Alex Albon will have his first taste of life at a top Formula 1 team this weekend during the Belgium Grand Prix. The biggest news entering the summer break was Red Bull Racing’s decision to drop Pierre Gasly in favor of Toro Rosso’s stand out rookie, Alex Albon. While other teams have just announced new driver changes for the 2020 season, Albon must make a notable impact immediately as Red Bull Racing remain in the fight for second place in the Constructor Standings.
Gasly failed to make an impression during the first twelve races of the season. The Frenchman was unable to achieve a podium appearance and had an average finish of 8.5, which pales in comparisons to his teammate Max Verstappen’s 3.3 average finish. Albon, on the other hand, has found success in his short time in Formula 1, and duly deserves the Red Bull seat. The question remains, however, what are reasonable expectations entering one of the crown jewel races of the year.
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing was in a precarious situation as it needed to move away from Gasly, but the options were limited at best. Daniil Kyvat has so far emulated the form that got him Sebastian Vettel’s seat entering the 2016 season, but a return to Red Bull was always unlikely. The youth program at Red Bull does not currently have any exciting prospects in the waiting, and, as a result, Christian Horner must temper expectations as they assess Albon capabilities.
The prospect of Albon immediately pulling off a win like Verstappen incredibly accomplished in his first race with Red Bull Racing in 2016 is unrealistic. Even a podium finish may be too optimistic although it would make for quite a story. Further more, Ferrari are looking to start off on the right foot in the second half of the season, and Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas will finally have comfort knowing he is remaining with the team for the 2020 season. These outside forces will only make Albon’s job more taxing.
The best thing for Albon is to build consistency and to stay close enough to the leaders to play the role of a true number two driver. Gasly would often find himself too far back from Verstappen and the front runners to allow Christian Horner and his team to implement strategies to help Max Verstappen, such as what occurred during the Hungarian Grand Prix. Albon simply needs to fulfill that role as he becomes comfortable with the new car and environment.
Alex Albon’s focus towards acclimatization does not mean an absence of pressure on the young Thai-British driver. After all, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing are still in a battle with Ferrari for second in the Constructor Standings. A forty-four point gap is all that separates Red Bull from Ferrari, and there was very little reason for Horner to not take a chance to pip its rivals. If successful, Red Bull just might pass Ferrari should the Italian constructor fail to improve its performances. If Albon is unable to better Gasly’s finishes, then the team is no worse for wear.
Alex Albon undoubtedly has the potential to successfully challenge for podiums at various races during this season. Albon recognizes the trials and tribulations ahead as well as the pressure that will surround him as a consequence of driving one of the more coveted seats in the sport. Outracing Max Verstappen is an extremely arduous task in the short term and it will be difficult to keep a close distance over the course of any given race. If he can accomplish the latter, however, Albon and Red Bull will be all the better for it.
Photo Credit-Unsplash: Puk Patrick