Albon’s big chance to prove he can play a race-winning role

2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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After qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Alexander Albon was asked the question he knew was coming: How soon after this weekend’s race will Red Bull make their decision known on its drivers for the 2021 F1 season?

Red Bull’s plans for its two teams is the last unresolved question in the driver market for next season. Yuki Tsunoda is widely expected to replace Daniil Kvyat at AlphaTauri. But who will be Max Verstappen’s team mate next year?

What Red Bull want is a driver who can bolster its race-winning chances weekend in, weekend out. Too often in 2020 Albon hasn’t done that. But with Verstappen on pole position and Albon a useful fifth, he has the opportunity to prove he can do it in the season finale. It could be his last chance to lay claim to a seat in an RB16B.

Verstappen will start from pole position on medium tyres, with Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton behind on the same rubber, then Lando Norris and Albon on softs. Red Bull’s chief engineer for car engineering Paul Monaghan explained how the team see the complexion of the race.

Sergio Perez, Racing Point, Yas Marina, 2020
Perez will start last – but has a fresh engine
“Clearly there’s some doubt over the soft to be able to competitively do a stint,” explained Monaghan. “Thus if you can put yourself on a medium – and our perception is that’s a more robust race tyre, less prone to overheating, which the C5 is – then we’re able to choose our first stint length as opposed to having it imposed upon us.

“If the soft tyre degrades there may be some more space behind us as it opens up. Then we can look to, if the Mercedes tries to undercut us if we go off in grid order, at least cover [them].”

Given Albon’s starting position, Monaghan expects he will be able to stay close enough to his team mate and the Mercedes to play a useful role in the race.

“Looking at the relative pace of the cars, the McLaren, the Renault, the Ferrari don’t appear to be as close to us as they have been. So I think Alex is not at too much of a detriment.

“We’ve got enough pace in the car that he will pull away from the runners just behind him, such that he’s not going to get stuck either. So there should be some space for him if he has to pit a little bit earlier than the others.

“Equally if he jumps a Mercedes then all well and good, it’s game on. Ideally he’ll get two of them.”

The latter point is definitely on the optimistic side of projections. But Monaghan’s insight shows the expectations Red Bull have of Albon. He generally hasn’t been able to play this kind of role in races so far this year. Too often he’s slipped back into the clutches of the midfield.

His first problem on Sunday will be getting around the McLaren of Norris immediately ahead of him. If he can do that he could be well-placed to support Verstappen’s bid for victory.

The worry for Albon is that Sergio Perez – his rival for next year’s Red Bull seat – will perform more of the kind of heroics he achieved last weekend, when he won after falling to 18th. He lines up 19th for tomorrow’s race following a power unit change. A fresh Mercedes motor plus a stack of untouched tyres could make for a spectacular charge from the back.

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Lando Norris, McLaren, Yas Marina, 2020
Norris claimed a valuable fourth on the grid ofr McLaren
Perez has a role to play in one of the other major contests in tomorrow’s season finale: The fight for third place in the constructors’ championship. Racing Point arrive with a 10-point lead over McLaren, and Renault a further 12 points back.

Qualifying has left this fight intriguingly poised. McLaren have a clear positional advantage with Norris fourth, two places ahead of Carlos Sainz Jnr. Both will start on worn rubber: Norris soft, Sainz medium.

Renault have bagged the ‘new-tyre front row’ in 11th and 12th, the ‘Q3 tyre rule” playing into their hands. As last year’s race showed, this can confer a significant strategic advantage, allowing them to run longer in the first stint and have fresher tyres to attack with at the end of the race.

Finally Racing Point have a compromised position forced on them by circumstances. Perez starts at the back with fresh rubber, while Lance Stroll is eight with worn tyres.

Esteban Ocon, Renault, Yas Marina, 2020
Renault need their tyre advantage to pay off
If they were to finish where they start, McLaren would out-score Racing Point by 16 and take third place. How vulnerable the MCL35’s worn rubber will leave them, and what kind of progress Perez can make, will determine how this fight unfolds.

Renault are clearly in the weakest position. But Esteban Ocon is hopeful the race will come to them.

“We have a free choice of tyres tomorrow which is going to be important,” he said. “Obviously the C5 is a very soft compound, not easy to use in the race so we’ll see what we do. For the other ones that could be tough.

“Thanks to that hopefully it’s given us some options on strategy to try and come back, because we need to come back for the points in the constructors. So it’s going to be an aggressive race tomorrow.”

