Why Albon isn’t in the same danger as Gasly was

There’s no denying Alex Albon’s first full season at Red Bull is so far falling short of expectations. Just sixth in the drivers’ championship and with two consecutive Q2 exits in the previous races, it’s also unsurprising that talk of him facing a midseason drop like Pierre Gasly’s last year has already begun.

On the face of it, the concern over Albon’s position at Red Bull does appear to be more than just speculation for speculation’s sake.

Much like Gasly last year, Albon has struggled to get to grips with his car over the opening races of the season, and more importantly doesn’t seem able to extract the most from it in the same way teammate Max Verstappen has. As a result, Albon has been behind Verstappen in every race they’ve both finished and only has half the points of his teammate.

Albon’s results have also been following a downward trend so far. After finishing fourth in the Styrian Grand Prix, Albon was fifth at the Hungaroring and then eighth at Silverstone last weekend. It’s easy to conclude from that record that Albon’s entering into a downward spiral, or a slump at the very least. That Gasly found himself in such a spiral last year was one of the key reasons Red Bull gave for moving him back to Toro Rosso, in the hopes of forcing a reset for the Frenchman.

Bryn Lennon, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

But although Gasly’s results were obviously a key factor in his demotion, more important were the reasons behind those results. In particular, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner cited Gasly’s hesitance in on-track battles, which often left him stuck behind midfield cars despite his own RB15’s pace advantage.

Albon, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have this problem. The British Grand Prix might have been his lowest result of the season so far, but his drive to eighth was a recovery negating an extra pit stop and a time penalty. Likewise, in Hungary he made up eight places to finish fifth after an early qualifying exit.

Admittedly, Albon’s racecraft does still need honing. The collision with Kevin Magnussen that earned him that penalty at Silverstone is the most recent example, not to mention his two race-ruining incidents with Lewis Hamilton in Brazil last year and Austria this year.

But despite this, Albon’s willingness to go for a move and not be daunted by it—particularly if that move is against a six-times world champion like Hamilton—is clearly something Red Bull values.

Bryn Lennon, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

It’s also worth noting that the context of of Albon’s year is very different to Gasly’s. Last year Red Bull had a car that could legitimately contest Mercedes for podiums, poles and wins, and the feeling was that they were losing out on big results because Gasly’s absence from the front of the field meant they were unable to fight the Silver Arrows strategically.

This year, despite Verstappen’s podiums the RB16 is not as close to Mercedes as its predecessor, and so Albon’s struggles aren’t costing Red Bull as much as Gasly’s. What’s more, with Ferrari so far off the pace compared to 2019, Red Bull is also not at risk of losing second place in the Constructors’ Championship.

On top of that, Red Bull had the perfect opportunity to perform a driver swap last year. The three week summer break not only provided Albon with a chance to get his head around the pressure associated with driving for the top team, but also gave Gasly enough time to accept the decision before facing the media at the next race weekend.

With no such break this year, Red Bull don’t have that convenient chance to swap drivers without the risk of it backfiring for the rest of the season. Hopefully, they’ll have learnt this from what happened to Daniil Kvyat after his sudden drop in 2016.

There’s no hiding the fact that Albon’s start to the 2020 season has so far fallen short of his and Red Bull’s expectations, and he needs an upturn in form over the coming races to get things back on track. But as for talk of him being demoted back to Toro Rosso, Albon’s performances on track and relationship with the team show a much different picture to Gasly’s time at Red Bull. For 2020 at least, Albon’s seat should be secure.

Bryn Lennon, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Tom’s British Grand Prix Race Notes

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Well, well, well, I have to say that at one point, I was massively struggling to find a way to make this interesting for you. However, queue the final couple of laps of the Grand Prix and the race really came alive! So, where to start? Here are my British Grand Prix Race Notes…

Lewis Hamilton 

I mean what can you say? Lewis led from start to finish, cruising home to claim a 7th British Grand Prix win, moving 30 point clear in the Driver’s Championship. Ok, I say cruised, he did for 50 laps at least before the real fun started and it almost got away from him. (more on this shortly).

