Will Albon and Gasly again trade places this year?
Across the British Grand Prix weekend, Pierre Gasly out-qualified and out-scored Alexander Albon despite being in an AlphaTauri compared to a Red Bull.
Ironically, Albon was the only Red Bull or Toro Rosso driver in 2019 not to score a podium – Daniil Kvyat bagging third in Germany and Gasly finishing second in Brazil.
While the Thai-British driver has been solid, and was most certainly an upgrade over the nervous Gasly in the second half of 2019, he has not really kicked on in 2020 as Red Bull might have hoped. Gasly, on the other hand, looks like a completely new driver.
Albon's season started with an unfortunate 13th in the opening race in Austria, his RB16 sustaining an electronics issue a few laps after a collision with Lewis Hamilton when he was challenging for second place.
A week later for the Styrian Grand Prix, Albon finished a respectable fourth, followed by a fine fifth in Hungary after qualifying a lowly 12th as the car, normally so suited for the Hungaroring, failed to live up to its pre-race billing on this occasion.
The British Grand Prix weekend proved to be a troubled one for Albon, who crashed in practice, again failed to make it into Q3, and following a first-lap collision with Kevin Magnussen ran at the rear for a lengthy spell before recovering to finish eighth.
On the surface, these may seem decent results as P4 and P5 have been familiar territory for Red Bull in the turbo-hybrid era.
But in a year when Red Bull is the second-best team by some distance, Albon should be challenging Max Verstappen for podiums every race, let alone struggling to make it out of Q2, which he has now failed to do in his last two attempts, with Gasly beating him on both occasions.
Crashing in FP2 will not have helped his case either. Gasly suffered a similar shunt in 2019 pre-season testing with Red Bull which he later conceded caused him to lose confidence in the car.
“ I feel like race one we had a very strong race, race two we finished fourth and race three we finished fifth. If that’s struggling then I’d be worrying about other things," said Albon after qualifying for the British GP.
"I’m happy personally with the first few races. Things haven’t gone our way and I’m not worried in this sense that it’s been tough or that it’s going badly.”
The seemingly always relaxed Albon sounds at ease and comfortable, but the results say otherwise.
Further down the pitlane, Gasly has been in terrific form, pretty much since his demotion. While many expected him to spiral down further because of the mental hammer blow that comes with being demoted, the Frenchman appears to have rediscovered his motivation and self-belief.
He out-scored fellow Red Bull demotee Kvyat 32-10 in the final nine rounds of last year's championship, highlighted by that spectacular P2 in Brazil, even drag-racing Hamilton to the finish line to secure his maiden podium.
This year, Gasly has had two strong performances so far, finishing seventh in both the first race in Austria and again at Silverstone, but the true improvement can be seen when watching the 24-year-old.
From the very first race for Red Bull in 2019, you could see Gasly was hesitant. He lacked confidence in his overtaking ability.
At the end of the Australian Grand Prix, running 11th, he was stuck behind Kvyat’s Toro Rosso, and while he often pulled out of the Russian's slipstream to line up a move, he never committed, never backed himself and pulled the trigger.
This became a theme of his short-lived Red Bull career. Not backing himself. Not being confident in the car.
In both Austria and Hungary last year, he was embarrassingly lapped by team-mate Verstappen. To suffer such an ignominy, by someone in the same car, has to be a mental blow.
Compare that to the Gasly we saw on Sunday. He was aggressive, always poking his nose around the corner to see if an overtake was on, and making superb moves on Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll late in the race.
"As a Red Bull-contracted driver, my goal is to be in the fastest car, to fight for the best positions, and at the moment Red Bull has the fastest car," Gasly recently said about a potential Red Bull return.
“As long as I keep pushing I will always believe an opportunity will arise at some point."
We are almost a year on since Gasly’s demotion and Albon’s promotion. As for the opportunity Gasly speaks of, could it arise soon? If the form of the two drivers continues the way it has, it is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Albon will be aware he has to show his worth in the coming races. He knows how trigger-happy Red Bull can be when it comes to giving drivers the axe.
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