Formula 1: What Red Bull’s culture means for their academy drivers

Christian Horner, Max Verstappen, Helmut Marko, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Christian Horner, Max Verstappen, Helmut Marko, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) /

Red Bull have built quite a reputation in Formula 1 when it comes to how cutthroat they can be in regard to the performance of young drivers.

Red Bull have operated as a team with high standards and quality in Formula 1 for quite some time now, and they have no intention of slowing down. Having been one of the best teams in the sport over the last decade and the single best team over the past few years, their goals have been set very high.

With that, a certain culture has set in regarding just how high their standards are. The team have their eyes on the driver and constructor championships, and they have made it clear that there is simply no time to be wasted on below-average performances.

Over the course of just the last seven years, there have been several instances of Red Bull letting go of young drivers rather quickly.

In 2016, Daniil Kvyat was demoted to Toro Rosso four races into the season for Max Verstappen. In 2019, Pierre Gasly was demoted mid-season and replaced by Alex Albon. After 2020, Albon was quickly replaced by Sergio Perez. Now going into 2024, there is talk of Perez being replaced, despite the fact that he sits in a comfortable P2 in the standings.

This culture is not particularly beneficial for potential young Formula 1 drivers coming through Red Bull’s academy.

While the move to promote Verstappen has paid off, moving on from Perez would instill an increased sense of fear within the current generation of academy drivers, especially after two unsuccessful stints by young drivers in the last four years alone.

These high expectations set forth by Red Bull put a lot of pressure on rookies and could be detrimental to their long-term development path.

Red Bull’s academy still produces a lot of good talent, with Liam Lawson and Ayumu Iwasa being the two most promising young stars at the moment. But this cutthroat culture does delineate a certain pathway for these new up-and-coming drivers into Formula 1.

To an extent, it hurts their chances of making it in the sport. Red Bull are already not as willing to give a full-time seat to a rookie as other teams are. Instead, they send their young drivers over to sister team AlphaTauri to start and develop their career.

Ideally, a rookie driver could progress at AlphaTauri and then potentially make the switch to Red Bull later on. But as things currently stand, that approach hasn’t seen success since 2016, and the Red Bull standard has made it difficult for an academy driver to go right into a full-time seat with the main team.

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As a result, the number of open seats for academy drivers between the two Red Bull-affiliated teams shrinks, and drivers’ chances of making it to the big team become even smaller.