Hamilton now moves to within four wins of Michael Schumacher’s all-time GP wins record. Back against him? You really shouldn’t. It’s inevitable and given the car that is under him, there’s no way he’s not going to claim the crown sooner rather than later.

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

I said at the start, what can you say? Well, not much more really. It was a relaxed drive for Lewis and once again, Mercedes show why they are miles ahead of the grid, even when they only have three fully functioning tires on the car!

Final Laps of Pure Carnage:

As mentioned, the Grand Prix looked all but done right from the start and the Race Note’s almost ceased to exist however, this historic Silverstone track had other ideas and gave us two laps of pure carnage and entertainment!

It all started with Valteri Bottas and after sitting in second place for 50 laps, Bottas reported on the team radio that he was suffering from a lot of vibration. At the time it was apparent that his tires we’re starting to struggle but what we didn’t know was just how bad they really were.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t long before we found out and as the Finn headed into the first corner to start his 51st lap, Bottas lost his front left tyre completely as it’s pressure dropped ultimately leading to his front wing punctured it. Bottas came into the pits at the end of the lap and he found himself going from second to finish the Grand Prix in 11th place. Which may sound bad but it could have been worse as at one point, you were left wondering if he was even going to make it to the pits at all!

Bottas wasn’t the only man suffering from tyre degradation either as Lewis Hamilton also quickly found out.

After leading the race completely unchallenged, it looked as if Lewis could sit back, relax and enjoy his final lap with his now 32 plus second lead over Max Verstappen, but what he didn’t know was that his tyre, just like his teammates tyre, was about to go bang!

Lewis heard about Bottas’ puncture and admitted that his looked fine but as he turned into Luffield, his very own left front tyre punctured and left him hoping that he would beat Verstappen to the checkered flag. As we know, he did but that 32 plus second lead quickly vanished into a 5.8-second win. Close call? Absolutely and in the words of Lewis himself, ”It was definitely a heart-in-the-mouth kind of feeling” for the Brit.

Danny Ric

To wrap up this week’s race notes, it’s the man himself, the man who never stops smiling and most probably has the best sense of humor the grid has ever seen.

Daniel Ricciardo, a man on a mission of late, who has those boots that are made for overtaking and overtaking he did. Danny Ric started 8th on the grid and battled all afternoon against both McLaren’s of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, which in truth up until puncture gate, was the only entertainment of the day. (Apart from K-Mag and Dani Kvyat’s crashes maybe).

Anyway, Danny Ric was one of nine drivers to benefit from Bottas’ second to last lap puncture and thanks to a solid drive from the Australian, he ended up coming him to finish in P4 which matches his best ever finish for Renualt. Had Hamilton’s tyre issue been a lot worse than it was then we could have been talking about a podium finish for Danny Ric but Hamilton somehow got his Silver Arrow home and he had to settle for fourth which isn’t anything to turn your nose up at. (No pun intended, Danny). Great drive!

Other mentions:

Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari

Ferrari had a tale of two weekends and depending on who you ask, the response to how they faired this weekend will be very different. Charles Leclerc had a very impressive weekend which was topped off by a podium finish in P3, which Sebastian Vettel had a nightmare weekend as he ended up in P10. Vettel struggled to stay on the track for most of the weekend and the race pace just wasn’t there for him again. That said, it was a much more improved Ferrari overall.

McLaren will be hugely happy with their showing as Lando Norris brought his MCL35 home to finish in P5, which is great news in terms of the constructor’s standings as Lance Stroll could only manage a ninth-place finish as Racing Point had a race to forget given Nico Hulkenburg’s car didn’t even make the grid due to a power unit failure.

Alpha Tauri will also be happy as Pierre Gasly had an excellent race to finish in seventh after team mate Dani Kvyat crashed out after a clash with Red Bull’s Alexander Albon.

