• Castor Chan

Who is Alpha Tauri’s Future Star

When Pierre Gasly claimed victory at Monza, many saw it as his redemption. Gasly has not only had a consistent 2021 season, but he also seizes every opportunity that comes. Without that quality he would have never won the Italian Grand Prix. He’s also incredibly likeable, another reason almost the entire community saw him as Alpha Tauri’s first driver. Everyone felt for him when he lost his Red Bull seat (are we over seeing them peel his name off in DTS S2 yet?) and even more so after the passing of his friend the late Anthoine Hubert. To see Gasly embrace the difficulties he’s faced, allow himself to be open with his grief and ultimately come back with such strong performances firmly shows that he is more than a driver to fill Red Bull’s second team.


Pierre Gasly celebrates Monza win with his team (@PierreGASLY on Twitter)

But Alpha Tauri has newly signed Yuki Tsunoda, the youngest driver on the 2021 grid. The team has had their eyes set on the Japanese prospect for a while now, with Tsunoda being part of both the Red Bull and Honda junior programmes. His rise through the junior categories has been rapid, going through only one season each in F3 and F2 and placing 3rd in the F2 championship with three wins. Many were surprised with his adaptability, but Helmut Marko, the head of the Red Bull driver development programme, had already been looking for a top-four finish for the driver. High expectations like this were what partly contributed to Alex Albon’s and Gasly’s demotion from Red Bull, but Tsunoda said, “it was strict, but I agree with him. If you’re a good driver, like George Russell, Lando Norris or Charles Leclerc, then I think you only need one year in F2 – they didn't need two or three years.”.


Tsunoda will be one of three rookies this year and all eyes will be on him to see what he produces. As the only rookie to not be contracted into a backmarker team, the hopes for his success are much higher than for example Mick Schumacher’s in the Haas. Tsunoda will be starting off in Alpha Tauri where with a one year contract, he will be expected to perform. Alpha Tauri is considered a midfield team, and with the electric pace he showed during winter testing - giving us a thrilling last hour of fastest lap after fastest lap - he could very well be looking at a promotion soon. He also enjoyed a points finish three weeks ago in Bahrain, beating out Gasly who suffered damage early on. Red Bull enjoys having hot young talents in their seats, and in Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen they have found exhilarating success. Sergio Perez, the 2021 Red Bull driver next to Verstappen, also reportedly has a one year contract and this creates the perfect setup for the two teams to make a swap in 2022. The maturity and determination to learn that Tsunoda shows despite his lack of F1 mileage and track knowledge means that if Perez isn’t what Red Bull wanted, he could be fast tracked into a race winning car.

Yuki Tsunoda after his disastrous Q1 in Imola (@yukitsunoda07 on Twitter)

Such continuous promotion of Red Bull juniors (such as upcoming prospects Jehan Daruvala and Juri Vips in F2) through the feeder series means that Gasly could be stuck at Alpha Tauri. Red Bull boss Christian Horner and Marko are unlikely to let go of Verstappen, so the remaining seat is a valuable commodity. The comfort and confidence Gasly has shown in the Alpha car could also be a potential death sentence. In the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix tomorrow, he will be starting P5 for the second time in as many races this year. They know that he failed at Red Bull and this ensures a solid performer in the sister team, so what reason do they have to promote him back?


While the changing regulations in the next seasons could potentially draw the field closer, Alpha Tauri are nowhere near the speed of Red Bull. If Gasly wants bigger success than his shock Monza win, he might want to look elsewhere fast. The French team Alpine has been cited as a possible destination, yet his former teammate Daniil Kvyat awaits as a reserve driver and the Alpine Academy has quick racers in Oscar Piastri and Guanyu Zhou, both slated to drive in the 2021 F2 Championship for Prema Racing and UNI-Virtuosi Racing respectively. Haas and Alfa Romeo have already been linked to the overflowing Ferrari Driver Academy, and Williams with Mercedes. Aston Martin almost certainly will keep Lance Stroll (at least until Lawrence Stroll decides to put his investment elsewhere) but a seat could open up when Sebastian Vettel chooses to leave.


Alex Albon in the 2021 DTM season (@alex_albon on Twitter)

And what of Alex Albon? Currently a reserve driver at Red Bull, he is still in position to fill a seat if the opportunity comes. That opportunity would stem from one of few possibilities: 1) Perez fails to match Verstappen and Tsunoda is kept at Alpha; 2) Tsunoda knocks Perez out and Albon partners Gasly; or 3) Gasly leaves the team and the Red Bull juniors are still unavailable. 3rd in F2 and 2nd in GP3, Albon has a decent record and will be racing in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters series aside Liam Lawson, another Red Bull junior. If he plays his cards right and finds success in DTM he could still remain in contention next year.


The sport of Formula 1 is ever-changing, and partnered with the sky-high expectations on and lack of security for each Red Bull driver, 2021’s silly season is undoubtedly one that will have everyone on the edge of their seats.

 

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