Alexander Albon, Red Bull, Autodromo do Algarve, 2021

Why all is not lost for Albon as Perez gets another year at Red Bull

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The most surprising thing about Sergio Perez’s contract extension at Red Bull was its timing.

During an FIA press conference held shortly before the announcement AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost said his team’s line-up could not be confirmed until the sister Red Bull squad’s plans had crystallised.

“I think it will be decided in September, and we will announce it then,” the Austrian said. Yet within an hour, Perez’s future was confirmed by the team.

The extension, though, directly affects two other drivers. The first is AlphaTauri’s de facto number one Pierre Gasly, who harboured hopes of return after sterling performances for AlphaTauri (previously Toro Rosso) following his relegation from the ‘senior’ to ‘junior’ team.

The other is Alexander Albon, Gasly’s successor at Red Bull, who also hoped to return after being benched when the team signed Perez at the end of last year.

Perez’s Baku win made new deal an easy call
Their situations illustrate precisely how uncertain life can be for drivers across Red Bull’s two teams. Underperforming drivers are chopped and changed, but in most instances they find themselves given chances for redemption.

Brendon Hartley, dropped as reserve driver for both teams in 2010, found himself recalled in late 2017 after sparkling WEC successes, and raced through 2018. Daniil Kvyat was promoted, relegated, dropped, recalled and dropped again.

Albon was a Red Bull Junior Team member until 2012, then dropped. He returned with Toro Rosso in 2018, promoted to Red Bull in place of Gasly in 2018 and dropped again after last year. However he remains on Red Bull’s books as reserve driver and DTM racer under the brand’s colours. He could be recalled at any stage and be plugged in should one or other driver be out of action – or underperforms.

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Red Bull clearly believes the best motivation for drivers is having others breathing down their metaphorical necks. Those who consistently perform have no need for nervousness, and thus Albon needs to up his game while Gasly can breathe slightly more easily. Winners such as quadruple champion (with Red Bull) Sebastian Vettel and current star Max Verstappen are never under threat.

Vergne and Buemi showed there is life after Red Bull
The team’s F1 bosses Helmut Marko – a 1970s F1 driver and Le Mans winner turned consultant to the drinks company’s owner Dietrich Mateschitz – and ex-F3 and F3000 racer Christian Horner have the luxury of choice and can thus mix and match in their quests to deliver the best possible results for both teams. In short: they do it because they can – if need be.

While Red Bull’s approach is sometimes described as cutthroat, it tends to be overlooked the team creates careers for drivers who would otherwise not have had a chance of breaking into professional ranks, and even if they do not enjoy sustained F1 careers they are assured of solid careers elsewhere. Sebastian Buemi bears testimony to this, having won the Formula E championship, World Endurance Championship (thrice) and Le Mans 24 Hours (also thrice) since leaving Toro Rosso. So does Jean-Eric Vergne, now a two-times Formula E champion.

Which brings us to AlphaTauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda, who came to Red Bull’s attention via engine partner Honda. The 21-year-old gained support from Honda in 2016 through its Formula Dream young driver programme, then claimed the national 2018 F4 title – which resulted in Red Bull support. Having placed third in the 2020 F2 series, where he was also top rookie, he was promoted to AlphaTauri this year.

Solid races and crashes in roughly equal measure this year have raised questions about his future in what is an unforgiving environment. Yet Tost is being patient about his young charge’s performances.

“You must not forget, Yuki is a rookie and at all the race tracks, he is the first time out in a Formula 1 car and especially in the second part of the season, there are many race tracks which he even doesn’t know,” he said.

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Hungaroring, 2021
Tsunoda has had a few too many shunts
As he listed the ‘new’ tracks the 21-year-old faces in the second half of the season – including USA, Mexico, Brazil – he called upon his critics to be realistic. “So far, Yuki is doing a good job. He crashed a couple of times, but – as I always say – a young driver earlier or later will have his crash period. I hope it’s finished now…

“He now knows the car much better; he will provide us with good results I’m convinced about this.”

Those who suggest Tsunoda was brought in to keep Red Bull’s engine supplier sweet and that he will be dropped given Honda exits after this season overlook that the engine relationship will continue under a different guise: Honda agreed to transfer its F1 engine intellectual property to Red Bull – a powertrain division is being established in Milton Keynes – and will supply engines from Japan until the operation is up and running. Honda and Red Bull also enjoy close ties in other categories.

Thus, although Perez’s extension and Tost’s praise of Tsunoda – plus his commercial support – suggests Albon is denied an immediate crack at the F1 whip, all may not be lost for him yet. If he performs in the DTM or wherever else his employers place him, he is likely to return to the sharp end of motorsport; if not he can reflect on a career he would otherwise not have enjoyed.

Moreover, note that Perez has been signed for a year only, and Tsunoda could readily be deployed elsewhere if his consistency does not improve markedly.