Final Thoughts:

It was a race that looked as if it was over before it even started but thanks to a final few laps of pure carnage, it really did not disappoint in the end. Hamilton may have won his 7th British Grand Prix but it wasn’t as easy as it potentially could have been in the end.

Shall we do it again? Ok then, see you next week for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix!

 

2020 Styrian Grand Prix preview: second chance in Spielberg

Another week, another visit to Austria’s Red Bull Ring—this time for the Formula 1 Styrian Grand Prix.

Last week’s Austrian Grand Prix was a terrific opening round to the 2020 season. Valtteri Bottas landed an early blow in the title fight with Lewis Hamilton, Lando Norris earned his maiden podium with a last-gasp effort, and there was plenty of close-quarters racing throughout.

Last week’s result was also largely unexpected, thanks to incidents and reliability issues almost halving the field by the chequered flag. That means we could get a very different result again this weekend, if the teams and drivers don’t have half as much trouble keeping their cars on track.

One of the teams that’s sure to factor more in the Styrian Grand Prix is Red Bull. It was clear last time out in Austria that they were Mercedes’ closest challengers, but technical problems for both Max Verstappen and Alex Albon led to a double DNF instead. Both drivers will be going into this weekend pushing hard to make up for that, with Albon especially motivated after coming so close to his first F1 podium.

Racing Point F1 Team

Racing Point will also be hoping for a much better result this time out. The RP20 showed more evidence of its considerable pace in practice and qualifying, but a technical DNF for Lance Stroll and a penalty dropping Sergio Perez behind both McLarens in P6 left a lot still on the table for the team. Provided everything goes to plan for them this weekend, Racing Point should be able to finish ahead of their midfield rivals and take away a decent haul of points.

However, there will be several teams hoping for a repeat of last Sunday’s attrition. Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo both managed to score points last time out, with Pierre Gasly in P7 and Antonio Giovinazzi in P9, but on pace alone neither team looked that close to the top ten throughout the weekend.

And then there’s Ferrari. Although Charles Leclerc finished second in the opening race, that was very much a great result salvaged from a terrible outing. The SF1000 looked sluggish all weekend, never troubling Mercedes or Red Bull and qualifying behind McLaren and Racing Point. Add to that Sebastian Vettel’s spin after colliding with Carlos Sainz, and the result was a very sobering start to the season.

One glimmer of hope for the Scuderia was that the car looked much more responsive later in the race on the harder tyres, and the team will have hopefully learned something from last weekend’s pain that can be used to improve this weekend. If not, Leclerc and Vettel will likely find themselves scrapping away with the upper midfield rather than challenging for the podium.

The 2020 Styrian Grand Prix gets underway with free practice this Friday, with full coverage on our Twitter feed.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Alex Albon ‘keeping feet on the ground’ ahead of first race for Red Bull

Red Bull’s new signing Alex Albon says he will be ‘keeping [his] feet on the ground’ ahead of his first race for the team at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Albon has just twelve Grand Prix under his belt and while he is excited about the prospect of racing for one of the most competitive teams in F1, he is nonetheless aware that he has a lot still to learn.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“Not many drivers get the chance to drive a car capable of winning a race so early in their F1 career, so it’s a great opportunity to be driving for Red Bull,” Albon said. “It’s a big step, a big difference, and the factory’s a lot closer to my house which is handy!

“We know what the car is capable of and we’ve seen what Max has been able to do this year. I want to see what it’s like compared to what I’m used to, but at the same time, I know this weekend is my first time in the car, I’m still learning and improving as a driver and there’s definitely more to come.

“I know one of the main differences will be the noise and attention that comes with the move but I’m keeping my feet on the ground. I’m just focused on the job I have to do for Spa, I’ll be doing a lot of listening and observing.”

