Alex Albon, Pierre Gasly, and Red Bull’s Driver Development Failures

May 5, 2021

  • Red Bull Racing Screenshot

It’s no secret that Red Bull’s Junior program has yielded mixed results over the team’s 16-year history. There have been several success stories, including the four-time Drivers’ World Championship winner, Sebastian Vettel, and the Honda-powered constructors’ current number-one driver, Max Verstappen. The Dutchman has all the makings of a future champion, but his pace somewhat highlights Red Bull’s line-up failures.

After impressing with Scuderia Torro Rosso in 2015 and 2016, Verstappen got the call to step up to Red Bull. Since then, he hasn’t looked back. Others, however, haven’t been as fortunate over the past 16 years. Both Red Bull and Torro Rosso – who are now Alpha Tauri – adopt a ruthless approach to driver selection, and that often hasn’t proved fruitful. So, let’s delve into the Red Bull-owned teams’ recent history of racer management.

Do the Failures Overshadow the Triumphs?

For many years, the shortcomings of Red Bull’s Junior Program often went under the radar. However, the recent handling of Alex Albon and Pierre Gasly shed some light on the Championship-winning team’s lack of patience. In 2019, the 25-year-old Frenchman earned a promotion to Red Bull from Torro Rosso, although he was sent back to the junior team for the Belgian Grand Prix and beyond.

Looking back at his time at Red Bull, Gasly believes that he was destined to fail at Christian Horner’s team. After making a mistake and crashing during pre-season testing, the Frenchman stated that, after that moment, people in the sport “began to turn” on him. Since going back to Alpha Tauri, the 25-year-old has rediscovered his confidence and even famously won the 2020 Monza Grand Prix.

Red Bull’s handling of young drivers came under more scrutiny when Gasly’s replacement, Albon, was demoted to reserve driver following Sergio Perez’s appointment for the 2021 campaign. Although the 25-year-old was retained for the 2020 season, he finished the year seventh in the standings. Much like the Frenchman, the Thai racer couldn’t match Verstappen’s pace, and the Austrian team felt a change was needed to compete with Mercedes.

Albon and Gasly aren’t the first and, most likely, won’t the last drivers to fall victim to Red Bull’s ruthless approach. Before them, Brendon Hartley, Daniil Kvyat, Jean-Eric Vergne, Scott Speed, and several others failed to hit the heights.

Red Bull Can’t Make the Same Mistakes with Tsunoda

Having moved away from their Junior Program with the Perez experiment, it’s currently unclear if Red Bull will go back to promoting internally over the coming years. That said, Yuki Tsunoda’s appointment to partner Gasly at Alpha Tauri indicates that a seat at Red Bull may be in the Japanese driver’s future. In Formula 2, the 20-year-old recorded a podium finish percentage of 43.10, while he took the chequered flag in 20.69 percent of his F2 races.

Since making the step up to F1, Tsunoda has caught Helmut Marko’s eye. The 78-year-old is the current Red Bull advisor and the head of the team’s development program. Concerning the Japanese racer’s future, Marko stated that the Austrian constructor “don’t want to burn his wings”, and he described the 20-year-old as a “diamond in the rough”. Although Tsunoda has the raw talent and pace to deliver in F1, he is prone to making errors. Because he’s learning on the job in the top tier of open-wheel racing, mistakes are something of an inevitability.

The 20-year-old failed to set a time in qualifying at the 2021 Imola Grand Prix and then proceeded to spin during the race as he fell to a 12th-place finish. However, it wasn’t all bad for Red Bull as Verstappen crossed the line in first place to move one point behind Lewis Hamilton in the standings. As of April 29th, the Dutchman is +110 in F1 betting to win the Drivers’ World Championship in 2021. If he achieves that feat, it reiterates that Red Bull’s Young Driver Program can work.

A Lack of Patience or Needed Ruthlessness?

Red Bull hasn’t won a Drivers’ or Constructors’ World Championship since 2013. With Mercedes enjoying an era of dominance, the Austrian-owned outfit needs their racers at the peak of their powers to push the Brackley-based team all the way. At the top level, winning is all that matters, and Red Bull doesn’t shy away from making tough decisions in their pursuit of success.