Red Bull Racing
The team picture
- Constructors standing: P2, 319 points
With Ferrari completely out of the picture in 2020, it fell to Red Bull to keep the pressure on Mercedes and make a fight for the constructors championship. In previous years they've tended to be handicapped by making a slow start to the season as they fix early teething problems with their new car, only finding their real form in the second half. It looked like 2020 might be heading the same way with neither car finishing in the top ten at the season opener in Austria. While six strong races followed, there were similar hiccups in store later in the season at Monza and Imola. In each case it came down to a DNF for Max Verstappen that left Alex Albon holding the baton, and each time the younger driver was unable to step up and deliver when the team leader fell - which is pretty much the job definition of a 'number two' driver at a top team.
It's this unfortunate weakness that has left Red Bull so far off Mercedes in the constructors championship. Despite some very close races with Verstappen pushing Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas as hard as possible on the track, it was the Silver Arrows' biggest winning margin since 2016 despite the reduced number of races. And while Red Bull will be happy to have picked up two race wins in 2020, they will also be keenly aware that they will have to do better if they're to return to championship winning ways any time soon. Fortunately their impressive form in the last race at Abu Dhabi suggests that could actually be a reality next season.
However there is the problem of what to do about the power unit. The partnership with Honda has really worked well, and Red Bull was surely hoping that this success would persuade the Japanese manufacturer to stay in F1 for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately that's not proved to be the case. Honda are walking away from the sport (again) at the end of 2021, leaving Red Bull and sister squad AlphaTauri high and dry. Tucking their tails between their legs and returning to Renault might be beyond the pale as far as Dietrich Mateschitz is concerned, so what will happen in the coming months?
The driver line-up
- Max Verstappen: P3, 214 points
- Alexander Albon: P7, 105 points
So just how bad does the comparison look for Alex Albon? We would love to say otherwise, but it really is very one-sided. Max Verstappen whitewashed his team mate in all 17 qualifying sessions, generally by up to half a second which is a lot for two drivers in the same car with the same engine. You won't be surprised to hear that Verstappen's average grid position was 3.06 since he always seemed to be starting right behind the two Mercedes, while Albon's average was 7.35. The Dutch driver also had a clean sweep in the races, finishing ahead of Albon in all 11 races that both drivers completed. However Verstappen also suffered five DNFs compared to just the one for Albon, which is one statistic that he won't be happy to come out on top in. It's the reason why the gap in points won by the pair isn't quite as huge as might be expected.
Verstappen's greatest success in 2020 was in clinching two wins, first in the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone and then the season finale at Abu Dhabi. In the latter he also pipped the two Mercedes drivers to pole for the first time since Brazil last year. But Albon also enjoyed some successes with podiums in Tuscany and Bahrain, as well as starting from the second row in fourth place on four occasions. In any other team, and compared to almost any other team mate, that would be a perfectly decent and respectable campaign for someone in only his second year of competition. But Red Bull demands much more from its drivers than merely 'decent' and so Albon finds himself out of the team's line-up for 2021.
Much though we'd like to put up a spirited defence for Albon staying in the seat, team principal Christian Horner is right: the data doesn't lie. In all honestly it would be a far bigger injustice for Sergio Perez to be kicked out of F1 next year. But we do hope that the Thai talent gets another shot in due course, either within the Red Bull family or elsewhere on the grid.