Red Bull made the decision to swap Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon from the Belgian Grand Prix, this I believe was a decision made based on the form of both drivers and the chance to see who is best to partner Max Verstappen next season.
Red Bull have the unique opportunity with two teams and four seats they can move drivers around. Remember when they swapped Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat, Verstappen has risen to become one of the biggest drivers in the sport and is currently the outsider.
But it remains a fact, that the Red Bull driver programme is hard as Dr Helmut Marko demands so much of his drivers and if they don’t perform, they are axed. This has been the biggest criticism of the programme, and the fact there is no immediate threat to Gasly or Kvyat maybe there saving grace.
Kvyat has been through the mill, since his debut for Toro Rosso he has been promoted to replaced Sebastian Vettel, dropped after a bad start to 2016. Then to be fired completely at the end of 2017, only for the programme to run out of drivers and be signed again for 2019.
It was clear the contrast from Barcelona 2016, Verstappen went onto win on his debut for Red Bull while Kvyat’s confidence you could clearly see was gone. It’s not until this year I believe that we have seen the Russian return to the pre-Red Bull driver he was.
But, having Kvyat as Gasly’s teammate at Toro Rosso may allow the Frenchman to avoid falling into the trap which Kvyat did. As I believe he was struggling with the demotion, and it was only leaving the sport then returning this year and the podium at Hockenheim we really saw the old Daniil.
We know, that in an ideal world that Red Bull wanted to give Gasly another year at Toro Rosso. That wasn’t an option neither was bringing in another driver from another team, as that would have undermined the purpose of Toro Rosso.
The other option could have been Carlos Sainz but allowing him to exit the Red Bull programme means they have lost his talent. That poses the question did they make the right decision to let him go to McLaren has he has delivered consistent results and has beaten Gasly on some occasions.
Was its Verstappen, the man who the team believe is there next world champion, who blocked Sainz from joining Red Bull? That was a great battle between the two at Toro Rosso, and whether it was Verstappen who didn’t want Sainz as his teammate.
Like the Verstappen move, you have to ask was there some risk of Albon being snapped up by another team because of his talent. Red Bull don’t want to lose Verstappen.
Verstappen has and is establishing himself as the next champion, we know Red Bull have the admission to make him not only a world champion but the youngest champion. But, unless they make a major step forwards and Mercedes seriously mess up next year, that I believe is unlikely.
The other thing is can Albon handle the pressure of stepping up to the Red Bull team alongside Verstappen. Fighting Verstappen in a good car is a big test for any driver, and we know that one of the reasons he moved to the senior team was because of the speed and talent in his opening season.
The saying is ‘in F1 your success is your teammate’s failure’, think of the switch as that but on a bigger scale. Albon has impressed, but it’s a calculated gamble taken, could backfire and that could leave Red Bull in a position with no drivers.
Both Gasly and Albon have very difficult challenges, as well as Kvyat, as they look who will partner Verstappen. Like Hamilton, I believe Verstappen has the skill of being the dominate teammate, Albon must find a way to unsettle the Dutchman.
It’s a three-horse race, I also would think it is unlikely, but not impossible, that if Albon doesn’t really deliver by maybe Sochi they might try Kvyat again. But, I think that is highly unlikely.