For the previous two years, the Pink Bull drive alongside Max Verstappen has been a poisoned chalice.
Had the group received its personal manner throughout contract negotiations in 2018, Daniel Ricciardo would nonetheless be occupying it, however as a substitute Pink Bull has burned by way of 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 group, his performances have steadily declined the longer he has been within the function.
Sadly for Albon, the Pink Bull driver progamme has a historical past of cannibalising careers, with an inclination to interchange underperformers first and ask questions later.
In consequence, the potential candidates to interchange him are already lined up and are at present well-known throughout the paddock.
However earlier than we get caught into the professionals and cons of every choice, let’s hear from group principal Christian Horner ideas on who needs to be Verstappen’s teammate subsequent 12 months.
“I think that you’ve got to look at all of the options,” he stated on Sunday night after Albon’s 12th place end in Portugal.
“I don’t think we’d be doing our job if we didn’t look at the situation within Formula One and there are obviously drivers that have significant experience and ability. It’s a very unusual situation they could be available.
“So our before everything precedence is to present Alex the chance to put declare to that seat.
“Let’s not forget when he jumped in that car last year he outscored and outperformed Pierre significantly in the balance of 2019. If we were to swap them back, why would it be any different?”
The case for conserving Albon
Publicly, Pink Bull says it needs to maintain Albon if he can up his sport. He’s widespread throughout the group 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 totally different Albon’s season and present scenario might 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 automobile might not have modified with a victory below his belt, however it might have constructed his confidence and considerably strengthened his case for staying in 2021.
As an alternative Albon has only one podium to indicate for his 20 races regardless of having one of many quickest automobiles on the grid at his disposal. That is not the form of return Pink Bull expects from the funding in its drivers, and the dearth of factors can be a real weak point for the group if it discovered itself in a title battle subsequent 12 months.
In the end, Pink Bull has to resolve whether or not Albon’s points are particular to the automobile or to the driving force. Horner has usually defined that the RB16 is a tough automobile to drive and, whereas Verstappen can reside these traits and adapt, Albon cannot.
If Pink Bull produces a milder mannered automobile subsequent 12 months, Albon could possibly fulfil extra of his potential. However because the group chases down Mercedes, it should understandably develop the automobile in whichever manner makes it the quickest in Verstappen’s palms.
Solely the group 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 12 months’s RB17. If they’re and it means Albon’s profession turns into a casualty alongside the best way, it is exhausting to think about the group altering path.
The case for Sergio Perez
As a veteran of ten seasons in Components One, Perez ought to be capable of slot proper into the Pink Bull group in 2021. Taking a driver from exterior its personal expertise pool can be a regressive step for Pink Bull in some ways (though Albon might be seen as an outsider as he was ditched by the driving force programme in 2012 after which rejoined forward of 2019), however it may be essential to achieve a greater understanding of what is going on on.
With a driver like Perez, you understand what you are getting. He is scored podiums for underdog groups, matched or crushed numerous proficient teammates through the years and proven a capability to adapt to totally different types of automobiles (simply this 12 months Racing Level switched from a Pink Bull philosophy to a Mercedes one and Perez continues to shine).
If Perez joins and struggles, you understand there’s one thing fallacious with the best way the group is ready up. But when he joins and constantly scores good outcomes, you understand the difficulty is with Gasly and Albon.
Perez additionally comes with the added bonus of a good finances from his private sponsors, which will not be a deal-breaker for the well-funded Pink Bull group, however definitely will not hurt his possibilities.
The case for Nico Hulkenberg
Lots of the identical arguments could be made for Hulkenberg as have been made above for Perez. On paper, he does not have the podiums or the cash that Perez brings, however his substitute performances this 12 months for Racing Level have proven he is nonetheless an adaptable and proficient driver.
Over the course of three seasons as teammates at Power India between 2014 and 2016, Perez outscored Hulkenberg by ten factors, which means there’s little or no to decide on between the 2.
Hearsay has it Verstappen is pushing for Hulkenberg behind the scenes, however whereas the group would by no means need to be seen to be dictated to by its lead driver, a great relationship between either side of the storage would definitely assist.
Hulkenberg lately advised the ESPN F1 podcast that he is not going to pursue every other choices till he hears from Pink Bull, suggesting he’s in critical competition for the function.
What occurs at AlphaTauri?
This week, Pink Bull confirmed Pierre Gasly will keep at AlphaTauri for one more 12 months. 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 12 months, Gasly has appeared like a very totally 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 12 months.
He looks as if the apparent resolution to Pink Bull’s driver points, however no matter tarnished him within the group’s eyes in 2019 continues to be sufficient to stop the group giving him a second probability in 2021.
If Albon is dropped, it might 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 pretty much as good a job as Gasly in the identical automobile, which, if true, would imply an Albon/Gasly pairing this 12 months 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 group in the identical manner Gasly was in 2019. Components 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 pretty much as good a job as Albon, his promotion is important to stop additional stagnation within the younger driver programme.
After all, 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 sport.
Over to you, Alex…