Pierre Gasly was one of the stars of the Portuguese Grand Prix, coming home fifth thanks to a late pass on Sergio Perez’s Racing Point.
The Algarve race was the latest high spot in a great season for the Frenchman, and in the championship he now sits just a point behind the man who replaced him at Red Bull last year – Alex Albon.
Albon’s future is in the spotlight as he continues to struggle for form, and finishing lapped and outside of the points on Sunday is unlikely to strengthen his case for hanging onto his Red Bull drive for 2021.
But Red Bull has made it clear that if Albon doesn’t race for the team next year, it will look outside of its pool of drivers for a replacement, rather than re-considering Gasly for another shot.
Should Gasly’s performances in 2020 at AlphaTauri put him in contention for a second chance in the top team? Here’s what our writers think:
LEAVE GASLY WHERE HE IS
But for the fact his half-season with Red Bull went so badly last year, Gasly’s current momentum would carry him into a seat alongside Max Verstappen.
But the history cannot be ignored and, while Gasly could yet return to Red Bull in the future, it seems ridiculous to pull him out of an AlphaTauri team where he’s sharpening his game as an upwardly-mobile outfit’s spearhead.
This will be building his confidence enormously and developing his skillset so if he does return to Red Bull in 2022 he will be ready to make a better fist of it. No matter how well he’s doing for AlphaTauri, he needs to be in the best possible position to lay the ghosts of 2019 to rest if he’s to get the team behind him because it wasn’t just pace and results that were deemed a problem.
So it’s logical to leave Gasly at AlphaTauri for 2021, which is effectively a continuation of this season anyway, and keep racking up the strong results. Then, he will be in the best possible shape to fulfil his potential in a Red Bull machine even alongside Verstappen.
Even if a Red Bull move isn’t on, it’s better for Gasly personally as well as other teams will be keen to engage his services provided he sustains his current performance.
He’s still only 24 and driving brilliantly so why break up the remarkable Gasly/AlphaTauri partnership now?
HE SHOULD LOOK ELSEWHERE
Gasly’s current performances are totally deserving of a promotion to the Red Bull senior team again. But they also deserve complete and utter commitment.
The constant, deep-rooted doubt Red Bull has – having ruled out promoting him again – means his next big shot should come elsewhere.
Clearly AlphaTauri brings the best out of him, and he gets a lot out of the team. He can keep fighting for points every weekend in 2021 so there’s no reason to change – instead he should be lining something big up for 2022.
If I were Pierre I’d be gunning hard for Renault. Esteban Ocon’s picking up, but Gasly should consider that seat – or maybe the one Fernando Alonso is coming back for – fair game longer-term. Because this version of Gasly can spearhead a top team for years to come.
AUDITION HULKENBERG THIS YEAR
Red Bull really does need to do something about its driver situation. I rated Alex Albon highly when he replaced Gasly but I’m afraid right now he is not coming up with the goods. He has had his opportunities, but the increased pressure seems to be making it worse.
Putting Gasly, who is doing a mega job in his AlphaTauri into the Red Bull, would still have a question mark hanging over it. He is performing to a very high level in the family team that is AlphaTauri and team principal Franz Tost has lots of experience motivating drivers and works very well with him.
But that style of management and the arm around the shoulder doesn’t happen at Red Bull, so would Gasly fall over again with the change of pressure? Probably not, but very possibly.
Red Bull needs to do something before the end of the season to try to find out if the second driver is the problem or if Max Verstappen is just exceptional. We all know he is good, but is he just something else that no-one in the same car will be able to live with?
If I was involved, I would be hiring Nico Hulkenberg for the rest of this season to replace Albon and if he can out qualify Max on equal terms then the drive is his for 2021. I’m not saying he would beat Max, but at least he has the experience of what an F1 car should feel like and if he doesn’t get within that magical three-tenths of a seconds of Max they would then know that, in reality, there are very few people that could and Albon or Gasly would be a reasonable bet for 2021.
As long as the in-team pressure valve was set a little bit lower, that is.
HE CAN’T CHANGE RED BULL’S MIND
Red Bull’s main team has made it clear, repeatedly, in no uncertain terms that it does not want Gasly for 2021. The Italian GP at Monza didn’t change that, so why should today have?
If the team somehow can’t get Perez or Hulkenberg, it may turn to Gasly as a last resort – and he’ll have no way of refusing since that’s not how Red Bull contracts work – but he certainly shouldn’t be advocating for a move. Yes, week-in week-out you’ll get much better results in a Red Bull than in an AlphaTauri and, yes, he’ll do better than he did the first time around (even Gasly himself would surely admit it’d be hard to do worse). But ultimately, in modern F1 it is absolutely unimaginable that much good can come from a union between a driver and a team that has made it clear it doesn’t want him – you don’t need to look very far for examples even in 2020.
Gasly and AlphaTauri are a marriage made in heaven as it stands, but he’ll have more to lose and less to gain when he starts going up against Red Bull rookies in the team. But if he’s as good as he looks right now he can manage, and he’ll be able to put himself in a Valtteri-Bottas-at-Williams-esque position to be first in line for any top seat that crops up.
Just not a top seat at Red Bull.
WHY LOCK HIM OUT?
If Gasly has no path back to Red Bull’s top team in the future, why was he put back at Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri last year rather than being dropped entirely? Perhaps Red Bull’s slight driver shortage (by its own standards) was the only reason he was kept in the family, or maybe the B-team really wanted him back after 2018 went so well.
Given Albon’s struggles and Red Bull’s desire to look elsewhere if it decides to replace him, Gasly’s demotion was clearly a case of being put out to pasture rather than a chance for rehabilitation.
It seems strange for Red Bull to so clearly write him off with no possibility of a second chance in the future. Gasly was thrust into the top team sooner than expected as a result of Daniel Ricciardo’s surprise move to Renault for 2019, so it wasn’t like he’d had a long run in F1 being groomed for promotion. Maybe Red Bull considers him one of those drivers who can thrive in a midfield team but can’t deliver at the front. Like Giancarlo Fisichella?
Perhaps if he was a ‘great’ he would have been able to handle it, but right now he at least looks like a ‘very good’, and that’s all Red Bull needs alongside Max Verstappen.
If it just sees Gasly now as a gatekeeper at AlphaTauri, then as others have mentioned he needs to look elsewhere to progress his career.
The driver he looks like in 2020 is better than being used as a benchmark to decide if any future juniors who are promoted to an F1 seat should be considered for the top team.