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Qualifying times in full

DriverCarQ1

Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Max VerstappenRed Bull1’35.9931’35.641 (-0.352)1’35.246 (-0.395)
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1’35.6991’35.527 (-0.172)1’35.271 (-0.256)
3Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’35.5281’35.466 (-0.062)1’35.332 (-0.134)
4Lando NorrisMcLaren1’36.0161’35.849 (-0.167)1’35.497 (-0.352)
5Alexander AlbonRed Bull1’36.1061’35.654 (-0.452)1’35.571 (-0.083)
6Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren1’36.5171’36.192 (-0.325)1’35.815 (-0.377)
7Daniil KvyatToro Rosso1’36.4591’36.214 (-0.245)1’35.963 (-0.251)
8Lance StrollRacing Point1’36.5021’36.143 (-0.359)1’36.046 (-0.097)
9Charles LeclercFerrari1’35.8811’35.932 (+0.051)1’36.065 (+0.133)
10Pierre GaslyToro Rosso1’36.5451’36.282 (-0.263)1’36.242 (-0.040)
11Esteban OconRenault1’36.7831’36.359 (-0.424)
12Daniel RicciardoRenault1’36.7041’36.406 (-0.298)
13Sebastian VettelFerrari1’36.6551’36.631 (-0.024)
14Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’37.0751’38.248 (+1.173)
15Sergio PerezRacing Point1’36.034
16Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’37.555
17Kevin MagnussenHaas1’37.863
18George RussellWilliams1’38.045
19Pietro FittipaldiHaas1’38.173
20Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’38.443

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Max Verstappen17.030 (2)40.750 (3)37.466 (2)
Valtteri Bottas17.035 (3)40.731 (2)37.408 (1)
Lewis Hamilton16.984 (1)40.677 (1)37.549 (4)
Lando Norris17.063 (6)40.828 (4)37.606 (6)
Alexander Albon17.058 (5)40.847 (5)37.580 (5)
Carlos Sainz Jnr17.045 (4)40.917 (7)37.773 (8)
Daniil Kvyat17.141 (9)41.046 (10)37.760 (7)
Lance Stroll17.181 (13)40.988 (8)37.812 (10)
Charles Leclerc17.164 (11)40.894 (6)37.489 (3)
Pierre Gasly17.147 (10)41.033 (9)37.944 (11)
Esteban Ocon17.109 (7)41.118 (12)38.042 (13)
Daniel Ricciardo17.134 (8)41.185 (15)38.009 (12)
Sebastian Vettel17.340 (18)41.120 (13)38.080 (14)
Antonio Giovinazzi17.250 (14)41.158 (14)38.542 (15)
Sergio Perez17.175 (12)41.061 (11)37.798 (9)
Kimi Raikkonen17.304 (17)41.302 (16)38.659 (16)
Kevin Magnussen17.384 (19)41.488 (17)38.938 (18)
George Russell17.259 (15)41.672 (18)39.004 (19)
Pietro Fittipaldi17.464 (20)41.717 (19)38.898 (17)
Nicholas Latifi17.262 (16)41.874 (20)39.254 (20)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari327.3 (203.4)
2Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes326.5 (202.9)-0.8
3Daniel RicciardoRenaultRenault326.4 (202.8)-0.9
4Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari324.4 (201.6)-2.9
5Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes324.0 (201.3)-3.3
6Esteban OconRenaultRenault323.7 (201.1)-3.6
7George RussellWilliamsMercedes323.5 (201.0)-3.8
8Lando NorrisMcLarenRenault323.2 (200.8)-4.1
9Lance StrollRacing PointMercedes322.8 (200.6)-4.5
10Carlos Sainz JnrMcLarenRenault322.7 (200.5)-4.6
11Pierre GaslyToro RossoHonda322.4 (200.3)-4.9
12Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari322.1 (200.1)-5.2
13Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes322.0 (200.1)-5.3
14Pietro FittipaldiHaasFerrari321.9 (200.0)-5.4
15Alexander AlbonRed BullHonda321.6 (199.8)-5.7
16Sergio PerezRacing PointMercedes321.5 (199.8)-5.8
17Daniil KvyatToro RossoHonda321.5 (199.8)-5.8
18Max VerstappenRed BullHonda319.5 (198.5)-7.8
19Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari318.4 (197.8)-8.9
20Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari318.4 (197.8)-8.9

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Over to you

Will Verstappen sign off 2020 with a win – and will Albon help him deliver it? Will Hamilton find a way to take yet another victory?

And how will the fight for third in the constructors championship be decided? Share your views on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the comments.

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2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Author information

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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24 comments on “Albon’s big chance to prove he can play a race-winning role”

  1. I appreciate the optimism, but Alex is more likely to be too busy fighting McLarens and Renaults to trouble Lewis & Co.

  2. Yeah, it is quite clearly a good battle for 3rd in the championship. The team in the lead is in the worst position (stroll on used softs in striking distance of the Renaults, Perez starting from the back of the grid) for the race. Renault, the last in the trio is very well positioned with the new tyres and looking likely to jump quite a chunk of the cars ahead due to that (I think Norris or Albon might be just out of reach, depending on their starts, while Sainz has mediums that should help him keep ahead as well) and McLaren looks like being in the best position, but on the other hand, it remains to be seen wether they can capitalize on that strong position.

    I personally rather expect Albon to lose out in the first lap. And then drop back a bit, while Mercedes will surely undercut Verstappen with Bottas, unless there is an upset that forces them to do that with Hamilton to try and get back in podium position. Will be interesting to see that stat play out. And see whether Bottas can challenge Verstappen.

  3. I think they have decided already and plan to use his failure to meet these high expectations as part of the explanation why they replace him.

