer, given Lugg had no experience in Formula 1 when he was given that role.

        Whilst he might have served as a race engineer in junior series for a number of years, Lugg only joined Red Bull in late August 2018 and only took on the role of race engineer at the start of the 2019 season. He barely had any experience with the team – he’d only been there about six months before the opening race in Australia – and the RB15 had a number of handling traits which were similar to that of the RB16 as well, making it a difficult car to understand.

        There are also some clips of the radio transmissions between Lugg and Gasly where it does sound like Lugg was a bit overwhelmed by his role (with Gasly asking Lugg for information and Lugg struggling to provide him with the information he wanted). Not only does that seem to have resulted in Gasly pushing for the team to allocate a more experienced engineer to his team, Albon seems to have made a similar request as well – and, in the end, Marko conceded back in July this year that the team had made a mistake in appointing Lugg to that role when he was too inexperienced to deal with the challenges he faced, hence why Rennie was brought back in.

        From Gasly’s point of view, I could see why he might be frustrated if his requests for a more experienced engineer were rejected by the team (particularly if the subsequent moves by the team – switching Rennie and Lugg around – does suggest that he had a point). Quite a few current and former senior members of teams have noted that the relationship between the driver and their race engineer is a rather important one for building trust in the team – if Gasly was having difficulty in trusting Lugg due to his inexperience, then I wouldn’t be that surprised if that resulted in him struggling to trust those under Lugg’s management as well.

        1. @anon Fair comment. I have now searched for related articles and concur with your words. I would still say though that there must have been something that Horner/Marko saw in PG, or didn’t see. Or put another way, I find it hard to imagine that they would ‘saddle’ PG with an inexperienced engineer and still blame PG for the non-performances. Or, they did and their releasing of PG was wholly unfair if indeed much had to do with Lugg. Yet they kept Lugg even for AA until July of this year. That makes me think Lugg was only part of the problem, as you indicated in your first line above, and I also have to think Lugg was not isolated away from the rest of the team including Max’s side. There must have been constant communication amongst the whole team as to what both drivers were experiencing, in an effort to make the car better. Surely Lugg could have and perhaps did ask for help and/or had it offered to him given his known inexperience.

          1. Just wanted to add that from what I read of PG I think he was admirable in his wording when asked about this. He basically said that Lugg was inexperienced and that he asked for a more experienced engineer but that wasn’t forthcoming, but that his desire or his thinking was confirmed when they indeed replaced Lugg with Rennie for AA this year. He could have been bitter about that, and perhaps within himself he is, but publicly he has basically implied it is water under the bridge and he can’t change what happened.

  3. It was ok to give Albon some time at the start of the season, but he hasn’t improved at all. In qualifying he’s actually embarrassing, quite often a second or more off Verstappen and coming in at the bottom of the top 10 when Verstappen is fighting between the top 3. In races he’s better, but I’ve never gotten the impression he’s outperformed the car. The highlights of his season have been a few decent overtakes, but you’d expect that when he’s starting well out of position relative to the car’s pace.

    Who to replace him with is a difficult one though, Perez seems an obvious choice but I’m not sure he can live with Verstappen on qualifying pace either, especially if the Red Bull is as difficult to drive as it looks. Some drivers are more suited to midfield teams, and I think that goes for both Perez and Gasly. Hulkenberg obviously hasn’t had an opportunity in a top team before, my gut says he would be somewhere at a midpoint between Albon and Verstappen, and probably somewhat more expensive. It’s also possible he could re-find his form given a top car though, in which case they would have a Bottas-esque driver in their second car, which certainly would help in the championship.

    1. Perez would not be able to keep w. Verstappen on Saturday more than Albon or Gasly (yeah, not quite buying he was worse at that) I’d think @george, but on Sundays I’d expect him to be a lot more potent a points scorer and backup for the team, which is really where it is the biggest issue.

      1. @bosyber
        The thing with Perez is he has great race pace, but I don’t think he’s ever shown any particular proficiency in wheel to wheel racing (you might disagree), which would be an issue if he’s qualifying down the grid like Albon has been, because by the time you’ve managed to make places in the pits the leaders are already out of sight.

