After Sergio Perez’s heroic win in the Sakhir Grand Prix, pressure has been mounting on Red Bull to announce him as the replacement for Alexander Albon for the 2021 Formula 1 season. But the team have hit back on social media.
Heading into the Bahrain International Circuit doubleheader, calls were being made by fans for Sergio Perez to replace Alexander Albon at Red Bull as their second driver for the 2021 Formula 1 season.
Perez has been best of the rest throughout the whole 2020 season, and his form has been nothing short of mighty since, and including, the Russian Grand Prix at the end of September, where he scooped up a fine fourth place finish.
Following that, his results read fourth place in the Eifel Grand Prix, seventh in the Portuguese Grand Prix, sixth in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, where a late pit stop under the safety car for fresher tires cost him a podium finish, and second in the Turkish Grand Prix.
Comparatively, Albon finished in 10th place in the Russian Grand Prix, DNF in the Eifel Grand Prix, 12th in the Portugal Grand Prix, 15th in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and seventh in the Turkish Grand Prix, where a spin cost him a potential shot of at least a podium finish, albeit in very tricky conditions.
And if the calls were murmurs heading into Bahrain, they could be heard across the world by the end of the desert doubleheader.
Perez was cruising for a podium finish in the Bahrain Grand Prix before his engine cruelly caught fire a few laps from the finish, dropping him from a podium to his first DNF of the year. Throughout the race, Albon had been keeping Perez honest, but was unable to make him uncomfortable. Giving credit where credit is due, he was there to pick up the pieces and scoop up third place and, crucially, a double podium for Red Bull with Max Verstappen in second.
Then there was the Sakhir Grand Prix. Perez went from 18th place at the end of the first lap to first at the end of the race, and with a winning margin of more than 10 seconds over Renault’s Esteban Ocon, Perez said afterwards that his win “was on merit” following the failed Mercedes double-stack pit stop. Meanwhile, Albon came home in a distant sixth, unable to pick up the pieces.
Based on the second half of the 2020 season, it’s easy to see why fans are calling for Perez to be considered for a future in Formula 1 at what is currently the second fastest team on the grid.
But it’s not as simple as that. In fact, whatever their decision for their second driver, it’s a catch 22 situation for Red Bull.
Red Bull had initially said they would confirm their 2021 driver lineup before the Turkish Grand Prix, which was now almost one month ago. It’s clear they want to see Albon to claim that seat as part of the driver program, and they have given him so many opportunities to make it his.
He showed glimpses of what he is capable of in the Turkish Grand Prix, but that was also another case of “what if” when he spun while hunting the leaders down.
That spin cost him any chance of what could have been a momentous result. Red Bull are aching for one of their junior drivers to step up to the mark after failed attempts from current AlphaTauri drivers Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly in the second seat.
A third failed attempt would not cover the Red Bull junior driver program in glory. And let’s not forget that Verstappen was not exactly one of their products to come up through the junior categories to Formula 1. He signed with the program in August of 2014 to fend off interest from other teams, and within a week, it was announced that he would drive for Toro Rosso in 2015.
It must be said he did spend a full season at Toro Rosso before being given the opportunity to swap seats with Kvyat in 2016 in time for the Spanish Grand Prix, which Verstappen would go on to win after Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg crashed into each other.
And there could lie a stumbling block. If Red Bull announce Perez as the successor to Albon, then it would raise question marks over the effectiveness of their junior driver program again, in terms of being able to produce drivers that can compete consistently under intense pressure at the sharp end of Formula 1. That’s a much different prospect than swapping drivers between the teams mid-season.
That could be why they’ve decided to hit back at critics calling for Perez to replace Albon on Instagram. The official Red Bull account posted pictures of both Verstappen and Albon’s bios, with the caption “Phew. Just a quick bio check”, followed by a laughing/crying emoji. Each bio says “Formula 1 (or F1) driver for Red Bull Racing”.
It also seems to suggest that they are still keen on keeping Albon for 2021, which would see Perez likely face a year out. Albon has one more shot to stake a claim for one of the hottest seats in Formula 1, but Perez will want to put even more pressure on the team. He’s already ramped that up this week, saying his “fate shows that Formula 1 does not have the best drivers“.
But Red Bull are seemingly caught between a rock and a hard place with whatever they do. If they sign Perez, the Red Bull junior program will be scrutinized even more closely. If they sign Albon, Formula 1 would lose one of the best drivers on the grid for a year, and some doubt could be cast over Red Bull’s true ambition to challenge Mercedes by turning down a stronger driver lineup.
Either way, expect the repercussions to rumble on.