Yesterday, Red Bull Racing announced that as of the Belgian Grand Prix, the first after F1’s enforced summer break, Formula 1 new boy Alex Albon would be swapping places with Pierre Gasly, demoting the Frenchman to a seat in the B-Team after a thoroughly lacklustre first half of the 2019 season and moving Albon into one of F1’s most coveted seats.
The move came as very little surprise to anyone with a passing interest in the comings and goings in F1 over the last half a dozen years.
RBR have form in kneejerk driver replacements, and the chasm in performance between Gasly and Red Bull team leader Max Verstappen that could be justified at the beginning of the year as Gasly familiarised himself with his new steed, became more pronounced the more the season went on and with every race he seemed to be edging closer towards the door.
What raised eyebrows was that on the Monday following the German Grand Prix – a race won by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen with Toro Rossos in the top six – Gasly colliding with his Toro Rosso stablemate en-route to Red Bull’s first DNF of the season, the team’s motorsport advisor Helmut Marko publicly insisted that they “have no plans to replace him with another driver.”
“[We have] seen a number of strong races from Pierre and we will work together to pull him out.”
And then they replaced him.
And so it’s with all this in the back of our minds that we read about Mercedes’ Toto Wolff stating that Williams’ George Russell will remain with the team for 2020, and that it’s too soon to partner him with World Champion Lewis Hamilton.
Toto says there’d be too great a risk of it ‘burning him out’, despite Russell claiming that he’s ready for the call now should Mercedes see fit, but what seems to differentiate Wolff and Red Bull is that Mercedes clearly favour stability over the quick fix that Horner and co. tend to seek by the odd reshuffle here and there.
Since their return to Grand Prix racing in 2010, Mercedes have made just two driver switches – Schumacher for Hamilton and Rosberg for Bottas – both forced on the team by drivers retiring from Formula 1.
Another key difference is that Mercedes are at the very top of the tree. While the teams directly behind them know that they need to evaluate every option available to them to wrest a championship away from the all conquering German manufacturer, Wolff and his boys know that they have a winning formula and so why risk anything by changing?
So I think that, unlike Marko’s hollow vote of confidence in Gasly, it’s likely that Wolff will be true to his word, avoid risking throwing Russell in at the deep end too soon and either stick with Bottas (who’s doing a decent job let’s not forget – not many drivers could challenge Lewis Hamilton!) or look elsewhere for a short term option until he considers Russell ready for the big time.