Alexander Albon will ride for the first time for Red Bull Racing during the Grand Prix of Belgium this weekend. Pierre Gasly perished hopelessly alongside Max Verstappen and was pushed aside. What is it like to be a Dutchman's teammate?
Daniel Riccardo wriggles around, not to say it, but in the end the Australian throws it out: "I have nothing against Pierre, but he could have expected this. It is a logical decision."
The former teammate of Verstappen sits on the Circuit Spa-Francorchamps in his Renault outfit in the motorhome of his new employer.
Two doors down, Gasly sips with an uncomfortable look at his espresso. Before the summer break in Hungary he did that as a Red Bull driver, now we are in Belgium and he wears the light blue with red of the little brother Toro Rosso.
Verstappen vs teammate Gasly, 12 races
- Verstappen: 181 points
- Gasly: 63 points
In 2014, alongside four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, Ricciardo joined Red Bull Racing and, in his last three seasons, rode alongside Verstappen, the new super talent from Helmut Marko's stable. Ricciardo knows like no other how it works with the top team.
Because of Verstappen the bar is set extremely high for his teammate, he says. "It's not that they think Albon should be faster than Verstappen, but they really expect something from you. And if you don't deliver, they look further. Verstappen has won two races and took a podium five times. Then Pierre should have been on stage at least once. "
Verstappen vs teammate Ricciardo, 58 races
- Verstappen: 607 points
- Ricciardo: 590 points
"And I know how hard it is to beat Verstappen," Ricciardo continues. As a young driver it is therefore anything but easy to become his teammate, the seven-time GP winner agrees.
"Max got through well as a youngster, but you have to be able to maintain such a high level right away. If you are still very inexperienced, that is simply very difficult."
Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen as teammates at Red Bull. (Photo: Pro Shots)
Enjoyed season next to Verstappen
Carlos Sainz goes one step further. "It's no secret that Verstappen is one of the most talented and fastest drivers in the field. That can be intimidating for a youngster," the McLaren driver analyzes.
And Sainz can also know. The Spaniard started with Verstappen in 2015 at Toro Rosso. Four seasons later, Sainz has settled as a racing driver at McLaren. He can imagine that inexperienced drivers such as Gasly and Albon find it difficult to take a seat at Red Bull alongside the Dutchman.
He especially enjoyed it, he says. "Max is such a good driver. That only worked for me in a positive way. It has shaped me into the driver that I am today." With a smile: "I not only survived, but it really made me stronger."
It was an important year for both at the time. "Max and I sometimes laugh when we see each other at the drivers' parade. We have good memories of it."
Verstappen vs teammate Sainz, 23 races
- Verstappen: 63 points
- Sainz: 22 points
The interview session with Daniil Kvyat has just ended in the wooden motorhome of Red Bull. The Russian is an experience expert. He finished in 2016 alongside Ricciardo at Red Bull and returned to Toro Rosso in a detour. Kvyat doesn't seem to mind that Marko chose Albon now and he doesn't have to sit next to Verstappen.
"It is really not easy to get into Red Bull and then try to match Max in the remaining nine races," he says frankly. "That is a very hard task. So I just keep doing my job here."
Many similarities between Albon and Verstappen
So quite a bit is asked of Albon, despite his only twelve races of Formula 1 experience. Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost nevertheless fears that Albon will be the next one to go down next to Verstappen. "Alex is mentally strong enough for that," says the Austrian, who sees many similarities between the Thai British and the Dutchman.
"They both have a lot of innate speed. They both understand how the car works and how it works technically and they know how to use the tires."
Yet there are also clear differences between Albon's first year in Formula 1 and that of Verstappen in 2015. "Max was more aggressive in his first season, especially in battle with other drivers. Everyone can remember that," the team boss says. back. "There were some great catch-up actions. Crashes too, but that is part of it."
Pierre Gasly can be seen again at Spa in Toro Rosso clothing. (Photo: Pro Shots)
"Verstappen has everything to become a champion"
Tost sees Verstappen still growing, which means that the bar for his teammate has to be raised even further. He is convinced that the Dutchman will compete in 2020 for the world title. "He has taken such great strides since I was in his care with Toro Rosso. He has all the ingredients to become a champion."
"So it is not easy to get in next to such a driver, especially now that he also has the experience", the Tyrolean judges. "Still, I don't think it will make new teammates nervous."
Sainz does not entirely agree with his former team boss. "Drivers always find themselves the best. You are not afraid of anyone, but if you end up next to Verstappen as a young driver, that can really have a deterrent effect."