Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon will trade seats at the next Formula 1 Grand Prix in Belgium.
Gasly has been demoted from Red Bull Racing to his former team Scuderia Toro Rosso, while promising rookie Albon moves in the opposite direction and is promoted as Max Verstappen’s new teammate in his rookie season of Grand Prix racing.
“Red Bull are in the unique position of having four talented Formula One drivers under contract who can be rotated between Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso,” a statement from Red Bull Racing reads.
“The Team will use the next nine races to evaluate Alex’s performance in order to make an informed decision as to who will drive alongside Max in 2020.”
Gasly’s demotion comes despite public denials from Christian Horner (Team Principal) and Helmut Marko (team advisor and the key decision-maker on both teams’ driving line-ups) that the Frenchman’s position at Red Bull Racing was not under consideration. Those denials were patently untrue, it would seem.
The GP2 Series champion in 2016, Gasly was promoted to Scuderia Toro Rosso’s race line-up in the latter stages of the 2017 season – ironically to replace Daniil Kvyat who had himself fallen out of favour with Red Bull after a string of poor performances.
In his first full-time season of Grand Prix racing in 2018, Gasly claimed five points’ finishes – including a superb fourth place at the Bahrain Grand Prix – and when Red Bull Racing lost the services of the Renault-bound Daniel Ricciardo, Marko opted to promote Gasly to be teammate to Max Verstappen.
Most perceived this to be a promotion too soon into Gasly’s F1 career, but in truth Marko – who has hired and fired a string of drivers – had no one else to choose.
Benchmarked against a rising star like Verstappen, Gasly was immediately going to be under the spotlight. In just twelve races, he’s been dumped, having been summarily thrashed by Verstappen all season.
Just once Gasly has outqualified (Canada) and finished ahead of Verstappen on the road (Britain), and in both instances this was due to misfortune for Verstappen rather than superior pace from Gasly. He has scored barely a quarter of Red Bull Racing’s points’ tally for the season to-date (61 of the team’s tally of 239). In a race-winning car, Gasly is yet to race a single lap inside the top-three positions.
That is not to say Gasly is a terrible driver, but it rather serves to highlight just how formidable a driver and teammate Verstappen is.
It will now be up to Albon to show whether he is a better short- or long-term prospect than the man he replaces. The Anglo-Thai driver was only reinstated to the Red Bull program at the beginning of the year, coming in as a last-minute signing to Toro Rosso when its plans to promote Dan Ticktum fell through when the British driver could not qualify for his F1 Superlicense.
Albon has enjoyed a rapid ascent in his rookie F1 season. With five points-scoring finishes to-date, he has been a consistent qualifier and racer, performing well against his more experienced teammate Kvyat.
Images via Red Bull Content Pool