Pierre Gasly at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Photo: Lars Baron (Getty Images)

Max Verstappen has been the star of Red Bull Racing this year, and perhaps the entire Formula One field. He’s a breath of unpredictability, and success, in a sea of Mercedes team dominance. His teammate Pierre Gasly has been kind of the opposite, to the point that he just got demoted to the Toro Rosso junior team.

The demotion of Gasly in favor of Toro Rosso’s Alex Albon is official as of the Belgian Grand Prix onward, the team announced Monday, saying the switch will let Red Bull use the last nine races to “make an informed decision as to who will drive alongside Max in 2020.” Red Bull said it was in a “unique position” to have four talented drivers under contract to be able to rotate around between the big team, Red Bull, and the junior one, Toro Rosso, at any given time.

Everybody loves a bit of intra-team competition, right?

Gasly, who was brought up from Toro Rosso to replace Daniel Ricciardo when he left for Renault this year, will race alongside Daniil Kvyat in his demotion. Kvyat was in a similar situation in 2016, when he got knocked to Toro Rosso in favor of an “outstanding young talent,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said, by the name of Max Verstappen. Kvyat has been on again, off again, with Red Bull’s F1 programs since, and the relationship is currently on.

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(Oddly enough, Horner’s exact quote with the Kvyat-Verstappen switch was that “We are in the unique position to have all four drivers across Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso under long term contracts with Red Bull, so we have the flexibility to move them between the two teams.” Sound familiar?)

It’s a wonder based on season performance alone why Albon was chosen instead of Kvyat, since they sit 15th and ninth in points, respectively, but Kvyat’s record with the team might have been a factor.

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Gasly, before the demotion, was kind of the Valtteri Bottas of Red Bull—except way worse, because Bottas has actually won two races this season and Gasly’s best finish this year has been fourth, once. Both drivers are in top-tier cars in F1, with Bottas’ Mercedes team being the top of the field right now and the Red Bull team hovering around second and third, but both are being terribly outshone by their teammates, Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. (Gasly’s destination will be a second-tier car, along with the entire rest of the field aside from Ferrari.)

Verstappen has a worst finish of fifth and two wins this year, something that looked impossible earlier this season given Mercedes’ dominance, while Gasly has two DNFs.

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All of that has led to a lot of talk about how Gasly needs to do better. Horner said less than a week ago that the idea was to keep Gasly through the end of the year, but that the team “desperately” needed to see him “realizing more of the potential of the car.”

Here were some quotes from him via Racer, emphasis ours:

“I think he really needs to take some time out during the summer break, reflect on the first half of the season and take the lessons from that into the second half of the year. It’s vital for us if we are to stand any chance of catching Ferrari that we have him finishing further ahead.[”]

Horner says examples such as Sunday’s race in Hungary — where Lewis Hamilton was able to take a free pit stop from second place and fight back to beat Verstappen — highlight the need for a second car running more competitively.

“It was a frustrating weekend for Pierre. The start wasn’t great, the first lap wasn’t great, and we shouldn’t be racing Saubers (Alfa Romeo) and McLarens, we need him to be racing Ferraris and Mercedes, and everything we can do to help him to achieve that is what we will do.”

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With Toro Rosso, though, racing around McLarens and Alfa Romeos is fairly normal. Perhaps Gasly will fit right in.