Red Bull has dropped or swapped Formula 1 drivers across its teams four times in the last seven years, with Nyck de Vries the latest victim.
De Vries was signed by Red Bull to partner Yuki Tsunoda at AlphaTauri this year in place of Alpine-bound Pierre Gasly. He was not the team’s first choice but IndyCar race winner Colton Herta was not eligible for an F1 superlicence.
In his place, De Vries emerged as a candidate following a surprise point-scoring debut at the Italian Grand Prix, where he was called up to replace Alex Albon on Saturday morning.
That performance impressed Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko so much he basically decided there and then that the 2019 Formula 2 and 2021 Formula E champion was the person to sign – over the likes of outgoing Haas driver Mick Schumacher, or any of Red Bull’s own juniors.
It remains the case that De Vries did a very good job in that Monza appearance. If a driver was to have a grand prix stand as the reason they should or should not be signed, then this one was an emphatic case in De Vries’s favour.
But behaving so impulsively as to decide based on a single race is nonsensical. It’s quite ludicrous that a modern F1 team can have such key decisions determined in this way.
To have picked De Vries almost on a whim was bad enough. It should never have come down to a single case study, that performance should have been one reference in a much bigger sample set – a sample set that suggested De Vries might be a competent grand prix driver for a small team but nothing more.
To drop him just a few months into the season is baffling. In a way, Red Bull has nothing to gain by stringing him along until the end of year and replacing him with possibly the same driver anyway. But the lack of serious opportunity to turn the tide means De Vries has been on a hiding to nothing.
More importantly, what did Red Bull – or Marko – expect? How out of kilter with reality was the process that a rookie De Vries being an admittedly comprehensive second-best to third-year Yuki Tsunoda is SO bad that he deserves to be axed before the summer break?
AlphaTauri’s team boss Franz Tost believes a driver needs multiple years to properly adjust to F1. So clearly this decision is being made against his wishes. Again, that interference comes into focus.
This saga has also exposed (twice) that Red Bull’s vast array of junior drivers hasn’t, in the view of those in charge, produced any driver worthy of a junior team seat in F1 lately.
Both of these elements – the interference from higher up and the lack of options Red Bull has – are serious problems.
Perhaps the haphazard decision-making in serious situations around the sister team will improve with its significant restructuring – Peter Bayer joining as CEO and Tost leaving as team principal and being replaced by Laurent Mekies. Although if Marko remains around, nothing can be ruled out.
More significantly, Red Bull has now twice passed over its own talents to fill a spot in its sister team. Liam Lawson has been snubbed twice and even if this instance is a result of Red Bull wanting to let him see out his Super Formula title bid, or because Red Bull feels Daniel Ricciardo needs closer evaluation, it’s more or less a vote of no confidence in the junior programme.
The driver conveyor belt has spluttered to a halt.
Ricciardo will be a fascinating story in his own right and if this works it will be to AlphaTauri’s and Red Bull’s benefit.
But that good news story is papering over a pretty big crack.