In the paddock, talk continues about the future of Alexander Elbon. Former Formula 1 driver Jolyon Palmer in his traditional column discusses possible scenarios.
Jolyon Palmer: “Normally, Pierre Gasly would be the obvious replacement for Elbon. Toro Rosso used to exist to train riders for Red Bull Racing, and Gasley has been doing great lately.
However, Pierre’s separation from Red Bull Racing left a bad impression on the team’s management. In addition, they doubt that Gasley will achieve the same results as this year after returning to the championship team. As a result, before the Grand Prix in Imola, it was announced that Pierre would remain in AlphaTauri.
In the pilot market, there are two obvious options for Red Bull Racing – Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg. Both are established and stable riders looking for a spot for next season and seizing the chance to get behind the wheel of a winning car. If Red Bull takes one of them, it will be a serious step for them, because the team has not taken a driver from the outside since 2005, when it came to Formula 1 and signed contracts with David Coulthard and Mark Webber.
If Red Bull divested of Elbon’s services, Perez’s chances of a contract are higher than that of Hulkenberg. In my opinion, Sergio is a great option for the team. He fights every weekend to become “the best of the rest” at Racing Point and plays great in the races.
In Portugal, he qualified fourth, but on the first lap Verstappen crashed into him. As a result, the Racing Point car turned around, and he rolled to the end of the peloton, and then bounced back and finished seventh, although he lacked a couple of laps to take fifth place. In Imola, Perez did not make it to the qualifying final, but showed an excellent pace on the long first stretch and could have climbed the podium if Racing Point had not called him for a pit stop during the safety car on the last lap.
On some weekends, Perez may seem inconspicuous, but then suddenly appears brightly, becomes “the best of the rest” or even climbs the podium – he succeeded many times behind the wheel of a car from the middle of the peloton. He is a master at rubber – an important skill that can give the team the opportunity to experiment with strategy. And Racing Point is now enjoying this advantage.
This year, Niko Hulkenberg also reminded the Formula 1 world of his talent – with his performances in two races at Racing Point, he proved that he can help the team when they urgently need a replacement for the main driver.
I was Niko’s partner at Renault in 2017 and I know how fast he is. He proved this when he replaced Perez at Silverstone – then the Mexican was diagnosed with a coronavirus. Niko achieved an excellent third place in qualifying, although he was only spending his second weekend with the team. When Perez’s team-mate Lance Stroll was also forced to miss the race due to Covid-19, Hulkenberg was able to recoup after starting from the last positions and finished eighth, earning four points for the team.
In considering whether to swap Elbon for one of these riders, Red Bull Racing executives must decide if this will help the team make progress. In doing so, they must take into account the skill of Verstappen.
Max is an incredibly fast driver. In the entire peloton, perhaps only Lewis Hamilton and perhaps Charles Leclair could compare with him in speed on one lap. Then the question arises – will Perez or Hulkenberg be able to get closer to Max more than Albon or the same Gasley at the beginning of 2019? Or will they also be inferior in speed to this qualifying superstar?
If Red Bull Racing believes that Albon is not inferior to other riders from the middle of the peloton, and he has the same car as Verstappen, then you have to ask yourself if Max could have chased Mercedes just as closely behind the wheel of Racing Point, Renault, McLaren or even AlphaTauri? It seems unlikely, but there is no exact answer.
If Red Bull Racing decides to replace Elbon, it will be a shame if he does not get the same second chance as Gasli or Kvyat – to return to AlphaTauri, that is, to the same team where he first showed himself before moving to Red Bull Racing. After returning to the youth team, Gasley has become a very different rider, and there is every reason to believe that the same could happen with Elbon.
Gasley’s teammate is likely to be young Red Bull driver Yuki Tsunoda, who is third in Formula 2 two races before the end of the season. This week, the Japanese will test a Formula 1 car for the first time.
Apparently, Tsunoda is a talented and promising racer, he won two victories in his debut season in Formula 2, but has not yet shown himself as brightly as Leclair, Verstappen or Hamilton did when they entered the sport. It would be wise to leave Tsunoda in Formula 2 to fight for the title in 2021.
If his progress meets the expectations of Red Bull, then he will be able to partner with Gasley or Elbon – depending on who wins the fight. This is better than rushing Tsunoda’s career in the youth program, as was the case with Elbon. To do this, the leadership of Red Bull Racing needs to be patient, but we still have not seen them show it. “