For the previous two years, the Pink Bull drive alongside Max Verstappen has been a poisoned chalice.
Had the staff obtained its personal manner throughout contract negotiations in 2018, Daniel Ricciardo would nonetheless be occupying it, however as an alternative Pink Bull has burned by two promising junior drivers in as a few years.
Pierre Gasly lasted simply 12 races alongside Verstappen, and whereas his substitute Alex Albon has notched up 20 races with the staff, his performances have steadily declined the longer he has been within the position.
Sadly for Albon, the Pink Bull driver progamme has a historical past of cannibalising careers, with a bent to interchange underperformers first and ask questions later.
Consequently, the potential candidates to interchange him are already lined up and are at the moment well-known inside the paddock.
However earlier than we get caught into the professionals and cons of every possibility, let’s hear from staff principal Christian Horner ideas on who must be Verstappen’s teammate subsequent yr.
“I believe that you have to have a look at the entire choices,” he stated on Sunday night after Albon’s twelfth place end in Portugal.
“I do not suppose we would be doing our job if we did not have a look at the state of affairs inside System One and there are clearly drivers which have vital expertise and talent. It is a very uncommon state of affairs they could possibly be out there.
“So our at the start precedence is to provide Alex the chance to put declare to that seat.
“Let’s not overlook when he jumped in that automotive final yr he outscored and outperformed Pierre considerably within the steadiness of 2019. If we had been to swap them again, why wouldn’t it be any completely different?”
The case for maintaining Albon
Publicly, Pink Bull says it desires to maintain Albon if he can up his recreation. He’s well-liked inside the staff and confirmed spectacular tempo all through 2019, each at Toro Rosso and when he was initially promoted to Pink Bull. His Thai nationality additionally makes him an ideal match with the Pink Bull model, which stays 51 % owned by Thai billionaire Chalerm Yoovidhya.
It is unusual to suppose how completely different Albon’s season and present state of affairs may need been if he’d not collided with Lewis Hamilton in Austria and gone on to win the opening race of the season. Albon’s elementary battle with the automotive could not have modified with a victory underneath his belt, however it will have constructed his confidence and considerably strengthened his case for staying in 2021.
As an alternative Albon has only one podium to point out for his 20 races regardless of having one of many quickest vehicles on the grid at his disposal. That is not the type of return Pink Bull expects from the funding in its drivers, and the shortage of factors can be a real weak point for the staff if it discovered itself in a title battle subsequent yr.
In the end, Pink Bull has to resolve whether or not Albon’s points are particular to the automotive or to the driving force. Horner has typically defined that the RB16 is a troublesome automotive to drive and, whereas Verstappen can stay these traits and adapt, Albon cannot.
If Pink Bull produces a milder mannered automotive subsequent yr, Albon might be able to fulfil extra of his potential. However because the staff chases down Mercedes, it’ll understandably develop the automotive in whichever manner makes it the quickest in Verstappen’s palms.
Solely the staff can predict whether or not that would be the case and whether or not the undesirable traits of RB16 will likely be transferred to subsequent yr’s RB17. If they’re and it means Albon’s profession turns into a casualty alongside the best way, it is onerous to think about the staff altering path.
The case for Sergio Perez
As a veteran of ten seasons in System One, Perez ought to be capable to slot proper into the Pink Bull staff in 2021. Taking a driver from exterior its personal expertise pool can be a regressive step for Pink Bull in some ways (though Albon could possibly be seen as an outsider as he was ditched by the driving force programme in 2012 after which rejoined forward of 2019), but it surely is likely to be crucial to achieve a greater understanding of what is going on on.
With a driver like Perez, what you are getting. He is scored podiums for underdog groups, matched or crushed quite a few gifted teammates through the years and proven a capability to adapt to completely different kinds of vehicles (simply this yr Racing Level switched from a Pink Bull philosophy to a Mercedes one and Perez continues to shine).
If Perez joins and struggles, there’s one thing flawed with the best way the staff is about up. But when he joins and persistently scores good outcomes, the problem is with Gasly and Albon.
Perez additionally comes with the added bonus of an honest price range from his private sponsors, which will not be a deal-breaker for the well-funded Pink Bull staff, however actually will not hurt his probabilities.
The case for Nico Hulkenberg
Lots of the identical arguments will be made for Hulkenberg as have been made above for Perez. On paper, he would not have the podiums or the cash that Perez brings, however his substitute performances this yr for Racing Level have proven he is nonetheless an adaptable and gifted driver.
Over the course of three seasons as teammates at Drive India between 2014 and 2016, Perez outscored Hulkenberg by ten factors, which means there may be little or no to decide on between the 2.
Hearsay has it Verstappen is pushing for Hulkenberg behind the scenes, however whereas the staff would by no means wish to be seen to be dictated to by its lead driver, a superb relationship between either side of the storage will surely assist.
Hulkenberg lately advised the ESPN F1 podcast that he is not going to pursue another choices till he hears from Pink Bull, suggesting he’s in critical competition for the position.
What occurs at AlphaTauri?
This week, Pink Bull confirmed Pierre Gasly will keep at AlphaTauri for an additional yr. Whereas the information was not a shock, it has left many questioning Pink Bull’s logic.
Ever since he was dropped to Toro Rosso final yr, Gasly has regarded like a totally completely different driver. There have been stand out performances in Brazil 2019 and Italy this season, however probably the most spectacular factor has been his consistency all through 2020. He’s ninth within the drivers’ standings, one level behind Albon, and 49 factors away from teammate Daniil Kvyat, who’s more likely to be proven the exit on the finish of the yr.
He looks as if the apparent resolution to Pink Bull’s driver points, however no matter tarnished him within the staff’s eyes in 2019 remains to be sufficient to stop the staff giving him a second likelihood in 2021.
If Albon is dropped, it will make sense for him to fit in alongside Gasly at AlphaTauri, so Pink Bull could make a good judgement on the 2 drivers in equal equipment. Horner believes Albon can be doing simply nearly as good a job as Gasly in the identical automotive, which, if true, would imply an Albon/Gasly pairing this yr would have been sufficient to place Alpha Tauri third within the constructors’ standings on 126 factors and two wins.
But, Pink Bull’s programme is notoriously cut-throat and if Albon cannot make a case for himself at Pink Bull, maybe he will not be given the lifeline on the junior staff in the identical manner Gasly was in 2019. System 2 driver Yuki Tsunoda is ready within the wings to make the step as much as F1, however whereas only a few imagine he would do nearly as good a job as Albon, his promotion is critical to stop additional stagnation within the younger driver programme.
In fact, in an excellent world Albon would show himself as deserving candidate for the 2021 Pink Bull seat alongside Max Verstappen and Gasly would lead AlphaTauri alongside the promising Tsunoda, however that requires Albon to right away up his recreation.
Over to you, Alex…