At the end of last week it was confirmed that Sergio Perez would partner Max Verstappen at Red Bull Racing for the 2021 Formula 1 season.
It means that Alexander Albon, the previous incumbent of the seat alongside Verstappen, will be without a Formula 1 drive for 2021 and will instead move into a test and reserve driver role with the team.
Yet if Red Bull do have plans of getting Albon back into one of its race seats either in the medium to long term then, personally, I think it would be best for Albon to be competing in some form of racing series next season, alongside his test and reserve role. There are a few reasons for this.Embed from Getty Images
As has been shown by Antonio Giovinazzi, and to a certain extent Esteban Ocon, spending a season out of competitive racing can mean when a driver does return to the Formula 1 grid they take several races in order to get back to being ‘race fit’ and/or getting to grips with a Formula 1 car again. This is something that Giovinazzi highlighted in his F1: Beyond The Grid episode believing it took him until the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix, the thirteenth race out of 21 in the 2019 season, before he felt like he was ‘back to his best’.
To expand on this there is an argument to say that this is something that Fernando Alonso has found out. The Spaniard having undertaken substantial running in filming days, a 2018 spec Renault and managing to get into, controversially, the end of season Abu Dhabi test. All in an effort to be as best prepared and as competitive as possible for a return to Formula 1 in 2021.
It is important to remember that Albon ‘graduated’ from Formula 2 in 2018 and has therefore spent only two seasons in a ‘top’ category of motorsport. Unlike Perez, Nico Hulkenberg or Alonso, Albon may not necessarily have the wealth of experience to be able to cope with having a year not racing and then be expected to be on the pace when/if he does return.
Competing in Super Formula in 2021 can potentially be a good way for Albon to mitigate some of the above effects. The series having been used by McLaren and Red Bull for young drivers to make another step up, after Formula 2, in their preparations for a Formula 1 seat. This is thanks to the Super Formula series effectively being Japan’s version of IndyCar, a national open wheel championship with spec chassis racing predominantly, in Super Formula’s case, in Japan.
It is therefore an ideal series for Albon to keep away any racecraft rustiness for if or when he does return to Formula 1. To add to this is that, as mentioned, 2021 is the third season since the Thai driver ‘graduated’ from Formula 2. It would potentially be beneficial for him to continue gaining racing experience, and competing in Super Formula is as close to ideal as Albon is going to get to a racing series similar to Formula 1. Unless he or Red Bull were able to secure him a part-time programme in IndyCar.
As much as the test and reserve driver role is a development opportunity for Albon next season, so would competing in a different racing category. Especially one that has a good mix of highly experienced drivers and young drivers. All of whom Albon could learn from, potentially using that learning to aide a return to a Formula 1 seat.
To expand on this point is the potential for Albon to use a Super Formula campaign as a ‘lab’ to apply anything he has picked up observing and studying Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen. All of which also contributes to the Thai driver accumulating more experience and being better prepared to cope with a second stint with either Red Bull or AlphaTauri.Embed from Getty Images
There is also the potential for Albon to rebuild some of the confidence that he may have potentially lost during his 2020 campaign. Effectively giving the Thai driver an opportunity to reset slightly in a less pressurised racing environment.
There is also the issue of other challengers Albon has when it comes to securing either a Red Bull or AlphaTauri seat in the future. Were Perez to leave Red Bull at the end of 2021 or Pierre Gasly leave AlphaTauri Albon might not necessarily be the first choice. This could come about if any of Red Bull’s junior drivers in Formula 2 or Formula 3 have a particularly stellar 2021 campaign while Albon is on the sidelines. It would therefore be difficult for the Thai driver to mount as strong, or stronger, case to take a seat with no competitive racing in 2021 to bolster his claim.
Added to this is that by competing in Super Formula Albon gets an opportunity to remind Red Bull, and other teams, why he was chosen for a Toro Rosso seat in 2019 and why he was picked to replace Gasly that same season.Embed from Getty Images
There has been a recent trend in Formula 1 for those who have lost a seat in the sport to spend a year on the sidelines with little to no competitive racing in order to keep them ‘race fit’. This is something that, if Red Bull are serious about having Albon fill one of its race seats in the medium to long term future, they should ensure in helping make his return as easy as possible.
Super Formula is perhaps the most ideal way to do that considering the performance of the cars in the series. Its race calendar also tends to be quite short which means Albon won’t be constantly unavailable for Red Bull should something happen to one of its main drivers. But it also means Albon does some form of competitive racing to make sure he returns to a competitive Formula 1 seat confident and still race sharp.