Do Verstappen’s teammates underperform?

There is a common perception that Verstappen’s Red Bull teammates of Gasly, Albon and Pérez have not performed up to their expected level. Here we look at whether there is truth to the claim, by comparing their results to the expectations of the model.

How is under/over performing measured?

The model produces an expected level for how 2 teammates will perform against each other. This is mainly determined by how good each driver is perceived to be based on other teammate match ups, but adjustments may be made for experience, age, and car competitiveness. More information on how the model works can be found here.


Daniel Ricciardo

As discussion in Daniel Riccardo’s career review (click here), the model considers him to be a very good driver, just not quite absolutely top tier. As a whole Ricciardo and Verstappen were closely matched across their 3 years together. Given what we subsequently know about their careers, this is considered to be Ricciardo performing better than expected during this period of time relative to Verstappen.

Pierre Gasly

The general perception is that Gasly underperformed at Red Bull and has performed significantly better at Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri. This is something that the model concurs with, with his short stint at Red Bull being significantly below expectations.

Alexander Albon

Albon’s record at Red Bull meanwhile is almost exactly as expected. His form is also considered to be extremely consistent across the 2 years. (Although given that it is expected to improve as he gained experience, this is not necessarily a good thing!) Unlike the other teammates here, Albon has (so far) spent the majority of his career at Red Bull, which does complicate matters a bit. However, his Toro Rosso stint is also almost exactly as expected. (The model sees a slight over performance at Toro Rosso and underperformance at Red Bull, but it is not particularly statistically significant.)

Sergio Pérez

Unlike Gasly and Ricciardo, Pérez’s level before joining Red Bull was very much established (click here for his career review). Pérez has underperformed at Red Bull so far, with Verstappen scoring a significantly higher share of the points than predicted.


What about pre-Verstappen days at Red Bull?

It seems that recently Verstappen’s teammates have underperformed. Is there any evidence that it is typical of Red Bull?

Mark Webber was never able to get on top of Sebastian Vettel across their 5 years as teammates (2009-2013). During this time his form was relatively erratic, with competitive periods across 2009-2010 that the model interprets as Webber doing better than expected (or more likely, Vettel underperforming), and poor performances in 2011 and 2013 that is interpreted as Webber underperforming. The evidence suggests that he was weaker the more dominant the car was, but there’s little to suggest he underperformed overall across the 5 year stint.

When Ricciardo joined Red Bull he was in a similar situation to Gasly and Albon. Vettel had already established himself firmly as the number one driver, winning 4 titles on the trot. Ricciardo turned perceptions on their head, out scoring his teammate in 2014. It serves as a reminder that the second Red Bull drivers are not destined to fail.

As Ricciardo surprised many by outscoring Vettel in 2014, Kvyat then outscored Ricciardo in 2015. In both cases points do not tell the full picture, but in 2015 in particular the results were more to do with luck than an inherent pace advantage. When Kvyat was demoted back to Toro Rosso in 2016, his results slumped significantly. Like Ricciardo, the model thinks that Kvyat did better in a Red Bull than expected, not the other way around.

Carlos Sainz never managed to land a Red Bull drive, but his results are still noteworthy. After performing roughly as expected vs Verstappen at Toro Rosso, he then obliterated Kvyat at Red Bull. At this point he left the Red Bull program to join Renault, and was easily outscored by Nico Hülkenberg. In a similar fashion to Gasly, Sainz’s form slumped after leaving Toro Rosso.


Conclusions

One thing that is not actively looked at here is the reasons why Gasly and Pérez have underperformed. There are several plausible explanations. Perhaps the car is (intentionally or otherwise) built in a way that favours Max’s driving style. Maybe Max has just had particularly strong seasons, making his teammates look weaker by comparison. Maybe he underperformed significantly in his early career, or the culture within Red Bull now favours him over others. We shouldn’t discount the idea that it’s just a coincidence either.

One thing to remember is that having their own drivers underperform is not in Red Bull’s own interest, and they will actively be trying to address the situation. Those that favour the answer of “Red Bull just focus all their attention on Verstappen” should consider that having a weaker number 2 driver is currently costing them points in both championships. Such a successful and professional team would not be intentionally hurting their own chances. It also flies in the face of the historical evidence that is available. Both Ricciardo and Verstappen were able to get up speed at Red Bull quickly versus established teammates. History would suggest that Red Bull actually want(ed) Gasly, Albon and Pérez to be performing strongly.