#TheXtraLap RedBull: One man band or title contenders?

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The team started the season with a new line-up after Ricciardo left for Renault. Pierre Gasly came from Toro Rosso to partner Max Verstappen. Gasly had done a full year at Toro Rosso, that already used Honda engine, something that was new to the RedBull team after they dropped the Renault engine at the end of 2018.

Expectations were that Gasly had the experience with the Honda engine so could help the team progress and Verstappen knew the team and car so together it would be a good combination. During pre-season testing, however, Gasly made a few critical mistakes, one which saw him crash the car. This didn’t help and was hopefully, not a sign for the season to come.

Australia. First race of the season and on Saturday, Verstappen showed the potential of the new RedBull/Honda combination by qualifying 4th. Gasly however, didn’t manage to get out of Q1 and had to start down in 17th. On Sunday, it was time for RedBull to play out a good strategy to help Gasly get back up the grid but he finished 11th and outside the points while Verstappen took his first podium of the season by finishing 3rd.

Bahrain. On Saturday, people already started to question Gasly as he missed out on Q3 and qualified in 13th while Verstappen qualified 5th, less than a second off pole. On Sunday, both drivers finished in the points with Verstappen in 4th and Gasly in 8th but the Frenchman was a massive 52 seconds adrift of his Dutch teammate.

China. During qualifying on Saturday, it looked like Gasly found a few answers as he qualified 6th, just behind of Verstappen in 5th. Another double points finish on Sunday when Verstappen crossed the line in 4th but Gasly was in no-mans-land for most of the race and did an extra pitstop to secure fastest lap and finished 6th.

Baku. It was a strange qualifying on Saturday as Gasly didn’t make it out of Q2 but was punished for exceeding the 100kg/h fuel flow limit during qualifying and had to start from the back. Verstappen meanwhile, made it to Q3 again and planted himself 4th on the grid. The race on Sunday didn’t go well for Gasly as he had to retire with a driveshaft issue. Verstappen kept on doing what he has been doing for a while and finished 4th. So far, since Hungary 2018, the Dutchman never finished lower than where he started.

Spain. Back in Europe on a track well known by all teams and on Saturday, the signs were good as Verstappen qualified 4th and Gasly 6th. A pretty straightforward race on Sunday saw both drivers score points with a 3rd place podium for Verstappen and a 6th place finish for Gasly.

Monaco. Qualifying in the narrow streets of Monaco on Saturday went great for both drivers as Verstappen qualified 3rd and Gasly 5th. On Sunday, Verstappen finished 2nd on track but a penalty dropped him to 4th. Gasly had another lonely race and finished 5th.

Six races completed and what were the signs so far?

It looks strongly as if RedBull is building the team around Verstappen but to be successful in the constructors’ championship, the team needs both cars to perform and take points away from the competition. So far, Gasly is too far off the pace and hopefully he can turn it around and can close in on the performance Verstappen is showing.

Canada. The Saturday started off on the wrong foot as Verstappen wasn’t able to do a final run in Q2 after Magnussen crashed so he had to start from 11th on the grid. Gasly did his best and qualified 5th, in front of Bottas but behind Ricciardo. It was a tough day for Gasly as he couldn’t finish higher than 8th while teammate Verstappen passed him to finish 5th.

France. During qualifying on Saturday afternoon, Verstappen set a 4th fastest time while Gasly managed to get 9th but again, way off the pace of his Dutch teammate. The race on Sunday wasn’t an exciting one but Verstappen finished 4th while Gasly went backwards to finish 10th, again, 1 lap down. The Frenchman really needs to step up.

Austria. A home race at the Red Bull Ring started off on Saturday with Verstappen, who qualified in 3rd. Gasly however, was still some 0.8s. slower than his teammate and qualified in 9th. Not what RedBull wanted. It was a beautiful Sunday for RedBull, Honda and Verstappen, who drove an awesome race and took the victory, P1 for the Dutchman. Gasly was again a lap down when he finished in 7th, just behind McLaren’s Norris.

England. RedBull decided to give Gasly the exact same set-up as Verstappen, just to see if that would work and Gasly did a great job on Friday and Saturday, qualifying in 5th position. Verstappen was a bit quicker and qualified in 4th. An eventful Sunday saw Gasly take 4th at the finish but that could’ve been different as both Vettel and Verstappen were in front of him but a misjudgement on Vettel’s part, saw him crashing into the back of Verstappen, taking both off. Verstappen was lucky to continue to finish 5th.

Germany. A wet Hockenheim started off on Saturday with Gasly qualifying in a strong 4th position. Verstappen was quicker again, but only with 0.4s to start the race from 2nd. A wet start on Sunday with a drying track throughout the race, including a bit of drizzle every now and then saw Verstappen keeping his cool, took the lead, and never looked back. Including doing a 360 on cold medium tyres, he kept control of the race and took his 2nd win of the season. Gasly was swamped at the start and couldn’t seem to make up any ground. Through strategy and errors from others, he did manage to fight his way back untill he came behind Albon. In an attempt to pass Albon, he was too close when he went to the right and took off his frontwing, making it slash his left front tyre and as an effect, went off to retire from the race.

Hungary. It was a great Saturday for RedBull and Honda as Verstappen managed to qualify on pole position (or as Dutch commentator Olav Mol said: “POLE POLE POLE POLE POLE !!!”) The final race weekend before the summer break and Gasly had to show his worth. Sadly he was nearly a second down on his teammate’s time and qualified in 6th. On Sunday, Verstappen had a good start and led the race for some 66 laps before, thanks to a masterful strategic pitstop, Hamilton managed to pass Verstappen for the lead and the Dutchman settled with 2nd at the finish. Gasly had another race to forget as he got lapped by Verstappen (second time this season) and came home in 6th, behind McLaren’s Sainz.

Now it’s the summer break so what did we learn so far?

As feared after six races, Gasly just can’t keep up with Verstappen and isn’t making enough progress to make RedBull happy. He started the season with a gap of between 0.5 and 0.8 seconds behind Verstappen but after 12 races, that gap is still there. Verstappen however, is performing on a very high level, sometimes even outperforming the car.

Verstappen already has two wins and a pole position to his name but lapping your teammate twice so far this season, isn’t looking great for the team but especially for Gasly, who needed to be closer to the Dutchman to get valuable points for the team.

So after 12 races, Verstappen sits 3rd with 181 points while Gasly sits 6th with just 63 points.

What some have been expecting, Gasly has been dropped to Toro Rosso, and starting in Belgium, Albon will be the new teammate of Verstappen. Albon seems to be more technical and according to a few Toro Rosso mechanics, can explain issues with the car to its detail and is able to pinpoint which way to go. An issue Gasly has been struggling with all year.

I for one give Albon two or three races before we can expect real progress. I think if Albon can get to about 0.3 seconds of Verstappen during a complete weekend, he’s doing a great job so I can’t wait for the season to resume.

#MsportXtra

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