        The other question mark over Perez is whether he can handle the characteristics of the Red Bull. My personal feeling is that he likes a stable car under him, Racing Point/Force India have never looked like snappy cars unlike the Red Bull for the past few seasons. That doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t of course (all this is based on guesswork and feelings), but judging by their driving styles I think Hulkenberg might be better able to deal with it.

        1. I would actually disagree with that yeah @george. We’ve seen quite a lot of situations where Perez has shown great skill at least at defending. And some solid moves to get forward too.

  4. If they will not sign Perez, and they want to give additional races for Albon at RB, probably they will drop Kvyat (what would make sense, because apart from some bad luck, he never really beaten Albon or Gasly as a teammate, despite of his slightly higher age and somewhat higher experience). So probably they will bring Tsunoda to AT, and if Albon not gets better after some races in 2021 they will swap: Gasly to RB and Albon to AT. That’s 3 years for Albon to prove himself, a sensible amount of time to satisfy the half-Thai company.

    I don’t understand the average laptime gap bewteen Albon and Verstappen (it’s just too much to be explicable between teammates), probably Gasly was closer in terms of best lap, but Albon raced a bit better. Although as I see, Albon were put on some quite extreme tyre strat, probably to pre test the viability of a compound before Verstappen’s pit stop a few times at the second part of the season. So I’d say he was used as a dedicated second driver, and probably were regularly sacrified in a way. That would make sense because RB can’t really win by pace, although at a particular GP if it turns out that a compound barely considered by anyone is very good (via testing by Albon before Max’s stop), than they might grab an unlikely win by strategy.

    Albon probably had some facepalm inducig flaws, but I felt that they are doing this two times as well, because his tyre strat looked very different from anyones. He were stripped of two podiums, still scored proportionally a bit more than Gasly, and pulled off may good overtakes. But now he is not on a good trajectory, and Gasly managed to change his own. I think it’s far from impossible to keep Albon at RB for some few races next year, and then do the swap. That would be a nice benchmark of the newcomer Tsunoda as well, to be measured to Gasly, and Albon as well as teammates.

    I think the peak laptime gap is coming from Versteppen’s pace, he seems to be in a good mental balance in his own way, even if he sometimes behaves rudely, and overly honest sometimes. He takes the second places as if nothing had happened, and jokes about it any time, that hints about good amount of patience and power, even if he’s quite explosive if it’s about releasing some pressure.

    This year’s RB is a bit better than I expected, apart from the fact that Mercedes not developed too much, they are quite close. About the easier driveability of next year’s RB car I have doubts, as I think many teams not intended to invest too much into a design, that will last only 1 season. Probably Mercedes even can get into some trouble without DAS, sadly the silence is a bit large around the device, so I don’t really know how much they are using it. But if they did it well, they used DAS to spare one year of development, and they developed the next year’s car a bit more. Anyway I expected a bit more of the device, they had their own tyre issues for sure.

  5. Max needs an experienced teammate but redbull needs a commercially interesting driver.

    So my gut tells me Albon stays

  6. I don’t think there’s necessarily any guarantee that any of the other available drivers would be that much closer to Max because I think the biggest thing that hampered Gasly & is hampering Albon is that Max is one of those special talents that is able to drive around a difficult car.

    The Red Bull the past few years has seemed like a fast but very nervous car, Especially at the back end. Max can drive around that & maybe to an extent that sort of characteristic suits his driving style. Gasly struggled with it as is Albon & again I don’t think there is any guarantee that Perez or Hulkenberg could cope with it any better. Yes they have more experience & have pulled off impressive drives in mid-field cars but that doesn’t automatically guarantee they do the same in a top car that is tricky to drive while up against a team mate like Max Verstappen.

    1. Verstappen really reminds me of schumacher, the benettons where he won titles were particularly unstable and his team mates were seconds off his pace; now f1 moved into an age where even the worst drivers aren’t that bad, so I think all drivers are within a second of each other, but I think those are indeed paying for an unstable car.

  7. @esploratore I have to agree. Using ‘snappy’ oversteer cars, both Schumacher and Verstappen seem to have out performed them. I don’t think it qualifies as ‘irony’, but Max’s dad struggled to get to grips with the B194, just like everyone else who drove it.

  8. I get the feeling this is also a power struggle withing RBR on who decides Wich seats. Probably Horner wants to change but marko doesn’t.

    Horner has mentioned that AT Lineup is to be decided by Tost..and Tost says Red Bull decide…

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