It’s been much publicized throughout the 2019 Formula 1 season that Red Bull has a decision to make about its driver lineup. For years, Max Verstappen has been linked with Mercedes as a potential future driver with there being a specific clause in Verstappen’s contract that could be triggered at the end of this season, making the young Dutch driver a free agent.
In most cases for an F1 team, this would leave Red Bull with only one seat to find a new driver for, but the problem becomes double for the energy drink brand considering the performance of their second driver, Pierre Gasly. If you read the F1 Reddit page every day, it is no secret that the second year driver has not at all lived up to the expectations of Daniel Ricciardo’s past performances nor Gasly’s Toro Rosso performance, specifically his fourth-place result in Bahrain — a finish that Gasly has yet to match in the third, sometimes second, best car on the grid.
The problem for Red Bull only multiplied when Gasly was lapped by teammate Verstappen in the same car and set up as Verstappen sped to victory in Austria. But what does Red Bull do about the situation? With Valtteri Bottas’ performance in the Mercedes, I feel there will be no seat open for Verstappen next season so the rumors of him triggering his performance clause to be conjecture for a team that can only expect better chances to win after another season with an optimistic Honda engine coming up in 2020.
But for Gasly, it’s a tough call. Apart from his fourth-place run in Bahrain with Toro Rosso last year, all throughout his junior rise with Red Bull, he has gotten off to slow starts. In GP2 (now Formula 2) he struggled mightily, not winning at all in 2015 and causing several collisions for the DAMS team, ending a race in Abu Dhabi in 2015. Red Bull stick by Gasly and he then came back with Prema Powerteam to win the GP2 title in 2016. In Super Formula in 2017, Gasly didn’t see his first win until August before snagging the Toro Rosso F1 seat from the man, who ironically is being linked to replace Gasly at Red Bull, Daniil Kvyat.
Now junior category statistics are far and away different than F1. In fact, his struggles in these leagues that saw the likes of Joylon Palmer and Rio Harayanto winning is more daunting for Gasly, but it’s not too shocking to see him struggle. But in a way, if Red Bull was to stick with Gasly through the struggles, this was supposed to the best season to do so. It is somewhat of a transition year for Red Bull as they acclimate themselves with the Honda engine.
They weren’t expected to have a race winning car especially after Ferrari seemed to be the favorite after Winter Testing and Mercedes still being Mercedes. But Ferrari’s struggles have made Red Bull the second best car in some races like Australia, Spain, Monaco, and Austria (ahead of Mercedes) so Gasly’s performances that have sometimes left him out of the points altogether in some of these races has only been multiplied. On top of that, Red Bull has brash personalities like Helmut Marko going on record numerous times stating that Gasly’s performance is “unacceptable.” So now Gasly is feeling pressure from the media, the team, and himself to get performances that he just cannot seem to find.
Can the responsibility for Gasly’s 2019 season be placed somewhat on Red Bull for rushing him into the seat? If you asked this decorated journalist’s opinion (NASCAR’s Noah Gragson called me funny once) I would say yes, a little bit, and the reason is because of how Red Bull handles drivers in the main team’s seat. Ever since they brought Mark Webber in to drive with ex-McLaren driver David Coulthard in 2007, Red Bull has only filled the main car with Red Bull developmental drivers. Early on, it was a great approach to finding diamonds in the rough. They found extraordinary drivers through their junior program, Sebastian Vettel, Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz, and Verstappen.
This approach has also led them to miss out on great drivers who did not graduate with a Red Bull on their helmet. They chose Daniil Kvyat over Fernando Alonso going into 2015 when there were many rumors linking Alonso to Red Bull both in 2015, and 2010 when the Spaniard went to Ferrari. Maybe with Alonso’s ego it was a good decision. But this year Nico Hulkenberg is out of contract with Renault and should be a great option for Red Bull. An experienced driver who has never been given a shot with a top team but has put out consistent points finishes, and can put a car on the pole as he did with Williams and Force India when the car could compete. But I can assure you that, unless they read this and decide to break tradition, they will not make the move at the end of this season. Instead, Kvyat is being discussed to return to Red Bull and give it another go with Verstappen, the driver that replaced him in 2016.
Is Kvyat the answer? Probably not but that’s not a solid opinion. Yes, he has more experience and age under his belt, and his only full season with Red Bull was when their car was absolute rubbish in 2015. He got a podium in China. But China was also the race he was nicknamed the “Torpedo” and then crashed into Vettel twice in Russia. He flipped the Red Bull in Suzuka 2015. Kvyat has had his mix-ups this season when he crashed with the McLaren drivers in China.
All I am saying is that if Red Bull is to replace Gasly after this season, it has to be with a driver who they feel will definitely better the Frenchman’s performance and isn’t reputable to destroying the car.
There are no other Red Bull drivers in the pipeline that brings enough excitement. Alexander Albon did not set the world on fire in F2 despite winning four races as well as his pit lane-to-points race in China and has been outperformed by Kvyat in five of nine races. Albon is not ready to take on the Red Bull seat. Red Bull just released junior driver Dan Ticktum due to lack of performance.
There is a serious lack of development with Red Bull at the moment, which is why Kvyat came back to Toro Rosso in the first place.
All in all, Gasly has been bad this season, and we will see what Red Bull does about their driver situation. In my opinion, Verstappen will be back in 2020 and for longer if Honda can bring Red Bull to consistent race winning performance. Gasly, on the other hand, needs to figure it out from Silverstone and on. He will stay in the car for the rest of the season so he has plenty of time to get it together. If Gasly is able to snag a few podiums and do better than just winning every F1.5 race the answer is easier for Red Bull.
Will we see a return of the Torpedo next season, or a shocking move to go outside of the Red Bull development program and sign Hulkenberg in 2020? Or will we see Red Bull sticking with him for 2020 for one final time, take an offseason to find what in the set ups did not match his driving style, and then doing a mid season swap with Kvyat or Albon if he is still struggling next season? Time will only tell, but for now, F1 is back this weekend for what could be the final race in Silverstone.