A decision on who will fill the vacant Red Bull seat is imminent with Alex Albon throwing the team a curveball after signing off his difficult campaign with his strongest race of the year.
While comprehensively beaten by teammate and race winner Max Verstappen, Albon came home fourth in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and trailed world champion Lewis Hamilton by just 1.5s at the line.
For the first time all season Albon assisted Verstappen as a rear-gunner. He maintained a level of pressure on the Mercedes pairing to prevent them from attempting an alternative strategy or preserving tyre life.
It is a performance expected by the second Red Bull, which is unquestionably the only car capable of challenging Mercedes each weekend.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner praised Albon’s progress after the Abu Dhabi race and revealed that the team would decide on the future of Albon over the next week.
“We’ve always said that we’ll go to the end of the year, and then make our decision at the end of the season,” Horner said.
“Alex had probably his strongest race weekend, which is encouraging for him.
“But we now have a full picture of the season. And we’ll make that decision in the coming days.”
Before his Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Albon was performing well below the level of performance demanded of a driver in such a high calibre car.
The previous race in Sakhir, Albon could only muster sixth at the chequered flag. In a race where both Mercedes’ and Verstappen falter, the second Red Bull should go on to win.
Horner refused to talk about Albon’s performances before the Abu Dhabi race. But he insisted Albon’s pace demonstrated in the season finale was what the team had wanted to see from him all season.
“[Abu Dhabi] was certainly what we were expecting to see,” Horner said. “It is the only way that you could put Mercedes under pressure.
“If they’d have split their strategy, we could have been very exposed.
“Certainly at the end of the race Alex was able to close on them, he lost a bit of ground at the beginning of the stint after the safety car once they all changed onto the same strategy to the end of the race.
“But I think Alex has driven a good race, and he’s had a solid weekend.”
Albon will likely only be retained by Red Bull if the team believe that the level of progress made through the Abu Dhabi weekend can be built upon for the start of 2021.
Should they believe that is not the case, Albon’s seat with the team is in serious jeopardy of being replaced by the out-of-contract Sergio Perez.
“Obviously we have a huge amount of data now,” said Horner.
“We have all the knowledge across the various circuits that we’ve done.
“We’ll sit down and go through that and come to the come to the right conclusion.”