The braking point: What’s next for the Red Bull driver academy?

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Plenty of drivers have made their way into Formula 1 via the Red Bull driver academy with varying levels of success.

For every Sebastian Vettel or Max Verstappen, there is a Jaime Alguersuari or Scott Speed and the model has not hit the jackpot for a couple of years now.

In just the last two years, Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon have been promoted from the junior team up to Red Bull Racing, only to lose that seat within 18 months. In both cases it could be argued that they were promoted too quickly and given the subsequent success that Gasly has enjoyed, it looks as though their mismanagement of young talent has cost them.

With Gasly back at AlphaTauri and Albon pushed into a reserve role, they have gone for an outside driver in the shape of Sergio Perez for the first time since hiring Mark Webber in 2007 and with that decision, the role of their academy must be brought into question. Yuki Tsunoda, who will drive for AlphaTauri in 2021, appears to be an exciting prospect, but aside from him, the cupboards are looking a little bit bare.

In order to analyse where things went wrong, you cannot look beyond the cutthroat style of the academy’s boss, Helmut Marko. The former Formula 1 racer has long been known for his unfiltered interviewing style and as a manager, he has tended to fire drivers one race too early than one race too late. Antonio Felix da Costa, Jean-Eric Vergne and Sebastien Buemi are notable figures that were perhaps dismissed too soon.

Now, Marko and Red Bull will argue that unless a driver can reach the very top, they need to be moved aside in order to make room for a younger and more talented alternative. Daniil Kvyat did not do much wrong during his one and a bit seasons with the team, but few would argue he should have been retained over Verstappen.

However, there remains the sense that Red Bull themselves have planted the seeds from which this need to look for a driver externally has grown. Had they been more willing to keep drivers on and find places for them elsewhere, perhaps they would not have been forced to promote Gasly or Albon so quickly.

The development of a prospect who can eventually make the step up to top-flight sport is a monumental challenge and not everyone can reach those heights. The fact that Red Bull managed to produce race winners with the class and skill of Vettel, Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo is a fantastic achievement and for that they deserve credit. But with the hiring of Perez the question about where they sit on that dial between indecision and ruthlessness will be asked and the pressure is now on to find the next hidden gem who can make the right step up, at the right time.