Sergio Perez, Alex Albon and Red Bull
What are the implications of Red Bull signing with someone from outside their drivers’ program?
Sergio Pérez’s signing with Red Bull was confirmed last December 18th. The team has closed their vacancies for 2021 by placing the Mexican as Max Verstappen’s teammate. Alex Albon will now be a test driver.
Although not a surprise, the Red Bull movement creates numerous scenarios in an attempt to explain why it would be right or wrong to downgrade one of their official drivers and bring someone from outside their young drivers’ program to the main team.
In fact, it’s not from today that this program and its conduction have been questioned by the motorsport world. Pointed by many as a “meat grinder”, the project directed by Helmut Marko has launched several drivers over the last years, but few have really been able to please the stern Austrian.
Red Bull debuted in Formula 1 in 2005, since then 11 drivers have been in the team at some point. It seems little, but if we compare with their two main competitors, we will see that Ferrari had 9 in the same period and Mercedes had only 5 (since their return to F1 in 2010).
The number is even higher at Alpha Tauri. Founded one year after the first team, under the name of Scuderia Toro Rosso, the “B” team had 14 seat occupants in their history in F1. It means 14 different drivers in 14 years of existence.
The elevated turnover in the cockpits of the two teams clearly represents the urgency of the RBR high dome to reveal a new talent and the short period that each racer has to prove themselves. Characteristics that were accentuated after Sebastian Vettel’s departure in late 2014.
Sergio Pérez’s hiring may put in check a system that appears to be more harmful than beneficial for a good number of those who had gone through it. Pérez is part of a select group of drivers who arrived at Red Bull without going through the team’s Junior program — or at least through the Junior team (Toro Rosso/Alpha Tauri). Beside him are David Coulthard and Mark Webber.
Still, having someone from outside can do good to everyone. As Will Buxton explains:
Pérez is a 10 years experienced driver in F1, seven of them in Racing Point (Force India). He spent one year at McLaren after two seasons at Sauber, where he made his debut.
The Mexican has shown several times that he can deliver good results and the 2020 season was the best proof of that, Pérez is at his peak. Red Bull needs someone who is able to at least walk close to Max Verstappen and, apparently, no one in their academy offers what the team needs today.
Keeping a pace similar to Verstappen’s without necessarily threatening the young star of the team, winning podiums and helping in the constructor’s championship. This is it. This is the guy Red Bull wants. Alex Albon seemed to be this guy, but his 2020 campaign showed the opposite.
Albon created a very high expectation around himself when he replaced Pierre Gasly in the second half of the 2019 season. The good results achieved by the Thai made everyone believe that Red Bull would be able to challenge Mercedes last year, but Albon’s inconsistency led him to the worst place in 2021: the reserve role.
In practice, Albon will be in the RBR simulators working on the 2022 car, “a key role” as described by Christian Horner. Maybe he will have a chance to return to the starting position with a car that he helps to develop, but he doesn’t depend only on himself anymore.
The direct dispute between Albon and Gasly at Alpha Tauri could be a great attraction for 2021 but now besides Gasly, Albon will face a new opponent: Yuki Tsunoda.
The new Alpha Tauri duo will have an entire season to improve, while Albon will be tied to the simulators and the factory. With luck, he will participate in some free practice. Who knows?
It’s hard to say if Albon will have a new chance in 2022. Esteban Ocon managed to get back to the grid in 2020 after a season away but that’s the exception. Daniil Kvyat also got an even rarer chance to return to Alpha Tauri after being fired. Will Alex be able to do the same?
Albon needs to hold on to these facts and dedicate himself even more if he wants a new chance. And he also needs to deal better with pressure. It is not easy to be a Red Bull driver and whining on the radio as he did during the Eifel GP (“They race me so hard”) does not help that much.
SERGIO PÉREZ x MAX VERSTAPPEN
Pérez and Verstappen are two bold racers, with strong personalities who don’t usually make anyone’s life easier on the track.
Sergio Pérez was never exactly known for his great relationship with his teammates. Ocon and Button were probably the most explicit cases, so Verstappen can’t be expected to have with him a relationship at all similar to any other teammate he has ever had.
Mariana Becker (a Brazilian journalist) revealed at the Abu Dhabi GP that the 2021 RBR car will be up to 60% adjusted to Max Verstappen. The experienced Pérez now has to show a big adapting capacity to deliver what is expected from him.
It is unlikely that he will accept to be the “second driver” — unless his contract is very explicit about it. So the chances of having a good internal fight are high.
In any case, Pérez didn’t have his driver personality molded by Red Bull and this is another reason to believe that he may question whatever is imposed to him. Besides, the Mexican is a political man, we mustn’t forget that he was one of the main articulators of the plan which saved Force India from bankruptcy in 2018.
More mature, the #11 car owner has experience and is highly skilled to deal with sponsors and other businessmen. Surely he will know how to handle with Christian Horner.
In addition, Pérez has strong sponsors and rumour has it his staying on the grid also has to do with the Mexican GP staying.
All these elements added to Max Verstappen’s already known history with Red Bull make this the pair the one that will attract the most eyes this year.
Will Sergio Pérez be able to race head-to-head with Max Verstappen? Will he be able to stay on the team longer? Will Albon return to Red Bull in 2022 or will he go somewhere else? Is Verstappen continuing in Red Bull?
All these questions and more will be answered over time, but this whole situation already undoes the myth that a driver has the power to veto his teammate. Perez theoretically represents a much bigger threat to Verstappen, so it doesn’t make sense for him to agree to this hiring, right?
In any case, Pérez’s contract lasts one year, long enough for the Formula 1 world to find out “what happens when you put two fighting roosters in the same team”.
Article originally published on December 18, 2020 at boletimdopaddock.com.br