Many big names have come out of Red Bull’s young driver programme, but one has to admit that they are failing in recent years.
For the first time since 2007, Red Bull was forced to hire a driver outside its own talent pool. Sergio Perez was appointed to replace Alex Albon for the 2021 season.
It would be easy to say that this was a direct result of the team not having enough talent, but that is not the correct assessment. It is rather the fact that they have failed to manage their talent in the right way.
If we go back to the start of the 2018 season, things looked very different. Red Bull had Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen in their ranks and they were perhaps the finest to graduate from the driver programme since Sebastian Vettel.
Soon, things took a turn for the worse. Ricciardo decided not to renew his contract since he felt that Verstappen was getting preferential treatment. This was a direct result of how the team communicated following the pair’s clash in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The downward trend
Things started going downhill since the Aussie left, but it was not as though Red Bull was in a bad position, or let’s say one that they couldn’t recover from. Carlos Sainz, who was their driver, was doing well and had proved that he was good enough to replace Ricciardo.
Despite many feeling that Sainz was a shoe-in to replace Ricciardo, the team chose to promote Pierre Gasly instead. Red Bull boss Christian Horner felt that the Frenchman had more potential than Sainz. However, the common perception was that this was a direct result of the clash that Verstappen and Sainz had had when they were teammates at Toro Rosso.
Sainz had a stellar time at McLaren, while Gasly struggled to settle in at Red Bull. It seemed clear that he was not going to be able to make up for the loss of Ricciardo.
gulf in class
While there was usually not much to pick between Verstappen and Ricciardo, Gasly was no where up to the required standard. He was dropped after just 12 races, with the team choosing to take a drastic measure instead of trying to nurture their driver after a difficult start.
Albon and Daniil Kvyat were the only drivers that the team could call upon in this predicament. It is fair to say that neither of them would get the media or fans buzzing. Albon was eventually marked as the replacement, and it did little to reverse the team’s fortunes.
Albon was equally bad and was often competing with the midfield drivers while Verstappen battled it out against Mercedes.
It seemed obvious in this situation that Red Bull had to look outside their own talent pool. They decided to sign Perez. There have been some calls that Red Bull no longer produces enough talent, but it is misplaced.
Following Vettel, three of the best drivers on the circuit (Ricciardo, Verstappen and Sainz) all made their way through the Red Bull programme. Meanwhile, Gasly is proving his mettle as well now and big things are expected from of Yuki Tsunoda who will be driving for AlphaTauri next season.
It is the management that needs to take a hard look at itself.
Better management of upcoming crop
If the team had managed Ricciardo better, they may never have been in such a situation to start off with. If they had gone for Sainz at the time, he may have still been with them and Gasly and Albon may have been afforded more time to polish their skills. They would have been in a much stronger position as a team as a result.
Their position is not entirely dire. Perez could still prove to be a great signing. There is of course the possibility that Tsunoda delivers on his early promise.
How they managed their previous drivers is irrelevant now. However, the management needs to be more accountable for its decision making and learn from it. At least that’s what Tsunoda will be hoping for!