IT’S been expected, and repeatedly denied — but Red Bull have finally taken the plunge and decided to drop Pierre Gasly as Max Verstappen’s teammate, and replace him with Toro Rosso driver Alex Albon.
Not from next year. From the next race, in Belgium on September 1.
It follows a tough season for Gasly alongside Max Verstappen — and a stellar one for rookie Albon who until now, was partnering Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s junior team.
Gasly, 23, will return to Toro Rosso for the remainder of the year.
Albon, in his first season of F1 after finishing runner-up in last year’s FIA Formula 2 championship, has impressed all in the paddock with his speed and maturity. He is also 23.
The British-born Thai driver has scored 16 points from his 12 Grands Prix to date, with a best result of sixth in the rain-affected German round – his first ever wet F1 race.
Gasly, by contrast, has spent 2019 struggling to keep pace with Verstappen.
Having himself been promoted from Toro Rosso at the end of last season, he has been living firmly in the Dutchman’s shadow, scoring just 63 points to his team mate’s 181.
The Frenchman has yet to appear on the podium in a car that has taken Verstappen to two race wins and three further top-three finishes, and has been out-qualified by his team mate in nearly every race so far.
“Red Bull are in the unique position of having four talented Formula 1 drivers under contract who can be rotated between Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso,” Red Bull said.
“The team will use the next nine races to evaluate Alex’s performance in order to make an informed decision as to who will drive alongside Max in 2020.
“Everyone at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing looks forward to welcoming Alex to the Team and supportiing him during the next phase of his F1 career.”
Red Bull are no strangers to mid-season driver swaps.
Verstappen arrived at the team via Toro Rosso five races into the 2016 campaign, famously winning on debut for them at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Gasly impressed at Toro Rosso last year, and didn’t lose form overnight. He just hadn’t adapted quickly enough for Red Bull, who – under the watchful eye of motorsport boss Helmut Marko – are notorious for having very little patience.
Also, he hasn’t been helped by Verstappen’s sensational form.
The Dutchman has been on an immense run that started at the Japanese Grand Prix last year, but arguably can be traced back to his reaction to his crash in Monaco last May.
This year, he has scored 181 points, which included two wins and three other podiums, and is just seven shy of Valtteri Bottas in the class-leading Mercedes.
In the same period, Gasly has managed just a third of those points.
Had Verstappen started this season at race nine of the World Championship – four races ago – he would still have more points than Gasly currently has.
Equally, if you take away all five of Verstappen’s podiums he would also still be ahead.