In part 2 of our review of F1’s 2019 teammate battles, we look at Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso. It’s all change again at Toro Rosso as two forgotten men of the Red Bull junior programme return to the fold and it is ‘sink or swim’ time for Pierre Gasly as he takes on Max Verstappen.
Max Verstappen – Red Bull Racing
Verstappen has the chance to do what Fernando Alonso could not: make Honda a winning manufacturer again and break Mercedes’ hybrid-era monopoly. Realising that ambition depends on both his own attitude and the engine the Japanese brand produces.
Following Verstappen’s explosive arrival at Red Bull, last season was supposed to see the arrival of a more mature version of ‘Mad Max’. The likes of Esteban Ocon might well disagree but this season will be the litmus test as to whether the Dutchman has what it takes to be an F1 team leader.
Verstappen needs to be the motivating and mature team player at Red Bull, not the petulant teen that loses it when things go against him. No public criticism of Honda, no barging fellow drivers off-track and no moaning like a schoolboy when he gets an FIA reprimand.
This is the time to mould the team around him and ensure new boy Pierre Gasly knows his place as number 2 to Verstappen. If he can do that and Honda bring a powerful and reliable engine to the party, it is all to play for.
Pierre Gasly – Red Bull Racing
To a great extent what the Frenchman needs to achieve in the Red Bull intra-team battle depends on Verstappen and Honda. Should Honda be unable to make the step up to rival Mercedes/Ferrari and Max cannot contain his frustration, Gasly has the chance to be the calm team player. Being the positive pragmatist whilst Verstappen loses his shit will not do his career prospects with the Anglo-Austrian team any harm.
Assuming Honda does deliver then Gasly needs to be able to at least match Verstappen across the majority of the season. Otherwise, he faces the prospect of being the de facto number 2 for the next couple of seasons. It is as simple as that.
Daniil Kvyat – Toro Rosso
The man who has come back more times than Lazarus gets yet another second chance in F1. Undoubtedly quick and with race-winning potential, for the second (or is it third?) coming of Kvyat he must add tactical nous and calmness under pressure that was sorely lacking last time around.
Beating rookie teammate Alexander Albon is a must in order to establish himself as next in line for (another) promotion to the senior Red Bull team. In the unlikely event that Pierre Gasly ‘does a Kvyat’ and turns into a human torpedo or cannot handle the pace and prodigious talent of Verstappen, Kvyat wants to be the first choice. With the Red Bull junior ranks lacking the strength and depth of previous years, beating Albon convincingly is all that should be required.
Should Honda finally deliver the goods in terms of engine performance, reliability and economy, Kvyat could be in the thick of the ‘best of the rest’ midfield battle.
Alexander Albon – Toro Rosso
If Kvyat proves that Red Bull does offer second chances, Albon demonstrates that you can never be too far out of contention for a race seat. Yanked from his contract to race in Formula E for Nissan eDAMS, Albon gets a shot at F1 after many suspected – Albon included – his chance was long gone.
The odds are against the Thai-Brit driver having been chucked in at the deep end with zero seat time prior to this week’s Barcelona test. However, much like his new teammate, he has the benefit of knowing there are next to no Red Bull juniors immediately available to replace him. In the world of Red Bull’s junior driver programme that itself is a rare occurrence.
For Albon, a clean season where he demonstrates an ability to successfully adapt to F1 and learn from the team is essential. The closer he can get to the outright pace of Kvyat the better, certainly in the second half of the season. Kvyat’s proclivity for sudden rushes of blood to the head could be to Albon’s advantage, especially if the 22-year-old can keep his head whilst the Russian loses his.