When Pierre Gasly was dropped from Red Bull Racing midway through the 2019 F1 season, he was demoted to Toro Rosso and allowed to continue racing in Formula 1. Alex Albon has no race seat for 2021, harsh?
Albon ended 2020 with question marks over his race seat for 2021 with the senior Red Bull team, not AlphaTauri.
The logical expectation based on previous demotions was that if Sergio Perez got the seat, which he did, Albon would be given a shootout year with the driver he replaced, Gasly, at AlphaTauri.
Albon however is now the Red Bull test driver with F2 superstar Yuki Tsunoda becoming Gasly’s partner.
On the face of it that is a huge demotion. What Albon has at least shown this year is his racecraft even if his pace is significantly off Verstappen. But there are a lot of arguments to defend Red Bull’s decision for Albon.
Red Bull are the perennial underachievers of the big F1 teams. They are never ready. Every year they win the development race but they never start at the correct level.
They need to hit the ground running in round 1, not play catchup to be at the consistently challenging level they should be in round 18.
One way to do that is to obviously alter the way they develop the car. They might have been kicked into gear by a decision out of their control.
Jake Dennis has been the simulator driver for Red Bull for some time but in the summer this year signed as the BMW-i Andretti race driver for the 2021 Formula E season. In doing so significantly reducing his opportunities to assist Red Bull.
Drafting in simulator drivers is no big deal for F1 teams, anyone will do. Sebastien Buemi still has links with the team to do so. Mercedes still use Anthony Davidson, and have done for 18 years since they were BAR.
Alex Albon will be the test, reserve and development driver for Red Bull in 2021 with a key focus on 2022.
Having a driver with extremely recent race experience in the simulator will help the team to create as good a car for 2022 as possible. They will have the second lowest amount of wind tunnel time as a result of the cost cap regulations so must be able to develop a better car to start the season than in recent years for any championship hopes to take hold.
Red Bull faced a lot of struggles with their car at the start of the 2020 season.
They developed their car during from testing until the Austrian GP as if the season had gone ahead but only without the on track trialling of parts. All developments of the car came from the simulator and were implemented in the first race.
This came to a head in Hungary when the car was seemingly undriveable for a lot of the weekend.
Red Bull were able to get a handle on this temperamentally throughout the season which is what comes from on track performance.
What was exposed was a severe correlation issue with the on track performance and the Milton Keynes development in the wind tunnel and the simulator.
Having this development be led by Albon, a driver very familiar with the characteristics of the Red Bull on track, is very positive for Red Bull’s long term future.
He is being used for Red Bull’s success and it could pay off. It is a different design process for the historically stubborn team.
It is sore for him to lose out on his chance at the glory but his ties with the team have not been severed which would have been the worst case scenario.
There is a door for him in the future but that depends on the other reason he is not with AlphaTauri.
Yuki Tsunoda is by far the most exciting of the F2 graduates to F1 in 2021.
His impatient rise from Japanese F4 in 2018 to F3 in 2019 and F2 in 2020 is due to impeccable performance. His results show consistent improvement.
There is more to come from Tsunoda, he is immensely talented and quick and with time across a championship, for instance the longest ever F1 season, he could develop even more and cause a lot of headaches for Pierre Gasly and AlphaTauri.
Giving young talent an opportunity is Red Bull’s modus operandi and after a whitewash for Albon it is better to look forward with Tsnuoda than to look after rejects in AlphaTauri.
Albon was only called up to Red Bull as their talent pool had run dry when Daniel Ricciardo scarpered to Renualt. It is understandable that he would be the driver to fall by the wayside when fresh youth came onto the scene.
Albon had more of a chance to prove himself at Red Bull. He had a 26 race career at the top team, more than double Gasly’s tenure. To be outraced and outqualified so consistently was surely the death of his F1 chances.
Test driver is solace but his performances did not demand it.