Sunny skies and a picturesque setting underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge was the perfect scene for the launch of the 2020 Supercars Championship season.
The axe has once again fallen at Red Bull Racing in the middle of a Formula One season, as the former world champions announced that incumbent Pierre Gasly has been dropped in favour of star rookie Alexander Albon.
Despite receiving public assurances from team principal Christian Horner that the Frenchman would not be replaced at any point during the season, Red Bull have once again been relentless.
Gasly’s performances in 2019 – in what is his first season for the championship-winning outfit following a solid debut campaign for junior team Toro Rosso – have been under par and in stark comparison to teammate Max Verstappen, who’s won two races.
A season best result of fifth at the Monaco Grand Prix only sees the former GP2 series champion adrift in sixth in the standings. While driving for one of the top-tiered three teams, Gasly is more than double the points behind the next best driver and only five ahead of the ‘best of the rest’.
Even though the 23-year-old has been served a raw deal by the ruthless Red Bull young driver program – in the same way Daniil Kvyat was also discarded in 2016 in favour of Verstappen – Gasly’s cards were marked the moment he received the promotion.
With the unexpected departure of Daniel Ricciardo last year, Red Bull were left with Gasly as the best performing driver within their program – despite the fact he had only a season’s worth of experience.
The same occurred with Kvyat also, having been hurriedly called up to Red Bull following Sebastian Vettel’s shock exit in 2014, only to face pressure from his superiors who had their eyes on Verstappen instead of nurturing the young Russian.
So will Albon, also 23 and a rookie, deliver the performances Gasly has failed to do in the 12 races so far?
The Anglo-Thai driver has enjoyed a strong rookie campaign thus far for Toro Rosso, barring a few crashes which did catch the headlines during the pre-season, Chinese and Hungarian Grands Prix.
Albon has been mature in his conduct and humble in his approach. It was this level-headedness that saw him net a career-best result of sixth in the chaotic wet weather race in Germany – even though his teammate, Kvyat, recorded Toro Rosso’s first podium since Vettel’s famous victory in 2008.
Qualifying has seen Albon regularly match his more experienced teammate and with the Russian being no slouch, the rookie’s performances look impressive.
Given that Kvyat is already a known quantity to Red Bull and may yet (despite the emphatic podium in Germany) not be fully ready for a promotion back to the senior squad, Albon may be worth taking the risk on, given they can only gain ground in the constructors’ championship as a result.
The right choice indeed for Red Bull, but what this scenario has done is only thrust into the spotlight the shortcomings of the energy drinks giant’s junior program – having now added Gasly’s name to a list of prematurely damaged careers and their lack of depth after the departures of Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz Jr.
For Gasly, it’s now a matter of regathering himself at Toro Rosso for the remainder of the season. For Albon, it’s his opportunity to make a statement to the organisation that once had severed ties with him and left him no path to Formula One.
So with only 44 points between themselves and Ferrari for the runner’s up spot in the championship, Albon’s debut for Red Bull will be anticipated with bated breath when Formula One roars back into action next month.