While confirmation of Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri stay for 2021 Formula 1 season came as no surprise, the announcement was eye-catching for another reason - the silence over who his teammate will be. 

Gasly has been one of the stand-out drivers in F1 this year thanks to his stunning performances across the 2020 season, with a shock victory at Monza acting as one of the Frenchman’s many highlights from the opening 12 rounds of the season. 

Naturally, Gasly’s impressive form had led to suggestions that he could be in line for a return to Red Bull next season to replace Alex Albon, whose position at the team is the subject of increasing speculation after a run of inconsistent and underwhelming results compared to teammate Max Verstappen

While a return to Red Bull would have completed a feel-good redemption arc for Gasly having been demoted back to its sister team after 12 races in 2019, it was never on the cards. 

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner had made it clear that swapping Gasly and Albon back between the two teams “wouldn’t make sense” and all but ruled out the move following the pair’s contrasting Portuguese GPs, where Gasly charged to a superb fifth and Albon finished a disappointing 12th. 

Instead, Horner confirmed that Red Bull would look outside it's talent pool - at options including free agents Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez - should it decide to dispense of Albon’s services for 2021, effectively making a continuation of the successful Gasly-AlphaTauri partnership a formality.

And so followed, just a matter of days later, official confirmation of Gasly’s AlphaTauri stay. 

"I'm extremely happy to continue with Scuderia AlphaTauri for another season," said Gasly.

"This year is going very well, and we are on track to have our most successful season in the team's history.

"I feel we have a very strong relationship, we have managed to take every opportunity that's come our way, the best one at the Italian Grand Prix.

"Winning my first Formula 1 race in Monza was a very special moment for me, and it was made extra sweet to deliver a second win in the team's history, so I'm very proud of that.

"I'll do my maximum to push the team and take all my responsibility to bring it as far forward as I can.”

AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost added he was “delighted” that Gasly would be remaining at the Faenza outfit for another season and said he hoped the Frenchman would remain part of the Red Bull family for years to come. 

"Since he came back to the team last year, he consistently showed extremely good performances achieving two podiums, with a second place in Brazil in 2019 and a win at the team's home race at this year's Italian Grand Prix," Tost explained. 

"Pierre has proven to be highly competitive also thanks to his great race craft, extracting the car's potential at every race and giving valuable feedback to his engineers.

"He is mentally very strong, he is always motivated and when he sets a goal he gives it his all to achieve it.

"I'm looking forward to extending this cooperation and having a successful 2021 season together."

But what was most telling about AlphaTauri’s announcement ahead of this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola was the fact there was no word on who Gasly’s teammate will be. 

It is looking increasingly likely that Daniil Kvyat will lose his seat at AlphaTauri and position within the Red Bull driver pool for next season. 

The Russian has struggled to match Gasly’s level of performance so far during a disappointing 2020 campaign, finishing no higher than seventh. He has managed just 18% of AlphaTauri’s points this year, scoring 14 compared to his teammate’s haul of 63. 

Prior to F1’s first-ever race at the Algarve International Circuit, Kvyat acknowledged he is facing a difficult situation for 2021. 

“I haven’t got many ideas, so far, about it,” he said. “All I know is that there are six races remaining this season and I’ll do my best in the six races remaining and that’s the best thing I can do right now.

“I’m aware that the situation isn’t very easy. And, of course, that there are not very many seats available. But from my side I can only do the best in these remaining races.”

With Kvyat expected to get the boot, Red Bull has a vacant seat to fill alongside Gasly. 

The frontrunner in the race to be Gasly’s new teammate is believed to be two-time Formula 2 race-winner Yuki Tsuonda, who currently lies third in the championship heading into the final two race weekends in Bahrain at the end of November. 

A brilliant rookie F2 campaign has thrown the Red Bull and Honda-backed Japanese racer right into contention for a promotion to AlphaTauri next year. 

An appearance for Tsunoda in the Abu Dhabi young driver test at the end of the season has already been confirmed, as has a 300km test in a 2018 Toro Rosso car at Imola following this weekend’s race. 

AlphaTauri chief Tost has also indicated that Tsunoda is in line for a Friday practice outing with the team before the end of 2020 as the 20-year-old’s bid to earn a 2021 race seat gathers momentum. 

Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko recently revealed that it was “planned” for Tsunoda to graduate to F1, a move which would also see Honda achieve one of its long-term ambitions of fielding the first Japanese driver since 2014 before it pulls out of the sport at the end of 2021.

But a final decision appears to hinge on what Red Bull decides to do with Albon. 

Should Red Bull wish to drop the Thai racer, it would be left with two options; lose a driver it rates highly altogether and risk tarnishing the reputation of its junior programme further, or put on hold the progress of an up-and-coming star and miss the additional bonus of a marketing masterstroke before Honda leaves. 

Speaking to Sky F1 after the Portuguese GP, Horner continued to publicly back Albon following his latest difficult race, though he did infer that his driver would be performing better in the AlphaTauri car. 

"I think Alex in that [AlphaTauri] car would probably perform equal to how Pierre is at the moment,” he said. “We have so much information on these drivers and the characteristics of our car are very different.

"That's something that Alex in certain conditions is struggling with, as Pierre did 12 months ago. That's something we probably need to work on.

"Everybody is doing their very best to try and help Alex to find a setup, to find a balance he's got confidence with, because we all still believe in him. He's got great talent, he's only in his second year of F1, and everyone is rooting for him to claim that seat.”

Red Bull might ultimately view a return to the less-pressured environment at AlphaTauri as being beneficial for Albon to help him restore confidence in a similar manner to Gasly. 

This would also enable Red Bull to bring in a more competitive performer alongside Verstappen in the short-term in order to achieve its aim of mounting a championship challenge to chief rivals Mercedes. 

Either way, it appears Kvyat is set to be left out in the cold with his F1 future hanging in the balance.

 

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