The news of Albon’s promotion came after Pierre Gasly, who himself had moved from Toro Rosso to Red Bull at the beginning of 2019, struggled to match the performance of Max Verstappen. Despite assurances from both Christian Horner and Helmut Marko that his seat was safe for the time being, Gasly nonetheless finds himself back at the junior team for the second half of the season.

Albon made his first official trip to the Red Bull factory as one of their drivers on 26th August, two weeks after the announcement was made, for a seat and suit fitting.

“We’ve got as much simulator prep done as we can,” Albon said, “so now it’s about going through procedural things with the team and getting to know everyone. It should be good!

“This is a big step, but I feel I’ve been through these big jumps before and taken the opportunities – I’m not worried about that. I’m focused and ready to be as strong as possible for the second half of the year.”

 

[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]

The rights and wrongs of Red Bull’s Albon switch

On Monday morning, Red Bull announced that it would be swapping Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon for the remaining races of the 2019 season.

The move was met with no small amount of surprise—not least because Christian Horner and Helmut Marko had both stated categorically that Gasly’s seat was safe for the rest of the year—as well as a great amount of debate over whether or not the decision was the right one to take.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

For Red Bull themselves, at least, the switch is a definite win-win solution.

After the Hungarian Grand Prix, Horner lay the blame quite squarely on Gasly for Red Bull being 44 points behind Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship, despite being the only team other than Mercedes to win races this year. It was the first time Horner had publicly criticised Gasly’s performances, saying that the Frenchman “shouldn’t be racing Saubers and McLarens” in a car capable of victories and podiums.

Having seen little improvement from Gasly over the opening 12 races, it was clear that Red Bull needed something to change in order to outscore Ferrari by the end of the year. And with a buffer of 162 points back to fourth-placed McLaren, the team had nothing to lose in switching drivers. At the very worst Albon would be no improvement over Gasly, but Red Bull would still comfortably finish the season in the top three.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Looking beyond 2019, there is another clear benefit to trialling how Albon works within the senior Red Bull team—and in particular, how he works alongside Max Verstappen.

On paper, Albon is the ideal driver for Red Bull’s current situation. For starters, he’s undeniably quick. He ran Charles Leclerc hard for the 2016 GP3 title, was a consistent frontrunner in Formula 2, and last year was offered a seat with Nissan’s works Formula E squad.

But perhaps most importantly, Albon’s reputation is for a calm, mild-mannered team player—a driver unlikely to level public criticism at Honda should performance falter, or threaten Verstappen’s position as Red Bull’s top dog.

And with Verstappen’s contract expiring at the end of next year, creating the right environment with a teammate like Albon might be crucial in convincing the Dutchman to stay at Red Bull long-term.

Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

As for Albon, however, moving to Red Bull now could go either way.

On the one hand, this is a remarkable stroke of good fortune. Just nine months ago Albon’s F1 chances looked to have all dried up and he was preparing for a career shift to Formula E—now, he’s driving a car that has every chance of making him Thailand’s first-ever Grand Prix winner.

But there’s absolutely no guarantee that Albon will succeed where Gasly hasn’t. Of Red Bull’s last three promotions from Toro Rosso, only Verstappen has so far managed to hang on to his seat. That will only increase the pressure on Albon to prove he can buck the trend, with only nine races in which to do so.

And if Albon fares no better than Gasly and Red Bull decide to drop him at the end of the year as well, then his meteoric F1 career could be over before it’s even truly begun.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

On that note, it’s hard to find any benefit to this decision for Gasly himself. Although Red Bull will no doubt argue they want to give him the opportunity to recover his form away from the limelight at Toro Rosso, that will seem like a hollow sentiment given they said the same thing about Daniil Kvyat in 2016.

But even if Gasly does regroup and flourish away from the glare at the senior team, it will take something special to shake off the black mark of being dumped by a top team midway through a season.

Given Gasly’s racing record to date—GP2 and Formula Renault 2.0 champion, Super Formula title contender and near podium-finisher on his debut Formula E weekend—it would be a true shame if this instead becomes the defining moment in the 23-year-old’s career.

