Column: Why it's a big week for Alex Albon

01-11-2019 13:24
by Adam Newton
Column: Why it's a big week for Alex Albon

It's a big week for Alex Albon. It's also a big week for Pierre Gasly, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, Helmut Marko and Christian Horner. Sooner or later, those high up at Red Bull Racing have a decision to make about their driver line up for 2020. Will they choose Albon or Gasly, or will they go rogue and choose someone completely different?

Since joining Red Bull Racing following the summer break, Albon has been solid, although he hasn't set the world alight. The Thai driver has been consistent, that's for sure, a fourth, three fifths and two sixths giving him 58 points from six races at the senior team.

Comparing that to Gasly's time as Max Verstappen's teammate and it looks obvious who Red Bull Racing should choose. The Frenchman managed just 63 points in 12 races with the team during his spell.

So why have Marko, Horner and co not made the decision to keep Albon on for 2020? 

It's clear that Red Bull Racing's plan for the future is to prioritise Verstappen. Understandably so, he's one of the greatest young talents F1 has ever seen, but it's tough to win a title with just one top driver. 

A second driver should be there to help take points away from other drivers in the championship race, similarly to how Valtteri Bottas has done for Lewis Hamilton for the past three seasons.

When Verstappen went on his superb run just before the summer break, taking wins in Austria and Germany, he would've benefitted massively by having a competitive teammate to back him up and prevent Hamilton or Bottas from scoring valuable points. 

However, Gasly only managed to pick up 26 points in Verstappen's four race spell between the Austrian and Hungarian Grands Prix, where the Dutchman racked up 81 points, more than any other driver.

Whilst Albon has been more consistent than Gasly, he has failed to finish above another driver from the top six teams when they haven't had issues or collisions, which may be why Red Bull Racing are delaying the decision.

Gasly's form at Toro Rosso has been very good as well since his return, so maybe Marko could be thinking that a revitalised Gasly would be able to make a better fist of it in 2020 than he did earlier this season.

This may be unlikely, but what if Red Bull Racing decide to look elsewhere for a second driver? A colleague suggested to me yesterday that they should give Nico Hulkenberg a one year deal, and in theory it makes sense.

The German would likely challenge the top six more than Albon or Gasly, and it would give the two young drivers another chance to develop themselves at Toro Rosso. The only thing required for this to happen would be to get rid of Daniil Kvyat. 

That may seem harsh but let's be honest, it's happened before.

However, it seems difficult to see Red Bull Racing looking outside of their own junior system, one that has served them so well in the past. In fact, the last driver they signed from outside the academy was Mark Webber, and that was way back in 2007.

Marko and Horner have such trust in their junior programme, so it would almost seem like a betrayal to the youngsters they have spent so much time nurturing and developing if they were to sign Hulkenberg.

So should Red Bull Racing just accept that it will take a while for these guys to find their feet? Ultimately, yes. Gasly was pretty much thrown in at the deep end after just one full season with Toro Rosso. 

Gasly was put in a Red Bull after just 26 GPs. Compare that to the same number for Vettel, 23 for Verstappen and 50 for Daniel Ricciardo, and we can see what the 2016 GP2 champion has been up against. Albon had just 12!

I wrote a piece a few months back about why Gasly had been harshly treated at Red Bull Racing. In that piece I mentioned a statistic that showed how any driver has their struggles and maybe Gasly just had a bad time of it in the early part of 2019.

Perhaps the ultimate solution for Red Bull Racing is patience. Don't put pressure on your young drivers to succeed immediately. Don't drop them at the first opportunity you get. 

If Gasly gets recalled, will he be the same Gasly we've seen at Toro Rosso, or will he go back into his shell? How would Albon feel if he got sent back to Toro Rosso?

It seems as if the team have put themselves in a situation where the only obvious thing to do is to keep it how it is, but confidence often comes from within, which is why Alex Albon needs a good week at the United States Grand Prix, to show he can mix it with the big boys, and secure his seat at Red Bull Racing for 2020.

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