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Formula 1

Should Red Bull look to Albon to help championship fight?

In a year where every single point counts in the battle with Mercedes, should Red Bull turn to Alex Albon to better their chances?

Column
To news overview © Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool

Red Bull have their best chance of championship glory for several years this season, with the team and Max Verstappen leading both championships as Formula 1 leaves Monaco behind.

But this isn't a championship that Red Bull are likely to dominate, given Mercedes' performances in Barcelona and Portugal. These are circuits that far more representative of the calendar in general, unlike Monaco, meaning the Milton Keynes outfit will need every single weapon in their arsenal at their disposal.

In Monaco, Hamilton finished seventh on a day where three of the four Red Bull cars finished ahead of him on track to all but maximise the punishment to Mercedes for having an off-colour weekend. With Verstappen winning, Red Bull employed a canny overcut with Sergio Perez to vault the Mexican past Hamilton, while AlphaTauri did the same with Pierre Gasly to get their man ahead on track.

But, the punishment could have been even greater, had the second AlphaTauri driver been able to join in the fight. Yuki Tsunoda spent his Monaco weekend toiling around near the back, having always been doomed to do so after a poor practice session that saw him hit the barriers on Thursday afternoon.

Tsunoda's first few races in Formula 1 have been, by and large, poor. Bahrain aside, the Japanese rookie has looked uncomfortable with Formula 1 and he's had numerous incidents and accidents on-track while, off-track, his temper and poor radio etiquette has raised eyebrows.

"Yeah, I think for me, I'm not fully controlling a car still," Tsunoda admitted to Tom Clarkson on the Beyond the Grid podcast over the Monaco weekend..

"But up to like, for example, 80 percent or 70 percent, it was not too difficult. Just like you have more downforce, you can just have more confidence to go out and send it in the car.

"With Formula 2, we have a heavier car, it's more unstable on entry especially so you can feel the car more. In Formula 1, if you go above the limit, you just have a snap and go into the barrier.

"So until you find the limit, it's not too difficult but it's hard to find the 99 or 100 percent limit without any, for example, crash or spin."

In most years, Tsunoda's steep learning curve wouldn't be an issue. His spins, crashes and lack of speed simply would be a period of time to get through and, eventually, he will come out the other side.

The issue is that Red Bull need a performing driver in that second AlphaTauri seat, and fast. In a year where every single point, and every single second, will count in the battle with Mercedes, a driver able to get in front of Hamilton and hold him up, even briefly, or, better yet, finish ahead of him is critical.

This is where Alex Albon comes in. He wouldn't require much time to re-adjust to life in F1 and was, in general, a solid pair of hands. He hasn't done much driving since the end of his Red Bull tenure last December, and his most recent outing was in a mule car for Pirelli 18 inch tyre testing two weeks ago. So it really wouldn't take very long for that muscle memory to return.

His performance relative to Max Verstappen also wasn't significantly different to what Sergio Perez is managing now, and the Mexican is regarded as one of the very best midfield drivers in the sport.

More importantly, Albon was a particularly strong performer when the pressure hadn't mounted on him. Similarly to Pierre Gasly, taking a midfield seat in an enviroment with lower expectations could be the making of him.

AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost is a very different character to Red Bull's Helmut Marko, taking a softer approach to his drivers and how to apply pressure to them. He was a vocal supporter of Daniil Kvyat as the Russian went through his tough spell after being demoted from Red Bull, and Tost has often said that drivers realistically need three seasons at the junior team in order to be strong enough for the main Red Bull squad.

Marko has also said that Albon's time in F1 isn't necessarily over. He'll race in the DTM this season, driving an AlphaTauri branded Ferrari with Red Bull backing, while also serving as the two F1 team's official reserve driver.

"He will test with us and work on the simulator and be a reserve at many grand prix - this applies to all four cars," Marko told Motorsport-Total.com.

"It's not over for him. Albon failed not because he is not talented, but because of a lack of consistency. In the end, we got to the point that it caused him a lot of stress."

But what about taking Albon out of that AlphaTauri DTM car, and putting him back in the AlphaTauri F1 car?

Red Bull need to utilise everything in their arsenal to take down Mercedes if they want the championships this year. This means having to think about how to utilise their second team better, and think about the possibility of what a stronger second driver could do. If a driver of Gasly's ability was in that AT02, Hamilton might have been doomed to an eighth place finish in Monaco instead. In a year where margins are tight, even a result like that could swing the championship.

Also, it was AlphaTauri, then Toro Rosso, who almost cost Hamilton the 2008 World Championship in Brazil. Sebastian Vettel, then with Toro Rosso, overtook Hamilton on the second last lap to swing the championship towards Felipe Massa and it was only Hamilton's last corner pass on Timo Glock that saved him.

Tsunoda's admission that he doesn't yet feel on top of driving a Formula 1 car should be enough for Red Bull to pull him out of there, in this their biggest season in close to a decade. If his form hasn't improved by the end of June, after Red Bull's home races in Austria, there's nothing to lose and everything to gain by sticking Albon back into their line-up.

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