F1: Red Bull and the Junior Driver Dilemma

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The Red Bull Junior programme has developed a reputation for hindering the careers of their young drivers. © Getty Images

Twelve months ago, Formula One’s silly season went into overdrive as Daniel Ricciardo quit Red Bull for the Renault F1 team.

Pierre Gasly was therefore promoted from Toro Rosso after a promising debut season.

The Frenchman has found life much tougher in the senior team however, failing to score a podium in 2019, while Max Verstappen has won two races in the sister car.

Red Bull have therefore taken the decision to swap Gasly with Alexander Albon at Toro Rosso, a remarkable turnaround for the Thai driver, who found himself out of a Formula 2 drive just eighteen months ago.

Why make the swap now?

Gasly looked to be turning his season round after Silverstone, equalling his best ever performance to take fourth position.

Two crashes during the German GP weekend, followed by an inconspicuous Hungarian GP performance, appear to have convinced the Red Bull hierarchy that a change was urgently needed.

Verstappen has proved that Red Bull have arguably the second fastest package in F1 at the moment, but the team are 44 points behind Ferrari, and nearly 200 behind leaders Mercedes.

Points mean prize money in F1, with the gap between second and third being worth £7.5million in 2017.

The summer break will give Albon a chance to prepare in the simulator for Spa, as he aims to prove he is the man for Red Bull in 2020.

Why Red Bull Chose Albon over Kvyat

Alexander Albon promotion to Red Bull follows just 12 Grand Prix with Scuderia Toro Rosso. © Red Bull Content Pool

Many were surprised to hear who Red Bull chose to replace Pierre Gasly for the remainder of the season.

In 2016, Max Verstappen infamously replaced Daniil Kvyat after the 2016 Russian Grand Prix. As a result, the Dutchman won on his first outing for the team in Spain.

More recently, the Russian secured Toro Rosso’s first podium in eleven years at Hockenheim, and currently leads Albon in the championship by eleven points.

However, his previous experience at Red Bull means Kvyat is more of a known quantity than Albon, and may still have a chance if Albon struggles.

The seat will almost certainly go to one of these two drivers in 2020, with Red Bull not hiring a driver externally since Mark Webber in 2007.

Daniil Kvyat outscored Daniel Ricciardo during his only full season with Red Bull. Image sourced from grandprix247.com

What next for Pierre Gasly

Pierre Gasly followed up his GP2 Series Title with second in the Japanese Super Formula Championship. © GEPA Pictures/Dutch Photo Agency

Pierre Gasly can take inspiration from Daniil Kvyat, whose career has shown it is possible to work your way back into the Red Bull fold.

Despite this, it’s difficult to imagine the Frenchman finding himself back at the senior team next year.

Remaining at Toro Rosso would be the safest bet for next year, as there is no obvious candidate to replace him.

Alongside winning the GP2 title in 2016, Gasly raced in Formula E and in Super Formula before making his F1 debut. 

Should his F1 career continue to sour, a return to either series could be possible.

A Closer Look at F1’s Young Driver Programmes

Sebastian Vettel celebrates winning the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix during Red Bull’s era of dominance. © Clive Mason/Getty Images

Out of the 14 drivers to race for Toro Rosso since 2006, only three of them have managed to win a Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel is the most successful, with four world titles at the start of the decade. Furthermore, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen also claimed a handful of victories.

Former Red Bull junior Carlos Sainz Jr. is currently experiencing his best Formula One campaign to date with McLaren.

In addition, Jean-Eric Vergne and Sebastien have also enjoyed success outside of F1.

Both drivers have won the Formula E Drivers’ Championship, while Buemi has also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Toyota.

Elsewhere, Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi have both graduated to F1 through Ferrari’s Driver Academy.

While Giovinazzi has struggled alongside Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo, Leclerc is thriving in his first season with Ferrari.

At Mercedes, a driver within their programme has yet to see a driver race with the Brackley-based outfit.

Conversely, Esteban Ocon could potentially replace Valtteri Bottas for the Silver Arrows in 2020.

Pascal Wehrlein spent two seasons in F1 as part of the programme before returning to DTM. More recently, the German raced in Formula E with Mahindra.

George Russell’s first season has been a success, with the Briton regularly beating Robert Kubica at Williams.

The Final Step Before Formula One

FIA Formula 2 and the preceding GP2 Series has produced numerous F1 drivers since 2005. Image sourced from Prema Powerteam.

At the end of the 2016 season, the FIA Formula 2 Championship was established. However, since 2005, only four drivers in either series have gone on to win in Formula One.

Lewis Hamilton has since had a record breaking F1 career, with Nico Rosberg also taking a world championship.

Heikki Kovalainen and Pastor Maldonado both took one F1 victory each after competing in GP2.

In contrast, GP2 Champions Davide Valsecchi and Fabio Leimar never got a chance in Formula One.

Friday Practice Sessions were the closest Davide Valsecchi got to racing in Formula One. Image sourced from racefans.net

 

The top three from last season’s Formula 2 campaign have stepped up to F1 and exceeded expectations.

George Russell and Lando Norris have been consistent performers throughout the season so far.

Albon’s promotion will be an amazing opportunity to beat his old rivals to the top of the F1 podium.

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