After months of anticipation, Red Bull Racing finally announced their second driver to pair with Max Verstappen for the 2021 season. They signed former Racing Point driver, Sergio Perez, to a one-year deal, demoting 2020 driver Alexander Albon to a reserve and test driver role.
“Alex is a valued member of the team and we thought long and hard about this decision.,” said team principal Christian Horner. “Having taken our time to evaluate all the relevant data and performances, we have decided that Sergio is the right driver to partner Max for 2021 and look forward to welcoming him to Red Bull Racing. Alex remains an important part of our team as test and reserve driver with a key focus on 2022 development, and we would like to thank him for his hard work and contribution.”
Perez enjoyed his best season in Formula 1 despite losing his ride to Sebastian Vettel back in September and missing two races due to battling COVID-19. He secured two podiums with a second-place finish at the Turkish Grand Prix and won the Sakhir Grand Prix despite running in 19th place during the first few laps. He finished fourth in the Driver’s Championship with 125 points, earning his spot on the team, which finished second in the Constructor’s Championship.
“It’s always a bit difficult to fight [Mercedes] and I just hope Checo will be the one, first of all, to push the whole team forward but also keep me on my toes, which is always nice – to have a teammate pushing you – it’s exciting,” said Verstappen. “Most of the time when we were quite competitive this year, I was the only car trying to beat them [Mercedes] and trying to do something different, but they can always do the right strategy… because they can cover me with one car.”
Albon took over for Pierre Gasly at Red Bull in the middle of the 2019 season after Gasly struggled with the car on a consistent basis. After showing some solid results to end the season, Red Bull brought back Albon for the 2020 season. It was a disappointing season for Albon as he was out-qualified by Verstappen in all 17 races and only finished seventh in the Driver’s Championship with 105 points.
Perez’s arrival at Red Bull will make them more formidable in 2021. Perez got the most out of his car at Racing Point, finishing fourth in the standings and performing his best as the season finished. while he suffered two DNFs in the last four races, those were out of his control and in the other two races, he finished on the podium. It makes perfect sense for Red Bull to go this direction as Albon will need more time to develop so he can perform the way the team wants him to.
“It’s really been, with respect to Alex, in the races that we’ve had, it’s been me and Valtteri against Max,” said 2020 world champion, Lewis Hamilton. “Now I’ve been in the position that Max is in once… particularly when I was at McLaren where I was the lead car, and the second car wasn’t in the fight, so when we were fighting against Ferrari they could play, they could really move around with the strategy, and make it a lot harder for us. So I think naturally, this makes Red Bull stronger, particularly with the way Sergio is performing. I think it’s going to be an exciting battle to watch him up against Max and that’s going to make it much harder for us as a team, so we’re going to have to really step up our game, because that’s going to be a battle we’ve not seen in some time in terms of having the two drivers there, fighting against us – but we relish that as a team.”
This news begs the question: what avenues are there for Albon to return to the starting grid?
As of right now, I think there are three possible options for 2022 and beyond. First, Esteban Ocon’s contract with Alpine (formerly Renault), expires after this upcoming season. He finished 12th in the Driver’s Championship this past season and the team could look to replace him if he is subpar in 2021.
Second, if George Russell is promoted to Mercedes after this season, it is possible Williams could look to bring Albon in as a replacement. Lastly, while he doesn’t have the second AlphaTauri seat, he could possibly take over a spot if rookie Yuki Tsunoda proves he isn’t ready for F1 and struggles. They could then develop Gasly and Albon as they look to earn their spot back on Red Bull.
Red Bull will now head into the offseason with their driver lineup set for next season. The 2021 Formula 1 season will kick off in March with the Australian Grand Prix.