A historical case study into number 2 drivers at Red Bull

After Alexander Albon’s woeful qualifying session in Hungary, his friend George Russell, who has been racing him for many years, stated that Alex was being ‘made to look like an idiot’ in the Red Bull and stated how he has won in every championship he has done so far. After seeing articles also suggesting it putting Pierre Gasly’s performance last year into perspective, this got me thinking about the way Red Bull are treating their number 2 drivers, and has that been an issue? Looking at the history of number 2 drivers at the team since they became title contenders, there does seem to be a trend that their number 2 drivers rarely last long in the team.

It is clear that there is Red Bull have a clear preferred hierarchy within the team when it comes to drivers and have had since they started fighting for titles, they have a chosen star, in the form of Sebastian Vettel from 2009-2014 and Max Verstappen from 2016 to the present day. They then have a second driver who they expect to be kind of like the assistant to the chosen one.

However looking at the history of number 2 drivers at the team since they became title contenders, there does seem to be a trend that their number 2 drivers rarely last long in the team. Here is a rundown of how each number 2 driver who has either been fired or left the team since 2009.

Pierre Gasly: Demoted to Toro Rosso after a miserable half season with the team.
Daniel Ricciardo: Left the team partially due to being tired of being number 2 to Verstappen
Daniil Kvyat: Demoted to Toro Rosso to make way for Verstappen
Mark Webber: Left the team and Formula One after 5 years of many controversies regarding playing second fiddle to Vettel

So lets go into a more in depth discussion about these drivers, and start off with the most recent departure from the main team, in the form of Pierre Gasly, a driver who showed pace in the Toro Rosso in 2018, as well as genuine talent in the junior series. He was demoted to the sister team Toro Rosso after a rough first half of the season in the main team, where from the start things did not go to plan after crashes in testing and struggling to match the pace of Verstappen. It can be said that the demotion was one of the best possible things that could happen to him, as the instant he rejoined the team, he was back to his old pace, and scored a podium in Brazil, something he couldn’t manage in the senior team. The fact that someone can show clear pace in every other car bar that Red Bull is quite unusual.

It also felt like Pierre was never wanted in that car, he was called up in only his second full season in Formula One as a result of the abrupt departure of Daniel Ricciardo, who left the team to go to Renault. His departure was very sudden but it is evident that a lot of the reason he departed Red Bull was due to the fact that he did not want to be number 2 to Max Verstappen anymore. It is easy to forget that he was the number 1 driver at the team before he lost that status to Max, despite being close to his pace. It is interesting that he publically stated he was interested in moving to Ferrari, and was willing to be number 2 to Charles Leclerc.

We then move onto the most brutal firing of them all, in the form of Daniil Kvyat, who despite a few erratic moments did prove to be competent in the Red Bull. Like Pierre, he was promoted abruptly due to the sudden departure of a driver, this time in the form of Sebastian Vettel. As soon as Max was ready to move up, he was quickly disposed of and demoted to Toro Rosso. From that moment onwards he looked like a wounded animal that spent the rest of his first career waiting to be put out of his misery, which happened at the end of 2017, before finding himself again on returning in 2019.

Finally we move onto the biggest example of all, where the most public stories about favouritism of their chosen one surfaced. Mark Webber drove for Red Bull for 7 years, joining them in 2007 until his retirement in 2013. Since Sebastian Vettel joined the team in 2010, there were many obvious signs of discontent. This includes the ‘not bad for a number 2 driver’ quote, where at the 2010 British Grand Prix he was angry about the team taking the only remaining new front wing available off his car after Vettel’s failed in practice and giving it to Vettel. Then of course the most public example was the ‘Multi 21’ situation at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, where Vettel defied team orders to take a victory from Webber. Afterwards, Webber lamented the team, stated that Vettel will have ‘protection as usual’ in the podium interviews despite defying a team order. After his retirement many pundits state he was very unlucky to have Vettel as a team-mate, and that his experiences alongside Vettel at Red Bull were partially responsible for his retirement.

Obviously there is no way anyone can come to conclusions about the way they treat their drivers behind the scenes, but there does seem to be a trend of their second drivers rarely having a good time of things and not lasting long in the car. And it does go to show even if my theories about poor treatment of their second drivers are wrong, something isn’t working out and more needs to be done to ensure support for them.

I personally believe that throwing a young driver in the infant stages of their career into that second Red Bull alongside a chosen star driver that is in his prime that has full support of the team, to the point the car is completely adapted to them, is quite an ask for a young driver. Yes there are some young drivers that have managed being thrown into a front running car in the infant stages of their career alongside a star driver, such as Charles Leclerc, but Ferrari are not known to be as brutal as Red Bull, especially as more experienced drivers such as Sebastian Vettel are more willing to help their team-mates, whereas with Max its every man for himself. We know drivers such as Alex and Pierre that have struggled to get on his pace of Max are pretty handy behind the wheel of a race car and give them a few more years in the Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri they can be successful in the Red Bull.

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