Toro Rosso expecting “tough” Hockenheim weekend

Alex Albon has said he’s expecting this weekend’s German Grand Prix to be “another tough event” for Toro Rosso, as they try to get on top of the latest developments to its car.

The team enjoyed a competitive outing at the last race at Silverstone, with Alex Albon qualifying in the top ten and Daniil Kvyat rising from P17 on the grid to score points in P9.

But that was Toro Rosso’s first points finish since Canada as the team have struggled for pace in the intervening rounds, and in Austria they saw their lowest finish of the year with Albon in P15 and Kvyat P17.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Speaking about the team’s prospects in Hockenheim this year, Albon said: “In Silverstone, we were definitely more competitive than at the previous two races…and the car generally felt good. We have made progress and we know which parameters we need to work on.

“However, that doesn’t mean I expect an easy weekend in Germany, which will be another tough event for us.”

Albon identified tyre management as a particular issue for Toro Rosso in Germany, due to Hockenheim’s rough track surface: “Even in qualifying, you have to make sure you look after them on a single lap, or the tyres can be shot by the last couple of corners. It’s something we will be keeping an eye on.”

Kvyat was similarly wary about expecting a strong race in Germany after returning to the points in Britain: “It’s a bit too early to tell if our performance in Silverstone was the start of an upward trend, as…conditions at Silverstone were quite different to those in France and Austria.

“Germany will be an interesting challenge for us. I’m not expecting it to be easy, but we will try our best as always to be in a position to score points.”

Toro Rosso scored a point at last year’s German Grand Prix, courtesy of Brendon Hartley finishing in P10.

Peter Fox, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Hamilton triumphs in an incident-packed Monaco Grand Prix

Over the course of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, the world of Formula 1 came together to celebrate the extraordinary life of Niki Lauda, triple world champion who sadly passed away in Vienna on the 20th of May at the age of 70.

The drivers all paid their respects, and the teams placed their own tributes on their cars, with Mercedes’ tributes have been most poignant. Lauda had been the non-executive chairman of the team and was regularly seen in the team garage alongside Toto Wolff; he had been an enormously important figure in bringing Lewis Hamilton to the team.

Lauda was always seen in the paddock wearing a red cap and so, in tribute, Hamilton and Bottas‘ cars had a red star painted on the bodywork – a reportedly permanent change – and the normally silver halo was painted red in the triple world champion’s honour. 

2019 Monaco Grand Prix, Thursday – Steve Etherington

Prior to the start of the Grand Prix, a minute’s silence was held to remember the Austrian, who fought against all odds following a horrific crash at the Nürburgring in 1976. At the time, his chance of recovery was slim and a priest administered the last rites and yet, miraculously, he survived. As the F1 world took a moment to remember a legend, few words were needed, other than ‘Danke Niki. 

Qualifying once again saw Mercedes at the front of the pack, with Lewis Hamilton taking pole position with a staggering 1:10.166. Teammate Valtteri Bottas, who posted a time just eight hundredths of a second slower, lined up alongside the Brit. Max Verstappen had looked quick in free practice and secured third position, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel securing 4th. Unfortunately for Charles Leclerc, his home race weekend didn’t get off to the best of starts and he qualified 16th after a major strategic error from his Ferrari team. The midfield once again remained incredibly close, bringing hopes of wheel-to-wheel action and entertainment in a race which is notorious for being fairly uneventful.

As the race got underway, Hamilton got a perfect start, with teammate Bottas also starting well. Around Sainte Devote, Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi had to cut the corner, however the stewards deemed an investigation was unnecessary. Leclerc fought his way past the cars ahead, making a memorable move around Lando Norris at the hairpin. Despite an impressive start and progression up the pecking order, a tussle with Nico Hülkenberg caused a puncture in the Ferrari driver’s right rear tyre and damage to the floor of his car.

