Looking for something to watch during the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?
Keep an eye on Red Bull’s Alex Albon. It’s his last chance to make a case for why team advisor Helmut Marko and team principal Christian Horner should give him another season with the big team.
To his credit, Albon, who’s eighth in the championship, is finishing the season on a high note. Just when it appeared he had raced himself out of a job, he’s strung together finishes of seventh, third and sixth heading into the finale at Abu Dhabi.
Albon’s podium at the Bahrain Grand Prix was just his second of the season (he also finished third at Tuscany), but it was enough to quiet the critics. He’s still a longshot in the eyes of many observers to land in that Red Bull seat next year with the likes of surging Sergio Perez and veteran Nico Hulkenburg looking for work.
But the fact that an announcement regarding Albon’s future with the team has yet to be made seems to indicate that the decision-makers at Red Bull are giving the 24-year-old driver every chance to win the seat for 2021.
At the same time, Perez has become the flavor of the month in F1 after his win last week in the Sakhir Grand Prix and a runner-up finish in Istanbul two races earlier. Perez, a free agent at Racing Point after this weekend’s race, is fourth in the F1 Drivers’ Standings, and he’s at least making things interesting for Red Bull. And it’s not exactly a good look for the sport when teams decide that a driver finishing in the top four in the standings isn’t good enough to be offered a ride for next season.
Marko sent Perez a congratulatory note after the driver’s win last week.
“Firstly, I’m not focused on Sergio in that sense,” Albon said. “I have to focus on my own job, focus on my own results. So the comparison for me is more just what can I do a bit better. Truthfully, the last couple of races have felt pretty good. I do feel like I’m making progress.
“The season was OK, not obviously what I would have wanted going into it. But otherwise, there’s still some good things there. I had a few DNFs, a few bad races, but I’m feeling like I’ve improved from last year.”
Albon finished eighth in the standings last year. He’s got a chance to improve upon that spot with a strong race at Abu Dhabi, as he trails seventh-place Carlos Sainz of McLaren by just four points, and he’s five points back of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc for sixth.
It’s no lock that even passing Sainz and/or Leclerc , however, would be enough to keep Albon in the seat. Albon said he believes that he’s got a chance on Sunday state his case one more time.
“It was always going to be the end of the year,” Albon said, when asked about a timetable to find out his 2021 F1 fate. “Nothing yet. I’ve still got the weekend to go.”
It’s no secret that Red Bull would love to have a stronger running mate who can push teammate Max Verstappen. A few years ago, it looked like Daniel Ricciardo was going to be that driver. Now, Ricciardo is two years removed from his seat at Red Bull and heading to McLaren next year after two seasons at Renault.
Ricciardo knows the pressure of racing for a team with a championship pedigree that wants to go toe-to-toe with Mercedes. He even offered up a little advice to the driver who ends up in that second seat next year, be it Albon, Perez or Hulkenberg.
It doesn’t hurt to get on Red Bull advisor Marko’s good side.
“He’s softened a little, actually,” Ricciardo said. “Maybe because I was younger, but definitely the early days of myself being on the (Red Bull) junior team (at Toro Rosso). I was always pretty petrified to have a one-on-one with him, but I feel maybe it’s just maturity.
“I feel he’s a little nicer these days. With Helmut, you get 100 percent transparency and honesty. If you don’t do a good job, he’ll tell you. So I think you just have to be willing to receive some constructive criticism at times and not take everything to heart. Acknowledge that he’s really saying these things to get the best out of you, and he says it because he cares and believes in you. So, I think if he’s willing to give you that criticism then take it as a compliment.”
And if that doesn’t work?
“Give him a cuddle,” Ricciardo said. “See how he goes with a cuddle.”
What are you looking forward to watching in the F1 season finale? Start a discussion in the comments section below.
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