Driver Predictions: Why Gasly’s performances cause a driver selection headache for AlphaTauri
Written by Danny Jones, Edited by Aiden Hover
AlphaTauri is a unique team in the fact that their goal is not necessarily to win races and compete for championships, but instead to develop drivers to the point that they are good enough for Red Bull, which they have done brilliantly so in the past with Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and then Max Verstappen. In 2021, it seems they have 2 very talented drivers on the books, Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly. Gasly has established himself as one of F1’s top stars, after his dramatic 2019 demotion to Toro Rosso, whilst Tsunoda has shown flashes of brilliance in his rookie season but has been unable to fully live up to the hype he carried along from his excellent F2 season.
Tsunoda’s spectacular performance at the Bahrain Grand Prix, where he finished 9th on his debut, proved his talent behind the wheel, and how he was able to progress through the junior ranks so quickly. However, he has been plagued by lacklustre performances, up to the Austrian Grand Prix, bar an excellent 7th in Baku. However, Red Bull still seem invested in Tsunoda, and will want him to develop at AlphaTauri, suggested by the team moving Tsunoda to live in Italy. Red Bull do still believe that Tsunoda is a serious talent, and would be more likely to move to Red Bull than Gasly, should a seat open up within the next year or two. With the signing of Sergio Perez, it is unlikely he will have the same problems that Albon and Gasly did, and it is unlikely for him to be fast-tracked into the Red Bull seat, as Verstappen was in 2016. It is very likely Tsunoda will be at AlphaTauri in 2022 to continue with his development, and that Red Bull won’t make the same mistake that they did with Gasly, where someone was promoted when they were too inexperienced, but his performances will need to step up and show the promise that he suggested at the start of the season.
Alongside him, Pierre Gasly will be entering his 5th season with the team in 2021. A 2nd call-up seems impossible for Gasly, particularly after comments from Helmut Marko, and Red Bull’s increased interest in Tsunoda, and Red Bull’s signing of Sergio Perez. Gasly’s 2021 performances have been worthy of a promotion, including a podium in Baku, and these performances mean it would be near impossible to drop him from the Red Bull programme. However, Red Bull may not want him clogging up a seat, due to the development in numbers they have going on in the lower formulas, and Red Bull senior management still have their Alex Albon card, with Marko stating interest to put him into a car for 2022, with AlphaTauri being the logical choice, to rebuild his confidence, so would be ready for a Red Bull seat if needed. This leaves Gasly in an awkward position, with Red Bull having no faith in him, but trusting reserve driver Albon, and their F2 candidates.
The emergence of Tsunoda would mean that Albon and Gasly would be behind Tsunoda in the pecking order for a Red Bull seat if one becomes available. But Verstappen’s long-term deal means that the earliest Albon or Gasly may realistically get a Red Bull seat is 2024, by which time Red Bull’s academy prospects may have developed to the point where they are ready to race for the senior team. If Red Bull is creating a long-term plan, they would need to consider the array of talents they have in F2 for promotion, in Liam Lawson, Juri Vips and Jehan Daruvala.
Lawson enters his 1st season of F2, after a successful F3 campaign in 2020. The Kiwi impressed on his debut in Bahrain, finishing 1st in the 1st Sprint Race and 3rd in the Feature and was cruelly disqualified after a stunning win in Monaco. After the Baku round, Lawson lies 8th in the standings, but has been one of the most impressive drivers of the season, and looks promising for upcoming rounds. Alongside his F2 duties, Lawson is racing in DTM in 2021, alongside Albon, and similarly to F2, stunningly won on his debut. This may give him the edge over Daruvala and Vips, as it shows the extra commitment Red Bull have put into him under this programme, and if he continues to be competitive, it would show Red Bull bosses, that he may be the right person for the job and will be able to learn additional skills compared to Daruvala and Vips.
Daruvala is another championship favourite, as he enters his 2nd F2 season, but has been somewhat underwhelming, for a driver of his pedigree. His improvement throughout his debut season was noticeable, with him achieving a win in Bahrain, in the final race of the season. His 2021 performances would need to improve, with Daruvala unable to win a round so far, despite lying a respectable 7th in the standings. If he would like to prove his superiority over Lawson and Vips, and his added experience may just give him the edge he needs, and start putting in performances to challenge for the F2 title if he wants a serious shot at the Alpha Tauri seat.
The 3rd Red Bull F2 hopeful is Juri Vips. The Estonian enters his 1st full season in the category, after substituting for 4 rounds for the injured Sean Gelael, and picked up a sole podium in Mugello. His first outing in Bahrain was disappointing, strewn with penalties, and was unable to pick up any points, but a decent performance in Monaco, before a double race win in Baku, meant that Vips has put himself back into championship contention. Of the 3, Vips has the most experience, competing in various European categories since 2016. He also seems to have the largest trust of the Red Bull management, performing reserve duties toward the back end of last season, before taking part in the young driver tests. Should Gasly be booted fromAlphaTauri, and Red Bull management overlook Albon for the AlphaTauri seat, it seems to be a 3-way shootout between the F2 drivers, with the one finishing highest in the championship likely to get a seat, which could be an exciting prospect toward the end of the season.
However, it seems as Tsunoda’s undeniable talent means that Red Bull want to give him at least 1 more season, to prove the potential that he has. And Pierre Gasly’s performances over the last 2 seasons means that he would almost be certain to stay, as it would be difficult for a midfield team to drop such a quality driver. The only reason Red Bull bosses would like to remove Gasly is if Vips, Daruvala or Lawson could win the F2 championship, but with all 3 looking like it would be a stretch to win it in 2021, it seems as if AlphaTauri will stick with Gasly and Tsunoda.