Tuesday 27 August 2019 10:54 am

Toro Rosso role in question as Red Bull roll dice again with Alex Albon call up ahead of Belgian Grand Prix

When energy drinks magnate Dietrich Mateschitz acquired the Toro Rosso team in 2005 it was with the purpose of nurturing young drivers, bedding them into Formula One and preparing them for a promotion to Mateschitz’s Red Bull Racing outfit. 

For the remainder of this season, the intended junior team looks more of a reserve team – a place where drivers deemed to have not made the grade are sent, reputation in tatters – such is the revolving-door policy Red Bull have adopted under head of driver development Helmut Marko.

The latest casualty is Pierre Gasly, who has been demoted to Toro Rosso effective from this week’s race at Spa, Belgium, where he will join fellow former Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat, despite team principal Christian Horner insisting his seat was safe.

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In his place London-born Alex Albon, who races under the Thai flag, will step up and partner Max Verstappen in a nine-race trial to assess his credentials for taking on the role full-time.

The decision to drop Gasly comes as little surprise given the disappointing impact he has had since graduating to Red Bull, with Marko telling Auto Bild it was because “he loses places and doesn’t like to overtake”.

The Frenchman has just 63 points and no podium finishes in 38 F1 outings – not a record Red Bull need as they battle with Ferrari for second place in the constructors’ championship.

More surprising was the decision to promote Albon during his debut campaign, particularly given he sits seven places and 11 points behind Kvyat. 

Clearly Marko has not forgotten the Russian’s equally sub-par outings for Red Bull in 2015-16, for which he was replaced by Verstappen. 

Alex Albon (right) will join Max Verstappen at Red Bull for the remainder of the season

The Dutchman has since laid bare his credentials as a future world champion, winning two of the last four races. But despite his clear abundance of talent, Red Bull appear impatient to find someone equally capable by accelerating young drivers to the senior team with an urgency at odds with the nurturing platform Toro Rosso was supposed to deliver.

Kvyat was afforded just 19 races, winning eight championship points, before being promoted to Red Bull in 2015 at 20.

Just over a year later he would be replaced by Verstappen, who himself had completed only 23 races but racked up an impressive 63 points in the sister car before winning on his Red Bull debut.

He has consistently delivered since, ousting as the lead driver Daniel Ricciardo, who was subsequently replaced by Gasly this season. 

The 23-year-old raced just 26 times for Toro Rosso before his promotion, and has now been replaced by Albon, 23, who has only made 12 F1 starts. 

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If he too fails to live up to the almost insurmountable expectations for immediate results being placed on young Red Bull drivers, then the team will have a difficult decision to make on where they turn next. 

There is a chance he can suitably aid Verstappen as a No2 driver, while Kvyat remains an option and could return to the team four years after his departure.

Failing that, Red Bull may have to look externally for a solution, bringing into question the purpose of their driver development programme and how the Toro Rosso team is utilised.