Alex Albon

What Next for the Red Bull Junior Program?

The first weeks of August are typically a quiet one within Formula One. This is the referred to as the “summer break”, a three week break between the Hungarian and Belgian Grand Prix’s. That tranquility was shattered last Monday when it was announced Red Bull racing driver Pierre Gasly was being demoted to the junior Scuderia Toro Rosso team, with Alex Albon going the other way.

The news caught the paddock by surprise, despite what has been a disappointing 2019 season for Gasly. Only just over a week ago at the Hungarian Grand Prix Red Bull team principal Christian Horner publicly said he was not in danger of losing his seat. Clearly since then there has been extensive talks within Red Bull which has led to this change, but what does it mean for the famed Red Bull junior program?

On the surface it doesn’t look good for them. The program has since 2001 helped young drivers and graduates of the scheme has included four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, seven time GP winner Daniel Ricciardo and McLaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr along with countless other drivers who have forged careers outside F1. This year has not been kind to the development program as they now two of their four F1 seats occupied by drivers they previously dropped.

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Pierre Gasly in his now final race for Red Bull this year at the Hungarian GP. It will be interesting to see how he handles the demotion to Toro Rosso. Photo: Motorsport.com.

Both Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat and newly promoted Albon found themselves coming in from the cold as Red Bull lacked suitable junior candidates to fill these seats. This sends a mixed PR message to their current junior drivers. At the end of June they announced they had dropped Dan Ticktum from the program after a poor start to his 2019 season in the highly competitive Super Formula series in Japan. This was only eight months after he had won the prestigious Macau Grand Prix, and was close to joining Toro Rosso for the 2019 season.

With one of their brightest talents no longer involved with the program, the viable alternatives are a little further away. They have now supported Mexican Patricio O’Ward, however it is very difficult to judge his results in his results in FIA F2 and Super Formula debuts. Lucas Auer is also racing in Japan, currently he is 9th in the Super Formula series after four of seven rounds.

The current issue for Red Bull is that they currently do not have any young drivers who would qualify for a F1 super-license. This is only awarded based on points earned for success in junior categories, with 40 the minimum required. The closest to earning one so far in the Red Bull ranks is Estonian Juri Vips, who would gain 25 points for his current second place in the FIA European F3 series.  This would mean he would need a top five finish in FIA F2 or a top three in Super Formula to gain enough points.

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Estonian Juri Vips is battling for the FIA European F3 title, and at this moment looks the most likely Red Bull junior driver to progress to F1. Photo: Motorsport.com.

At the present moment Vips is the teams best bet for a future F1 role. Vips is in contention for the title and a likely promotion into either F2 or Super Formula. The issue is that the talent pool at Red Bull has run dry in recent years, leaving the team short on young drivers which is leading them to look elsewhere at the likes of Kvyat and Albon. This problem won’t be rectified for several years as the likes of Vips, Liam Lawson and Yuki Tsunoda potentially progress from European F3.

Of the nine Red Bull young drivers Vips appears the most likely to step up to F1, although this could be two-three years away yet. This is a problem for a team that is notoriously ruthless with their drivers, as shown with their mid-season demotion of Gasly. So much can change in that time as drivers may struggle to step up or the team might want to go in a different direction with drivers.

The future is almost impossible to predict in a sport that is so focused on the here and now. What will the team do at the end of the year? Will they retain Kyvat, Gasly or Albon? The team have one of the brightest young talents in Max Verstappen, but they need another young talent to fill the other space at Red Bull. At this early stage it’s hard to tell if the likes of Vips or any of their other young drivers can fill that seat in the future.

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