Alexander Albon’s whirlwind 18 months in which he’s both a begged for a seat and turned his back on a manufacturer drive, has culminated in a promotion to one of Formula 1’s elite teams just 12 races into his F1 career.
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Albon will replace the struggling Pierre Gasly at Red Bull from the Belgian Grand Prix onwards. Gasly, who has failed to score a podium in his 12 races since being promoted to Red Bull, will return to Toro Rosso in a straight seat swap.
The circumstances by which Albon has found himself in this position are remarkable. Hollywood take note, depending on how the next few months and years go, you could have a blockbuster retelling on your hands.
At 19 years and 124 days old Lando Norris will become the third-youngest driver in history to start a Formula 1 race, when he makes his McLaren debut at the 2019 Australian Grand Prix.
However, as Max Verstappen has recently proven, age is but a number. The motorsport proverb, ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ has never been truer. Despite his tender years, Norris is exactly the kind of driver McLaren needs right now.
Brendon Hartley is not necessarily a household name. Despite this, his upcoming cameo appearance in Formula 1 filling in for the ‘trophy hunting’ Pierre Gasly at Toro Rosso, could not be any more exciting.
Hartley has been a World Endurance Championship factory LMP1 driver at Porsche since 2014. Alongside team-mates Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber, the New Zealander is likely to secure a second WEC title this season to couple with his 2015 crown. Despite his achievements in prototype racing, the news of his imminent F1 debut is a seismic shock.
2017 has been a year to expect the unexpected in world motorsport. Hartley’s imminent F1 bow is as surprising a storyline as Fernando Alonso’s Indy 500 escapade and injects another fascinating narrative into the 2018 F1 driver market.
At present, Honda doesn’t necessarily have the most marketable product in Formula 1. Their current partners McLaren are continually pinning their lack of performance – and quite rightly so – on the Honda power unit’s deficiencies and the Japanese manufacturer has a history of overstating the value of engine upgrades.
Regardless, certain teams are willing to consider Honda power as an option for 2018 and beyond. Sauber had even signed a deal with Honda prior to the appointment of Frederic Vasseur as the team principal, who had other ideas and subsequently terminated the deal. Now, it would seem that Toro Rosso is considering Honda power for 2018.
While it may sound bizarre, such a tie-up would make a lot of sense.
Statistics are key in any sport. One of the favourite past-times of the armchair pundit is to dissect all the key facts and figures and whenever a record is broken, it is quite the occasion. As such, Max Verstappen’s shock win at Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix took on greater significance than the typical first time win. The 18 year old obliterated the previous record for youngest winner, in turn toppling top spot for the youngest driver to both stand on the podium and lead a lap, all in his first weekend at a new team.
The Dutchman is quite the record breaker, but follows in the footsteps of numerous other emerging talents who re-wrote the record books over the years.
Being a part of the Red Bull driver programme is seen by many as the holy grail for young single-seater stars of the future. While the guidance of Dr Helmut Marko has proved crucial to both Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, Marko’s School of Hard Knocks has ended many F1 careers prematurely. Daniil Kvyat’s recent demotion from Red Bull to Toro Rosso could eventually see the Russian added to the list of drivers axed from the programme at the final hurdle.
One element of the Verstappen and Kvyat seat switch which has been missed by many is the indirect effect it could have on Carlos Sainz Jr’s career. The Spaniard has been overlooked by the senior team on this occasion and as Jean Eric Vergne will testify, that doesn’t bode well.
Red Bull Racing know how to drop a bombshell. News that Sebastian Vettel was set to leave the team at the end of 2014 and be replaced by youngster Daniil Kvyat, certainly came as a surprise. The announcement that 18 year-old wonder-kid Max Verstappen is to replace Kvyat in the Red Bull senior outfit with immediate effect broke on Thursday morning, delivering an even greater level of surprise.
With Kvyat moving back to Toro Rosso – the junior squad in the unique Red Bull structure – some have deemed this as a demotion for the Russian. However, the story is as much about the excellence and market value of Red Bull’s teenage superstar.