Ahead of the 2021 Formula One season, there was great anticipation surrounding what was supposed to be a record-breaking 23-race schedule – as it was a sign that the sport was returning to normality in this pandemic affected world.
When it comes to being ruthless with their driver line-up, Red Bull Racing have been the best in Formula One since they first entered the sport in 2005.
The former world champions have had some great drivers in their time, thanks chiefly to their heralded young drivers programme.
Though the last few years have shown cracks within this system.
Alex Albon is supposedly in the firing line this season, having been unable to match his prodigious teammate Max Verstappen – who scored a sixth consecutive podium for 2020 at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Albon has only had one non-points finish this season and has been a top-eight finisher otherwise – that one blemish being the Austrian Grand Prix, where he was sent into the gravel while tangling with one Lewis Hamilton while in contention for the race win.
By direct comparison to Verstappen, Albon has not had the greatest run and that’s come down to the volatile nature of the RB16. Overall, it has been a disappointment, especially when Red Bull were set to challenge for the championship this year.
Internally, it appears that the Anglo-Thai driver has the support of his team. The harshest of all taskmasters, Red Bull motorsport advisor Dr Helmut Marko, even came to the 24-year-old’s defence, saying he is just as quick through fast corners as Verstappen.
“Albon’s performances are perceived worse than they are in reality,” Marko said in an interview with Motorsport.com.
“What is completely overlooked is that in both Silverstone races, he was the fastest man in the second stint – faster than Verstappen. He also proved at the Red Bull Ring that when he gets into his rhythm, he’s absolutely fast.”
Red Bull even brought back the former engineer for seven-time race winner Daniel Ricciardo, Simon Rennie, to further boost their young driver’s confidence and understanding of the difficult car.
That hasn’t stopped the wide external criticism of Albon.
From calls for dumped Red Bull driver Pierre Gasly – who’s been resurgent in 2020 in the low-pressure stable of AlphaTauri to be reinstated to the senior team – to the Milton Keynes team outsourcing a more competitive replacement for Albon, it all seems unnecessary given the core of the team’s problems lie with the car.
After being relegated to fifth at Spa by Esteban Ocon on the final lap, no thanks to an ill strategy call to put the Red Bull on medium tyres, Albon moved into fourth in the drivers’ championship.
The 106-point deficit in the constructors’ championship between juggernauts Mercedes and Red Bull, regardless of the driver in that second car, would still be no closer to beating the world champions without a car consistent enough to do so.
So while gains now need to be made back at base, whatever that looks like over the next two seasons with limited development, Albon himself deserves a break.
The best is yet to come from the driver who earnt his call up to Red Bull 12 months ago and that’ll go hand-in-hand with the car being capable of challenging Mercedes.