Carlos Sainz or Pierre Gasly? They both seem like perfectly legitimate options for the empty seat at Red Bull Racing but as we know, driver changes and Silly Season can spring a few surprises now and again. While folks are still arguing over Daniel Ricciardo’s state of mind in moving away from Red Bull to Renault for 2019, others are left pondering his replacement.
I’ve read/heard arguments for Gasly as the young upstart at Red Bull’s junior team, Toro Rosso, who is only four points behind Sainz in an inferior car on the balance of the 2018 season. Pundits and fans have contemplated many of the on-track performances and juxtaposed the two drivers against their current teammate competition.
All of that is to be taken into account but in the end, I suspect much bigger issues will determine the direction Red Bull take for the empty seat. Financial backing, what their master plan is for the driver in their program and just how well either option may fit with Max Verstappen.
On the balance, Sainz has more experience and granular knowledge of the Renault chassis and development direction. Gasly has more experience with the Honda engine program which Red Bull will use in 2019 and that could prove positive. Sainz has been a long-time member of the Red Bull program and he did have some tension with Verstappen when they were both at Toro Rosso, Gasly has no reference plane in which to measure his ability to race with Max.
Sainz could be attractive to other teams such as McLaren, Force India or Haas F1 and to be fair, so could Gasly but as Carlos is already on a long-leash loaner program, it may be easier for Red Bull to capitalize on a possible appointment at another team. The contractual narrative Carlos has signed regarding being loaned out—and all the rights within—have already been executed. Gasly’s lawyers/management may or may not make that a more difficult process.
There are various reasons Sainz or Gasly may be selected beyond just tallying up the races over the first half of the season and divining who you feel did a better job given the equipment they had and the teammate they competed against. Pontificating how you think Sainz fared against Gasly in a virtual world doesn’t take into account all the permutations involved in signing a driver and while performance is critical, both drivers are in the Red Bull program and both have different career trajectories and desires and contracts with the team.
The random nature of Silly Season could see neither of them in the empty seat, however unlikely you feel that may be, but you can’t discount the wide view of all talent that Red Bull’s Marko Helmut may be considering. Whomever they choose, it will be important that they work well as a teammate to the lead driver, Max Verstappen.