Kurt Verlin
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Red Bull Might Not Change Its F1 Driver Lineup for Once

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Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull Racing in 2018
Photo: emperornie via CC

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner says that both of Red Bull’s Formula 1 teams are “in a good place” with their current drivers, suggesting the energy drinks organization might not change its driver lineup for the first time in a few years.

In its attempts to maximize results and promote only the highest-performing drivers, Red Bull has been notoriously cutthroat when it comes to the way it handles drivers, even by the ultra-competitive standards of F1.

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Horner’s comments come in the wake of rumors that Sergio Pérez, following a bad streak of races in 2021, may not remain with the team for long. Regarding the decision to sign Pérez, Horner says Red Bull made the right choice looking outside of its own young driver program.

“Our view has always been to give youth the chance and I think Red Bull, more than any other team, has done that,” Horner said. “But occasionally, you need to step out of the program. I think it was a brave decision to do that, but I think it was the right decision. The dynamic in the team is working well.” He later added that Pérez had “delivered the role that we’ve been hoping for” and that “he’s a great team player and we’re very happy with the job he’s doing.”

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Red Bull team lineups since 2014

Since 2014, Red Bull has gone through an extended phase of driver instability, unable to settle on drivers of the caliber it seeks. I went back and looked at past driver lineups for Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso (now known as AlphaTauri), and the number of swaps is truly incredible. I’ve put together a summary below, with Red Bull Racing referred to as RBR and Scuderia Toro Rosso as STR.

  • 2014: Daniel Ricciardo is promoted from STR to RBR following Mark Webber’s retirement. He drives alongside Sebastian Vettel, who is coming off winning four championships with RBR. Jean-Éric Vergne continues at STR and rookie Daniil Kvyat steps in to replace Ricciardo. So far, pretty standard stuff.
  • 2015: Vettel makes a surprise move to Ferrari and is replaced by Kvyat at RBR. STR also drops Vergne, leaving two empty seats. They’re taken by two rookies: Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz.
  • 2016: Kvyat and Verstappen are swapped mid-season following a streak of bad results for the former. The rumor goes that other teams were courting Verstappen and Red Bull wanted to lock him down at RBR. No other changes, but that mid-season swap alone is highly unusual.
  • 2017: RBR is stable as Verstappen and Ricciardo seem like a dream pair. Kvyat, however, is replaced at STR by rookie Pierre Gasly for an indeterminate amount of time near the end of the season, even though Gasly is still competing in the Japanese Super Formula series. When Gasly leaves to race in that championship’s finale, former Red Bull junior driver Brendon Hartley fills in. Sainz then jumps ship to Renault, giving Kvyat the opportunity to return to STR. Even later in the season, Kvyat is permanently replaced by Hartley. STR finishes the season with two different drivers than it had at the start.
  • 2018: RBR and STR miraculously manage to go a whole season without changing drivers. But Ricciardo announces a move to Renault that takes Red Bull by surprise. Three years later, the team likely looks back on that brief Verstappen/Ricciardo pairing with longing.
  • 2019: Gasly replaces Ricciardo at RBR, with rookie Alexander Albon filling the void at STR. STR also drops Hartley and brings back Kvyat. After Gasly is unable to get anywhere near Verstappen for most of the season, RBR has him swap seats with Albon to see if he does better. He doesn’t, but he gets to keep the seat for 2020.
  • 2020: Albon doesn’t improve on his end-of-2019 results, performing far below the standard set by Verstappen. After months of will-they-won’t-they, RBR announces it will not give Albon’s contract at RBR.
  • 2021: RBR picks up Sergio Pérez to replace Albon. Albon is dropped entirely and Kvyat is dropped once more, presumably for good this time. Rookie Yuki Tsunoda is brought in to take his place at STR (rebranded as AlphaTauri since the year prior).

A key thing to remember is that at various times throughout these seasons, Horner had talked to the press to reaffirm that his drivers’ seats were safe. It makes sense that a team leader wouldn’t want his drivers doubting the security of their jobs, as this probably wouldn’t lead to good performances, but it does mean that we should all take his reassurances with a grain of salt whenever a Red Bull driver clearly doesn’t perform at the level of Verstappen.

The tricky thing is — virtually nobody does.