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24 comments on “Why all is not lost for Albon as Perez gets another year at Red Bull”

  1. Perez getting that second Mercedes seat, you heard it here first………. And last

    1. Ugh I meant Albon, sigh.

      1. Ahah, we need a more compliant number 2, bottas is way too fast in quali!

  2. I doubt Albon will become a regular F1 driver again unless it happens for next season, which is unlikely considering the all-but-confirmed Gasly-Tsunoda lineup continuation. He (like Hartley) was lucky to get an F1 chance in the first place after his 2012 driver program ousting, given his original career path destination post-2018 F2 campaign. While he got his lucky opportunity via RB lacking available drivers at the time, he should’ve maximized the eventual top team chance rather than thrown that away. Red Bull doesn’t have a shortage in the lower single-seater categories they had in late-2018 anymore, so those are, of course, the priority moving on. Maybe a non-RB team, although these options are also limited.

    1. a priority

    2. Agree, especially that he threw away the chance, not that red bull rushed the demotion, I’d have done it way sooner, red bull already in the past years was a team that gave you chances to win occasional races, don’t want subpar drivers on it.

  3. Either albon is going to indycar or he’s using his interest in indycar to gain leverage on red bull. Would be interesting to see if red bull would back him in Indy

  4. Why would they take Albon back to F1 if they have a handfull of rookies in F2/F3

    1. @qeki Also my point or one of them. Not the same situation as in late-2018.

    2. @qeki

      The problem is that the current list of Red Bull junior drivers are not that good or least not good enough to be in F1 anytime soon. The closest is Vips and Daruvala and no way have they shown the talent needed. Vips is still very young and new to F2 so more time is needed to see how he develops but he wont be as good as Albon or not at least until 2023+

      AphaTauri has the potential to do well in the mid group but they need a good second driver who can consistently score good points like Gasly. The differences can be 10+million and Gasly can’t do it all by himself.

      1. @redpill I think Lawson is ahead of Daruvala in the pecking order.

        1. @mashiat Aah, good point and you’re correct, I forgot about Lawson but still; when looking at his performance and past result history he’s not exactly coming across as promising or as exceptional (yet). Any hopes in becoming a F1 driver candidate will have to come from future exceptional performances and not his current track record.

          I do wish all these drivers well but I also think drivers entering F1 should be the top drivers in F2 beating everyone else. At least top 3.
          Something like what Oscar Piastri has been doing, has an excellent result history, winning F3 WC and others, currently leading F2 WC and this is his first season.

  5. @jerejj how many of those drivers are currently eligible for a superlicence? They might have several drivers, but Vips looks like he’s the only one who could get a superlicence right now.

    1. Vips HAS a superlicense I think.

  6. Albon to take over the AT seat once Gasly replaces Perez in ’23

  7. While Red Bull’s approach is sometimes described as cutthroat, it tends to be overlooked the team creates careers for drivers who would otherwise not have had a chance of breaking into professional ranks, and even if they do not enjoy sustained F1 careers they are assured of solid careers elsewhere.

    I guess the question for me is, and this is a genuine question and not rhetorical, how much of their careers do they owe to the Red Bull programme? Would they have achieved a similar career without that backing? Would another junior programme pick them up? How much of their career success can be traced to causation rather than correlation? Like I said, I honestly don’t know the answer but am curious if anyone has some numbers on how the Red Bull programme is responsible for generating successful careers. Hopefully Red Bull has some idea or they wouldn’t be investing the amounts of money they do.

    1. Don’t have numbers but a general rule of thumb is: if these drivers have been unfairly demoted, then why is no other driver picking them up? Guess they didn’t impress!

      1. No other team*

      2. F1oSaurus (@)
        28th August 2021, 13:32

        @esploratore1 In some cases Red Bull want the hiring team to pick up the tab for the driver’s “training program”.

  8. What a good article.

    But still Albon is out.

    In Red Bull world, there is only one top dog… Max Verstappen, the rest are just dogs.

    Albon did not have enough dog in him.

    Gasly despite setbacks is actually having an amazing season. I cannot help to think, better season than Perez. But when he was in the main team, he struggled. The moment he switched, he was good again.

    It is good for him to stay at Alpha Tauri.

    Could they recall Albon to AT following Tsunoda exit. But will Tsunoda leave at all?

    1. Absolutely, for the material given gasly did better than perez, BUT gasly was pretty much good in all seasons except the red bull one, in which, although I’m unconvinced by perez, he hasn’t been that bad, he at least is getting better results after his promotion up from force india, while the key thing is: albon and gasly were using a red bull to get the same results they were getting in toro rosso, that’s just not ok.

  9. Why would we be invested deeply enough to care whether a guy who wasn’t anywhere near, much less able to beat Max Verstappen keeps on racing in F1, somewhere else, or goes into fizzy drink production for that matter?

  10. The challenge here is not Albon, nor Gasly. The RB simply is not good enough. Just because a single person can get more out of it, doesnt mean 19 others could.

    1. You cannot outdrive a car, ergo the RB16B is at least as good as Max Verstappen makes it look.

      If the other drivers cannot extract as much performance out of the same car, that’s their (and Red Bull’s) issue.

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