With debris from Leclerc’s tyre littered across the circuit, the safety car was brought out and many drivers dived into the pits. In a rare mistake from the Red Bull pit crew, Max Verstappen was let out of his pitbox too soon and found himself pushing Bottas near to the wall. As a result, Bottas lost second place and was forced to pit again, changing onto the hard compound tyres. The stewards investigated and gave Verstappen a five-second penalty for the unsafe release, which was to be added to his time post-race. He was also given 2 points on his license. 

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Leclerc was stuck at the back of the train of cars due to his collision with Hülkenberg, and on lap 16, both himself and George Russell found the road ahead blocked by Antonio Giovinazzi and Robert Kubica, the latter having been hit by the Alfa Romeo when the Italian took the inside line at Rascasse. Luckily, all four drivers managed to get back on track and carry on with their race, even though Giovinazzi was given a ten-second penalty for the incident.

Leclerc made another pitstop and switched to softs, but his car was suffering from a severe lack of downforce. Unfortunately, he was forced to return to the Ferrari garage and retire from his home race. 

Stroll was investigated by the stewards for a clash with Kimi Räikkönen – the Finn taking part in his 300th Grand Prix – and was given a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage. 

By lap 48, the leaders were caught in a train of backmarkers, with Bottas being compromised by Lance Stroll and losing a chunk of time.  

Lewis Hamilton was doing his utmost best to care for his tyres, however their deteriorating condition and Mercedes’ strategy left the Brit anxious.  In the closing stages of the race, Verstappen remained on Hamilton’s tail, posting similar lap times which kept him on average just half-a-second behind the leader. Sebastian Vettel had been running in 3rd place for most of the race and it was a quiet and uneventful afternoon for the four-time World Champion. 

Ferrari Media

After a brilliant effort to pass the race leader with two laps to go, Verstappen and Hamilton made contact at the Nouvelle Chicane, but luckily both escaped the incident unscathed. The stewards reviewed the incident, but confirmed no further action was needed. 

Hamilton took his fourth victory of the season, dedicating the win to Niki Lauda, with Verstappen finishing second. However, because of his penalty, he was classified fourth behind Vettel and Bottas.

Pierre Gasly secured a bonus point for posting the fastest lap time, the second time he has done so this year. Carlos Sainz had a strong race for McLaren, finishing in 6th, while both Toro Rossos impressed in 7th and 8th. Daniel Ricciardo took the final point for Renault, with Lando Norris just missing out in eleventh. 

There are now 17 points between Hamilton and Bottas in the Drivers’ Championship. Mercedes appear to be running away at the top of the Constructors’ standings 

The seventh round of the 2019 Formula 1 season will take place on the 9th of June at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for the Canadian Grand Prix.  

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

Albon “very happy” to score first points in F1

Toro Rosso rookie Alex Albon said he was ‘very happy’ to pick up his first ever points in Formula 1, thanks to a ninth-place finish in what was a very dramatic Bahrain Grand Prix.

He admitted that a certain amount of luck played into the result, having been promoted a couple of positions thanks to the retirements of both Renaults ahead of him.

“That was a busy race – I felt like I was always fighting with someone at some point, there was always something to do!” Albon said. “I didn’t have the best start as I was a bit shy into the first corner, but after that, I put my head down and got on with it.

“We had a good strategy and decent pace on the prime tyre. In the end, we got a bit lucky with the retirements, but I’ll take it!”

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

He also spoke of the difficult nature of the race, highlighting a mix of the weather conditions and the roughness of the circuit on the Pirelli tyres.

“It was so tricky with the wind out there and it made the car unpredictably, but we were quite strong in the race, it’s just a shame about the start. It was a challenge to overtake because when you get close to another car the tyres overheat and you get a bit stuck.

“However, I enjoyed myself out there and it was good to get that experience. I’m very happy to pick up my first points in Formula 1 and I hope we can carry this pace into China.”

 

[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]