Christian Horner insisted Red Bull will not shy away from signing drivers from within their drivers’ pool, as he revealed they are keeping an eye on the market.
The Red Bull junior driver program brought Formula 1 World Champions such Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen into the sport, not to mention talents like Carlos Sainz currently a Ferrari driver, and the resurgent Alex Albon now driving for Williams.
That is not to forget the likes of Pierre Gasly driving for Alpine now, while others have left the sport like Sebastian Buemi who found success in World Endurance, while Jean-Eric Vergne who went on to race in Formula E.
Former F1 driver, Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari, one also part of the Red Bull junior driver program has left the sport and went on to pursue a career as a DJ.
Not all the drivers that came through the Red Bull drivers’ program have become ultra successful like Vettel and Verstappen, but they always seemed to have talents in the pipeline, which is not the case now.
The first signs of trouble for Red Bull’s driver program was when they signed Sergio Perez to replace Albon alongside Verstappen back in 2021, and with the Mexican’s contract running up in 2024, there are now speculations as to who will replace him.
Red Bull’s in-house options are limited to Yuki Tsunoda whose worth as an F1 driver is yet to be proven to be honest, while they have snubbed Liam Lawson despite his impressive debut as Daniel Ricciardo’s replacement at AlphaTauri.
As for Ricciardo, he has returned to the Red Bull, a broken driver, after years in the Renault and McLaren wilderness, his age also meaning he cannot be a talent for the future.
Red Bull flirting around outside their drivers’ pool
But there have been reports that Red Bull have been flirting with Lando Norris, and asked by Sky Sports News about such reports, Christian Horner said the team were having “good conversations” with the McLaren driver who is under contract until the end of the 2025 F1 season.
Horner added: “Lando’s a great driver. He’s a big talent, big personality and of course he’s one of those drivers that you keep an eye on.
“But there’s many drivers that you keep an eye on as well. There’s a generation of drivers out there at the moment that have got a huge amount of talent.
“Now, being Max’s team-mate is never going to be easy and some drivers may be up for that challenge, some may not be. But, of course, as well as the drivers we have in-house we keep an eye on all the driver market.
“As you can imagine, there’s quite a bit of interest from certain sectors about driving a Red Bull car,” the Red Bull boss maintained.
Horner went on: “Max is operating at such a level that his confidence, his commitment, his talent is absolute at the moment and it’s difficult to envisage somebody beating him in the same equipment. But there’s some great talent out there and of course what we want is the best two drivers we can possibly field.
“So ideally that will come from within the talent pool that we have, and if we don’t believe there’s that capability we will look outside of that as to who’s available,” he insisted.
Horner was speaking in Japan last weekend, after Red Bull clinched the 2023 F1 Constructors’ Championship, their sixth Title, and on that weekend as well, AlphaTauri announced Tsunoda and Ricciardo will driver for them in 2024, while Lawson remained in a a reserve role.
Ricciardo is currently sidelined after breaking his hand in a practice crash in Zandvoort, with Lawson doing a decent job in his place, but Horner insists the Honey Badger will not be ready to drive in the Qatar Grand Prix, up next on the F1 calendar.
“I would say probably less likely than likely at the moment,” Horner said of Ricciardo’s chances to drive in Qatar.
“His recuperation is going well but he’s fixed in the seat for next year, does he need to rush a hasty return for Qatar where maybe another couple of weeks for Austin, which is a hell of a bumpy circuit anyway, it might be better to use that time in preparation for Austin.
“I know he’s got his sights fixed on Qatar, he’ll drive the simulator next week and then we’ll make some decisions based on that,” the Briton revealed.
No guarantees for Lawson
Quizzed whether Lawson has been given an guarantees of a future F1 seat, Horner said: “There is no guarantees of anything in life. He’s done a great job; he’s really impressed us.
“He’s done exactly what we could have asked for in terms of grabbing the opportunity in Daniel’s absence to really show his capability. That’s turned some heads and it’s done him a lot of good.
“We’ll keep developing him when he goes back into that test and reserve role and he’ll be a candidate certainly for 2025,” Horner claimed.
As for Perez, the driver that Red Bull might be looking to replace at the end of 2024 – or before that if they decide to end his contract pre-maturely as can be the case sometimes in F1 – he is currently is runner up in the Drivers’ Championship, 33 points ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
Perez had a horrible weekend at Suzuka, but Horner believes he can still bounce back and secure second behind Verstappen by the end of the season.
“He’s got at least a one race weekend sort of [points] ‘buffer’ to Lewis and greater than that to Fernando [Alonso] behind him,” he said.
“It’s something that we’ve never achieved; we’ve never finished first and second with any of our drivers in the world championship so it would be a big thing for us to achieve.
“He came close last year, it would be his best-ever result, and he’s got the best car that he’s ever had to be able to try and achieve that result.
“Japan was frustrating and difficult for him, but he’ll bounce back. I’m sure there’s enough races with the six grands prix remaining for him still to achieve some great results between now and the end of the season,” Horner concluded.
Big Question: Is the Red Bull junior drivers’ program still working?