Christian Horner says it is Red Bull or reserve for Alexander Albon as he feels the Thai to be closer to Max Verstappen on average than Pierre Gasly.
Of the three seats still open for the 2021 F1 season, two exist within the Red Bull talent ecosystem. The one other drive available is at Mercedes, but that Lewis Hamilton will occupy it is interpreted as a foregone conclusion.
In the most simplistic of terms, the driver line-ups of both Red Bull and AlphaTauri are at the center of the decelerating F1 driver market. Without outside influence, the two outfits have not felt compelled to confirm either of their respective line-ups, though each already has one driver signed on beyond this year.
As such, the line-ups of both teams have been the subject of much speculation. With Red Bull’s Alexander Albon failing to consistently match the performances of his teammate Max Verstappen, it was widely surmised that the Thai driver was under threat of being replaced, but thus far no announcement has been made.
The British team’s principal, Christian Horner, still lacks a sense of urgency on making an announcement, even brushing off the argument that it would be advantageous to announce a driver prior to a post-season F1 test at Abu Dhabi were their choice to be a rookie.
“It’s one day of testing. Is one day really going to change the world?” he rhetorically inquired. When asked on Albon’s fate if he were to be replaced, Horner said that it is “a year on the bench” if not a Red Bull seat, asserting that he will not get an opportunity at AlphaTauri in 2021.
“It’s very much a Red Bull seat or a year on the bench,” said Horner. “The focus is on giving him that opportunity, he’s got two races, he did a good job last weekend, being on the podium, his second podium in F1. He has two more weekends to demonstrate that he’s absolutely the right guy to be in that car alongside Max next year, and we’re giving him all the support that we possibly can to achieve that goal.
“He’s on a long term agreement, as all Red Bull drivers are when they join the team. Our focus at the moment is on the race seat and giving him the opportunity to demonstrate that he is making significant, building on that podium from last weekend,” Horner added.
The current situation points towards Albon retention, considering they have Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg as free agents. Also, even if the Thai gets another go in 2021, with the chance of Yuki Tsunoda coming in and Pierre Gasly always there, the threat on him will continue next year, with a chance always to be dropped midway.
Some had suggested Albon should be replaced by Gasly, citing the Frenchman’s improved form at AlphaTauri as evidence of a deserved promotion. Horner, though, says that Thai remains closer to Verstappen in performance than the Frenchman.
The 47-year-old suggests that the Dutchman’s form is difficult to match, particularly with a challenging RB16 to contend with. It is presumed that this is a fair assessment given Red Bull’s access to necessary data. “If you look at his average, Alex’s average is still closer than that of, for example, Pierre’s was last year to Max,” Horner said.
“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 have been addressing, so we’re confident that that situation will hopefully improve for him and for any driver. Max is a tall order to go up against, he’s arguably probably the most in-form driver currently in Formula 1 and I think it would be tough for any driver to go up against Max currently,” Horner said.
Usually when a driver is dropped from Red Bull, he finds refuge at AlphaTauri but as Horner noted, it won’t be the case with Albon, considering they are looking at hiring Tsunoda. The Red Bull chief ascertained that it is not in Franz Tost’s plans to have the Thai as well.
“I don’t believe he forms part of Franz’s plans for next year,” said Horner. “It’s not something that we’re contemplating at the moment so I guess once we get to the end of the year, then we’ll evaluate all of those options.”
The driver under threat at AlphaTauri is Daniil Kvyat, who has been repeatedly demoted and promoted in the Red Bull system. The Russian is not contracted for 2021, and with Honda supporting F2’s Tsunoda it seems as though he will once more be sidelined for 2021.
AlphaTauri team principal Tost says this looming fate is not negatively affecting Kvyat’s performances. “Dany is experienced, he knows the game and the rules in Formula 1,” he said. “He is a fast driver and he showed a good performance in the last races.
“I hope that also on Sunday he will be quite competitive and also the race in Abu Dhabi and then we will see.” Tsunoda needed a Top 5 finish to get the superlicense points which he has secured finishing third in the standings. Even if he didn’t, Tost said they had Plan B.
Here’s Max Verstappen clarifying his post-Bahrain comments
Here’s how 2020 F2 season ended with Yuki Tsunoda in P3 overall