At the end of the 2020 season, it is difficult to dispute Red Bull’s decision to choose Sergio Perez over Alex Albon for 2021.
In the slowest car Perez ended the year 20 points for Albon. He won the race in Bahrain and scored points in all the Grand Prix he participated in, except the two where the engine of his Mercedes broke down.
It is the kind of consistency that Albon has missed all year, and that could make the difference between the team that will fight for the constructors title next year or not with Mercedes.
On paper, the argument for the acquisition of Albon by Perez is clear.
What happened to Albon?
Fault! The file name is not specified. Pressure on Alex Albon is increasing because his future after 2020 has not yet been confirmed by Red Bull. Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Albon’s results in 2020 were simply not good enough, and in the end it was a lack of raw power. This year he was beaten in qualifying by his teammate Max Verstappen. The average difference between the two was 0.493 seconds.
Red Bull had hoped that Albon would be regularly within 0.3 of Verstappen in qualifying and wanted the Thai driver to be a factor in the fight with Mercedes at the front of the peloton. Having two cars on the podium would have forced Mercedes to give priority to its tyre strategy and could have led to an error of the world champion.
All too often Albon was stuck in midfield, so Verstappen struggled to beat Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas with two faster cars, no wings and limited strategic options.
But given his junior career, his heroism at Toro Rosso in early 2019 and his performance at Red Bull after changing teams halfway through last year, Albon shouldn’t have been as slow as he was in 2020, so what went wrong?
The problem seems to have its roots in a Red Bull car that is very difficult to drive on the border. In an attempt to close the gap at the front of the pack, Red Bull produced a car that tended to shoot through when pushed to the limit.
The reaction to this offence was often a difference in position between the grille and the car in the crash barriers, and after a series of errors and near misses, Albon’s confidence was shaken.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Alex Albon looks ready to maintain his place in the Red Bull despite a difficult 2020 season. BRYN LENNON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.
We saw a very similar pattern of results when Pierre Gasly teamed up with Verstappen last year, which led to Red Bull’s decision to relegate the Frenchman and promote Albon for the Belgian Grand Prix in 2019.
Speaking about the difference between Verstappen and his teammates this year, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said I wish Michael Schumacher had driven a Benetton car in the mid-90s. There weren’t many teammates who could drive as well and as elegantly as Michael, Horner told ESPN.
I think Max will be able to do the same with this car.
He can handle certain shades of cars and he doesn’t mind. So whether it is Pierre or Daniel [Ricciardo] in some cases and of course Alex, it has effect.
That’s what we focus on as a team. We are trying to clean the car in this area and reduce sensitivity.
By the end of the year the team seemed to have made a breakthrough with a more stable set of aerodynamics, but it was too late for Albon. In the last race of the season Albon qualified fifth and finished fourth. This allowed him to improve his season average, but on the other hand Verstappen took pole position and took an easy win.
It was a step forward for Albon, but he still wasn’t convincing enough to save his place in the team.
Is Perez going to fight at Verstappen?
Fault! The file name is not specified. Sergio Perez will ride for Red Bull in 2021. Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images.
With the signature of Perez, Red Bull adds a reliable performance barometer to the driving schedule. The Mexican may not be on the same level as Verstappen or Lewis Hamilton, but this year he has proven that he can win a race if he gets the chance, and with a fourth place in the drivers rankings he is one of the best drivers in midfield.
If Perez drives a similar Albon next year, it will confirm the team’s theory about the driving style of the car (and the quality of Verstappen), but if he gets to the top of the grid at Verstappen, it will reinforce Albon’s suspicion that he is failing.
It will not be a fair comparison if Red Bull will undoubtedly improve the car during the winter, but the nature of the teammate comparisons is that they are rarely perfect, and Red Bull will have another batch of data from a very experienced driver to help him solve the problems of the car.
Albon will remain under contract with Red Bull as a reserve driver, which means he will be available to both Red Bull and the AlphaTauri Junior team as a reliable reserve driver if they need him. In addition, if one of the four riders (Verstappen and Perez at Red Bull, plus Gasly and new recruits Yuki Tsunoda at AlphaTauri) drops out, they can immediately join the race as fully trained replacements.
For Perez, it’s a chance he’s always wanted and deserved. From the moment he entered Formula 1 in 2011, it was clear that he was a talented driver, but he never had a car that matched his talent.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Sergio Perez finally achieved the Formula 1 victory in the Sahir Grand Prix. Tolga Bozoglu – Pool/Getty Images)
A member of the Ferrari Driving Academy in his junior career, he seemed destined to race in the Reds, but when McLaren selected him to replace Lewis Hamilton in 2013, opened another path. Unfortunately for Perez, the 2013 season marked the beginning of a politically unstable period at McLaren that led to a long and steady decline of the team, and through no fault of his own he was replaced by Kevin Magnussen for 2014.
Perez then goes to Force India (which will become Racing Point in 2019), where he remains a strong midfielder. He has seven podiums with the team – including victory in the Sakhir Grand Prix earlier this month – but he’ll just start as Racing Point (which will be Aston Martin next year) reaches its peak with a much-needed investment from Lawrence Stroll.
However, Red Bull is a trade for Perez and his first chance to show what he can do in a better car against a better teammate. At the age of 30, he still has time to lose and if he can really lead the battle at Verstappen, his career might just start.