The tiring narrative against Alex Albon
The F1 community seems to be in overdrive regarding whether Alex Albon is good enough or not, but why are we here? and why do we subscribe to specific narratives in F1?
Hello reader. It's been quite a while since I've posted new content, a little bit of a hiatus and time to process the current state of the world. If you're reading this, I hope you are well. 🙏
Something that's been on my mind lately, has been the collective F1 fanbase and their views on Alex Albon. Unsurprising given that I too am a fan of this sport. However, something feels awfully familiar about this situation. It's like we went through this a year or so a go with a certain Pierre Gasly or perhaps Stoffel Vandoorne before that. It's a trope we've seen many times before in Formula 1. Pick a driver and scrutinise unfairly, to the point it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
...and here we are.
It got me thinking about the drivers under question. In recent times we've seen Albon, Gasly, Bottas, Vettel and now even George Russell under the microscope. Whilst I'm a firm believer in hard times making a person, one might argue the criticism levelled at Alex Albon initially at least, was unfair. To a point it is still unfair. While folks touch on the surface regarding Red Bull getting this right or wrong, not enough is made of the mismanagement happening beyond Albon's control.
I wanted to dive into that a little today, because to me it seems quite harsh that a driver of Albon's talents is being reduced to perhaps giving up his F1 career. On the outside, it seems to me Red Bull are feeling a little stale at the top, after all, we have a person who seems to want to give youth the benefit of the doubt after discovering the golden goose. Unfortunately, the harsh lesson is, there can only be one golden goose.
Did that make any sense? No? Incase you were wondering, the golden goose is Max Verstappen.
What's been a little bizarre to watch with Red Bull since the void left by Ricciardo (and let's face it, Seb initially), is the narrative that follows fairly raw drivers taking up one of their seats. It has now been three drivers in recent years they've perhaps promoted too soon and saw them receive the brunt of the F1 community. You could argue Kvyat set the template for this at Red Bull, which followed up Gasly and Albon.
While Red Bull have got some correct - Seb, Daniel and Max have all proved their worth, they perhaps were a little lacking in which junior to promote back in 2016. When Max got the drive and they knew Daniel was going, to me they did the wrong thing in holding Carlos Sainz down. A driver who's gone on to prove his raw pace and worth as a driver seems to me an option missed. Of course, selecting young drivers will always be a risk, but when it goes a little sour, does it mean the entire community need to pile down on that driver?
In 2018 Gasly delighted us with fantastic performances vs. his vastly experienced Le Mans winning teammate, Brendon Hartley. In 2019, it was almost as if he was expected to beat Verstappen from the first practice session. The same could then be said for Albon, the expectation of these young drivers who make a great impression under much less pressure get thrown into the fire all too quickly. We've seen this happen elsewhere too, too often young drivers expected to make subpar machinery do wonders. Stoffel Vandoorne also suffered a similar fate of narrative dictating his career.
For the longest time, all I could remember regarding the Stoffel situation was so much negative press about how he's not on Alonso's level a year into his F1 career. He's subsequently proving in Formula E (along with a certain Mr. da Costa) that he has pace and raw talent in a relatively even field.
Given that this seems to happen quite often, why is it that fans are solely focused on drivers in high pressure situations? Too often we accept that teams perceived to be "top teams" are struggling to build equal machinery, good enough strategies or make good decisions. The fact that Alex Albon has been in the firing line suggests perhaps that the articles his uncertain future generates, probably make a little penny here or there.
Drivers are not above criticism, but it seems we're at a phase where the collective picks a target and then gives them a taxi ride to a self-fulfilling prophecy. You'd like to think this is mostly a certain Dr's doing, but it cannot all be blamed on him. We are ever increasingly expecting miracles from younger and younger drivers, all because of a golden goose or two (the other being Charles).
Speaking of Charles, I'd argue despite his mistake ridden first season at Ferrari, he got quite a bit slack cut simply because of his personal brand? Alex may be softly spoken and has had a touch of the Grosjean's over the radio, but we're forgetting this is a driver who shattered his collarbone and came back to throw his F2 car on the podium in Austria, back in 2017. He's still a tough character. We can only assume this rather unfair narrative will make him stronger, but to me it's wrong to assume his career is over.
Before I lose sight of why I wanted to write this article, I'll just overtly state it. It's tiring seeing the same trope with a different driver play out over the season. It's almost like there's no need for it when these drivers risk their lives to go fast for our entertainment. It's a high pressure job. Sometimes your form is up, sometimes it's down ...does it mean your career should go down the toilet? Not in my view.
Fingers crossed the limelight moves away from Alex over the next few Grand Prix and he can pick up a couple of good results. Would be great if we could focus more on the narrative that there are so many talented drivers coming through, we can hardly find space for all of them in F1. In all honesty, I'm starting to look at Formula E in the same light as F1, so as much as F1 fans like to think it's the be all and end all of motorsport, it is not.
In a pandemic hit year, I think F1 has more pressing concerns than a talented driver out of kilter. Fans of the sport should be honing their focus on if there will be more than 4 teams on the grid over the next couple of years or worse, if there will even be a grid.
Rounding this up, to me it's a moot point whoever is in that second Red Bull car. I personally don't believe they'll have a realistic title challenge next year with the same car, no matter what they improve. Despite closing the gap to Mercedes, they still seem to have rather odd reliability issues and no amount of Hulkenberg's or Perez's can change that. Perhaps we as fans should be more critical of the funnel process for Red Bull's young driver programme - or more specifically, the state of F1 in 2020.
Anyway, that's my thoughts on the matter. What do you think?