I’ve got to admit, I’m scratching my head a bit at the Red Bull driver decision.
I mean, I get it on one hand. Sergio Perez is the best F1 driver currently available in terms of recent performances, and the team had a seat it was unsure about. But Red Bull has not been a team that takes the best driver available since 2007. It’s a team that takes the best driver it has developed in its junior outfit of Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri.
It’s part of the Red Bull brand to back youth and give it a chance. It has worked, too. Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen — they all proved themselves in the junior team and got their chance in the senior outfit, becoming multiple race winners and in Vettel’s case a four-time world champion.
I’m not saying either approach is right or wrong, but that’s just been the way Red Bull does things. It’s why it invests so much in the sport, and yet it has suddenly disregarded that whole mantra.
It’s not just the fact that Alex Albon loses his seat. As a straight call between Perez and Albon based on this year, it makes total sense. But then Albon has shown flashes of potential for Red Bull to nurture, and if not him then Pierre Gasly has also become a race winner this season and excelled in a car that was not as competitive as the Racing Point.
And by Red Bull choosing Perez, it’s hurting a number of those younger drivers.
Albon will have to sit next year out in the test and reserve role, making it really hard for him to try and prove himself worthy of another shot in the Red Bull. Gasly has shown just how tough that is to do after bouncing back from last year’s brutal demotion to pick up a podium in Brazil and then win in Monza this season — one of many highly impressive performances.
So even if Perez only stays for one year, at least one of Albon or Gasly won’t be in the Red Bull in 2022, and there are no guarantees either of them will be. And that’s before we even consider Perez and Verstappen being the partnership for a number of seasons.
That then trickles down to any other Red Bull junior — Yuki Tsunoda or Juri Vips for example — who see a pathway that is pretty much blocked. The Red Bull program doesn’t necessarily want to take you to the main team if it can just grab a ready-made driver option from elsewhere.
Again, that’s not a criticism of a team if it is just looking to run the best two drivers available, but that hasn’t been the Red Bull way. Its USP has been to promote its youngsters.
Something I always say when it comes to Red Bull’s treatment of its young drivers is it can do what it pleases (within reason…) because those youngsters are getting a chance in F1 thanks to Red Bull’s investment. But this time that investment isn’t even being utilized at all, as it takes a driver from outside the program.
It did similar with Verstappen back in 2015, parachuting him into a Toro Rosso seat from outside the junior program, such was his talent. Understandable of course, but it also meant junior drivers felt that Red Bull wasn’t necessarily the path to take through their careers, because people could jump the queue easily. That led to a gap in talent on the Red Bull conveyor belt and forced it to go back to the likes of Daniil Kvyat and even Albon, having originally dropped both.
There’s going to be short-term gain, but by going completely against its previous ethos it remains to be seen if there’s long-term ramifications at Red Bull.