Red Bull have one of the good problems to have at the moment with multiple choices of driver for their four seats in 2021. But if they are not careful, their picks could let talented drivers slip through their fingers or maybe cost them points next year. Max Verstappen is obviously nailed down for the lead seat at the senior Red Bull team while Pierre Gasly has the lead seat at AlphaTauri. That leaves two more drives, but there are currently five drivers vying for those positions. So let’s take a look at each of the prospects in turn and I’ll let you know who I would pick if I was as rich as Dietrich Mateschitz.
Red Bull’s 2021 options: Alexander Albon
The current incumbent of the second Red Bull car, Albon has endured a tumultuous season in 2020 scuppering his likelihood of remaining in 2021. He is possibly faring worse than Gasly in 2019 before he was bumped back to the junior team, Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri).
There have been some high points, of course. Albon looked like he had a strong chance of winning the opening Austrian Grand Prix before contact with Lewis Hamilton ended his chances. And he took his first podium this season too with a storming drive at Mugello.
But in between, we have seen plenty of spins and incidents. The Eifel GP was easily the lowest point as he tangled with both Daniil Kvyat and Gasly while complaining that they race him too hard. On the other hand, we have also seen some exceptional overtakes, albeit with the caveat that he should be ahead of, and not racing, the Alfa Romeos and McLaren’s he been overtaking.
It would be foolish to write off Albon after only two seasons in F1 and at just 24 years of age. His F2 campaign of 2018, when he fought the likes of George Russell and Lando Norris for the title, was decent. He showed plenty of potential in early 2019 at Toro Rosso before his call up to the Red Bull seat. Question marks remain over his head but surely it is nothing that cannot be resolved with patience, hard work, and probably a good sports psychologist.
Red Bull’s 2021 options: Daniil Kvyat
You might be forgiven for thinking that Kvyat had already been given his marching orders at AlphaTauri. Comprehensively beaten by Gasly throughout the 2020 season, Kvyat does have the air of being yesterday’s man despite being a very competent Grand Prix driver in his own right.
In common with Gasly (and possibly Albon in the near future), he drove for Red Bull before being demoted back to the junior team. He lost his seat there for 2018 before the chess game surrounding Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz necessitated his re-hiring in 2019. But this is perhaps a sign of how much value Red Bull place on Kvyat as a driver; good, but not superstar good.
Now aged 26, he should really be coming into the prime of his career, yet he is getting trounced by Gasly and has failed to establish himself as the lead driver at AlphaTauri. While he could still be an attractive prospect for a team as a third driver, 2020 could be the last season of his F1 career.
Red Bull’s 2021 options: Sergio Perez
It seems slightly baffling to be writing about Sergio Pérez potentially not being on the grid next season, especially in the wake of his brilliant 2nd place at the Turkish Grand Prix in appalling conditions. He’s in the prime of his career and driving brilliantly, as evidenced by his points total compared to his Racing Point teammate, Lance Stroll. And this is despite missing an additional race than Stroll due to their respective Covid-19 infections.
But money does talk and despite Pérez’s healthy backing, he isn’t the son of the team owner. Similarly, he is not a four-time world champion like Sebastian Vettel, who is taking his place next season.
His 9 seasons in F1 have generally seen him consistently deliver great results. The exceptions being his slightly wild 2013 at McLaren, and some highly aggressive drives in 2017 and 2018 where he repeatedly collided with then-teammate Esteban Ocon. Now seemingly with those rough edges knocked off of his driving style, Pérez clearly has much to offer any F1 team. Whether that’s enough for Red Bull in 2021 is difficult to say.
Red Bull’s 2021 options: Nico Hülkenberg
Hülkenberg left F1 at the end of the 2019 season with the dubious record of having made the most Grand Prix starts without a podium. The debate that has raged on internet forums for much of his career has been whether he let podium opportunities go by through making mistakes or underperforming at critical moments.
On the one hand, you don’t become GP2 champion in your debut season if you aren’t extremely talented. On the other, the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and 2019 German Grand Prix all weigh against him.
Impressive stand in drives for Racing Point at three races this season has elevated his stock once again. And it is known that Nico is good friends with possible teammate Max Verstappen.
He is the oldest of the candidates at 33, but clearly has much to offer a team. It would be interesting to see if he could finally get that podium if he was in a Red Bull for 2021.
Red Bull’s 2021 options: Yuki Tsunoda
Tsunoda is probably the future of Red Bull right now, although technically he is a Honda junior driver and not a Red Bull one. That might count in his favour more significantly than usual with 2021 being Honda’s last season before they once again withdraw from F1. Therefore, it might make political sense for Red Bull to promote Yuki into the AlphaTauri for 2021 in order to help facilitate their future acquisition and production of the Honda power units for 2022.
That Tsunoda is quick is not in doubt. He currently lies third in the F2 championship with one sprint and one feature race win to his name. But promoting him now might spell disaster for his overall career if he is not ready. There is certainly plenty of evidence to suggest that he would benefit from a second season in F2 and a definitive title-challenging campaign.
Tsunoda would need to not drop lower than 4th in the championship to qualify for his Superlicense. With Christian Lundgaard, Robert Schwartzman, and Nikita Mazepin all within 7 points of his 3rd place standing with 4 races to go, that is not a given.
Red Bull 2021 line-up: GP Grandstand Verdict
Five compelling candidates for the drive then and all of them have merits and flaws. So, what would I do? I would hire Sergio Pérez for a one-year contract at Red Bull for 2021. Let’s see if prime Pérez can handle the pressure of a top seat in a way that the young Pérez could not.
I would move Alex Albon back into the AlphaTauri for 2021. If he is comprehensively beaten by Gasly then regrettably that could well be the end of his F1 career but it would potentially be an amazing duel for us fans to enjoy.
Tsunoda would definitely be well placed after a second top-three finish in F2 for a 2022 F1 seat and would be a better driver for a second season.
But that’s just my view. How do you see the Red Bull’s 2021 seat drama playing out?