After months of intense rumours and speculation, Red Bull’s Alexander Albon had he’s final goodbyes after he was demoted from the first team. Having swapped seats with Pierre Gasly with the Frenchman joining Alpha Tauri in the middle of the 2019 season, an underwhelming stint culminated in demotion to reserve driver status with Sergio “Checo” Perez taking the other seat alongside Max Verstappen.
Albon expressed his disappointment with the demotion in a statement shared to F1’s Instagram page being quoted as saying “I can’t lie guys. It hurts. I gave it everything out there but it wasn’t quite enough. I’m not giving up. I’ve poured my life into this and I won’t let it stop here.”
The 24-year-old is now staring at having to spend the next year or so watching from the sidelines as he waits for another shot at establishing himself as a bonafide Formula 1 driver.
A number of people, both fans and analysts have regarded the development with diverse and somewhat conflicting perspectives with some calling it the right decision by Red Bull’s head honchos Helmut Marko and Christian Horner, while others feel the British-Thai driver did not receive enough time in a challenging car.
The ones in the first group rebut the claims of insufficient time by pointing out that the year and a half Albon received is actually long by Red Bull standards at least. Gasly, the man he replaced was booted out after just half a season.
That argument does hold a lot of water with it being true that Albon was the beneficiary of uncharacteristic patience on Red Bull’s part as the team sought to justify the merits of its system of promoting from the inside. He only scored his first podium in Formula 1 this year after finishing third at the Tuscan Grand Prix.
However, there are extenuating circumstances none being more pronounced than the fact that it is now a broadly accepted sentiment that Albon’s promotion was in the first place, too soon as his inexperience and failure to master a difficult car cost him dearly.
This is backed up by the fact that Albon received support from Horner, who called the criticism received by the driver as “unwarranted and unfair”, and pointed out the difficulty of driving a car even he described as not optimised for anyone not named Max Verstappen.
Many believe the promotion of Alexander Albon to first-team was too soon due to his inexperience
Horner, however, also realised that Albon’s lack of confidence and self-belief, undoubtedly the consequence of multiple mistakes and the intense media scrutiny he was subjected to was holding him back and thus frustrating not just the driver’s performance but also hurting the prospects of Red Bull as a constructor.
It makes sense that Horner probably holds the opinion that a year out of the limelight will give Albon a much needed shot in the arm, akin to the one Gasly’s demotion to Alpha Tauri did for him.
Interestingly, Albon only missed out on a seat alongside the man he replaced last year because of political factors involving Red Bull and Honda, which saw Yuki Tsunoda promoted. Tsunoda is a very talented driver no doubt, but one can’t argue that he is a better driver than Albon despite the latter’s considerable struggles.
However, with Red Bull interested in taking over Honda’s IP after 2021, when the Japanese engine manufacturer’s time in the sport ends. The promotion of a Japanese driver to Red Bull’s protege constructor Alpha Tauri, be it a highly talented one like Tsunoda can’t be explained as anything other than a political decision.
Albon, by virtue of his age, is by no means finished. The overwhelming odds are that he will bounce back much stronger, experienced and emboldened by the harsh lessons he has received in his F1 career so far.
Considering that Perez is already thirty, it is likely that Albon, with other factors remaining constant, will get another chance with Red Bull or at least Alpha Tauri as either a teammate or replacement for Gasly.
In any case, Horner and co aren’t strangers to giving multiple chances to the drivers they’ve developed as Daniil Kvyat, Gasly and Albon himself who was first dropped by the company as a sixteen-year-old can testify. Whether or not the decision to promote Perez over Albon is fair, it is a debate that cannot be categorised in black and white terms. The rather grey truth is that while it might be harsh, it is also not particularly wrong.
Christian Horner said in 2019 that Pierre Gasly embraced his demotion from Red Bull Racing for better F1 results than feel dejected by it
In 2019, Christian Horner said that Pierre Gasly embraced his demotion from Red Bull Racing for better F1 results than feel dejected by it.
The fact that Red Bull desperately wanted, and probably still want Albon to succeed is not contestable. That they realized the impracticality of gambling on that desire is now clear. In the ultimate end, Horner and Helmut rightly found ignoring Perez to be too illogical. A driver of such quality simply doesn’t appear on the market too often so when he does, you must pounce.
The fact that Perez is the first Red Bull driver to not come from the team’s exalted development program in thirteen years is the necessary proof that Horner and Marko are aware that the Mexican is a truly elite driver who has been unfortunate through his career not to get a car befitting of his talents.
If their bet on him works out, they will finally have two elite drivers which will not only improve their chances in the Constructors Championship, an accolade they haven’t won since 2013 but also pressure Mercedes’ drivers into making mistakes, which might pave the way for Verstappen to finally break Lewis Hamilton’s and Mercedes’ tight grasp on the Driver’s Championship.
Author: Timothy Ainebyoona
Timothy is a dynamic analyst passionate about news and all things sport.