    1. Read that way to me as well @aapje, setting such high ‘expectations’ that he hasn’t been able to deliver so far this season is asking for him not to meet them.

      1. @bosyber but isn’t the role that the team are asking Albon to play in this race the role that he would have been expected to do from the start of this season?

        That objective should be the baseline expectation of him throughout this season, so this shouldn’t be a case of “high expectations” – what the team is asking Albon to deliver is what should be the minimum expected performance from him (i.e. as Imre notes, at least being within the pit window of the other drivers who should be his rivals).

    2. High expectations? Is it high expectation being inside the pit window of your teammate after half of the race? That is being a maximum of 4 tenth slower per lap…

  4. With pole position taking many wins from the past six/seven races Verstappen will be in the box seat however the Mercedes duo will be hot to trot as well and they can play games with strategy…something that will be much harder for RB to do especially if Albon falls away. He is driving for his seat here and i do expect him to up his game considerably. As for the mid field? That’s going to be a speculators dream….McLaren are sitting pretty and hopefully they can come up with a truckload of points. Renault just fell away and why that is so is a major question that they’ll need to find answers for. I do hope that they can get up there and challenge McLaren, Alpha Tauri and Ferrari. Add to that gaggle a rampant Pink Mercedes or two and we have all the ingredients for a champion race.

  5. Albon will get stuck behind Norris so Bottas will undercut Verstappen (it’s a long lap) while Hamilton extends for an overcut on both of them

    1. My predictions:

      Albon will get stuck behind Norris

      Yes

      so Bottas will undercut Verstappen (it’s a long lap)

      Hamilton will undercut as he will overtake Bottas on the start

      while Hamilton extends for an overcut on both of them

      Bottas will try for an overcut but fail

      1. Well.. we were wrong.. and we paid the price for it. Our versions would be more exciting :-S

  6. What Red Bull want is a driver who can bolster its race-winning chances weekend in, weekend out. Too often in 2020 Albon hasn’t done that. But with Verstappen on pole position and Albon a useful fifth, he has the opportunity to prove he can do it in the season finale.

    One swallow does not make a summer, even if he does some how manage to do it just this once, it’s easy to point out that’s too little too late.

    1. Horner’s comments after were deliberately teasing – describing Albon’s run as “decent” after all still 3/10’s behind Max and behind a Mclaren.
      Also I noticed Max also said he was 1 against 2 so he obviously doesn’t think Albon will get past Norris….

  7. Hamilton must be kicking himself with those sector times. Red Bull will be foolish to allow Hamilton to extend his stint and to attempt an off set just like in Imola, even though that was aided by Bottas being slow due to damage to his car. If there are no changes in the top 3, I expect Bottas to undercut while Hamilton to go longer than everyone.

    1. @krichelle The question is though, how do they prevent it? If they pit Bottas early to undercut then leaving Max out he will lose track position anyway, and given the Mercedes straight line speed advantage it might be difficult for him to overtake even if he has a pace advantage. This is why they need the second car to at least delay anyone who tries to undercut. But with Albon on the softs he’s likely going to have to pit first anyway so he won’t be in their pit window when he needs to be. The only role I can see Albon playing is if he manages to jump one Mercedes at the start, which is a tall order from 5th.

      1. Usually the Mercs set the pace and all 3 of them are off in the distance. Then without any backup all Verstappen can do is follow. But if he can keep p1 after the start he can maybe manage a slower pace. That way he can keep the rest of the field in touch of the Mercs. That will create new problems for him as well though. . Difficult task

  8. Will Verstappen sign off 2020 with a win – and will Albon help him deliver it? Albon’s unlikely to be a help in strategic options.
    Will Hamilton find a way to take yet another victory? Somehow, yes.

  9. The early part of the article says it all, Verstappen on Pole with Albon 5th. Yes he isn’t 11th or 12th but both Mercedes and a McLaren are ahead when the sister car is on pole.

  10. After friday practice I’m wondering how many cars we’ll see developing a smoking habit during the race – it’s the last race of the season after all. At the same time I wonder how telling it is that Red Bull finally managed to snatch a pole away from Mercedes (with a few thousands of a second), while the latter stopped development on their 2020 car a while ago.
    Maybe Lewis and Valtteri were really stunned by Max’s lap, maybe 2021 sandbagging started early…maybe the race will tell more :)

  11. Hans (@hanswesterbeek)
    13th December 2020, 10:22

    If the best available drivers would be in the best available cars, Red Bull would have signed Perez immediately after he got sacked at RP.

    1. Our reference point for Perez is Lance Stroll.

      1. Hans (@hanswesterbeek)
        17th December 2020, 6:02

        And Nico Hulkenberg, Esteban Ocon, Jenson Button, among others. And his extreme reliability, level-headedness, and professionalism.
        (Spoiler: I’m a fan…)

    2. Spanish TV has just said that Perez to Red Bull is almost a deal done (Red Bull sources). They did not announced yet because Dr.Marko is still trying to sign Hulkenberg instead of Checo.

  12. Last chance.

  13. If it’s Max/Checo at RBR and Pierre/Yuki at AlphaTauri next year, sabbatical is the only option.

Comments are closed.