Start of something beautiful

At Spa last weekend Alex became the 11th driver to race for Red Bull Racing in Formula One, following in the footsteps of David Coulthard, Christian Klien, Tonio Liuzzi, Robert Doornbos, Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Dany Kvyat, Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly. Alex had a great, gritty debut, starting 17th after taking power unit penalties, and scrapping his way through the field to fifth at the flag. It’s the latest chapter in a story that now stretches back 15 seasons and 279 races. Here’s what some of those who came before managed on debut.

Mr Reliable: David Coulthard, 2005 Australian GP

Mark Webber and Christian Klien drove for Jaguar Racing in 2004 but, with the Ford-backed entry withdrawing, and Webber off to join Williams, there was a seat vacant when the team was reborn as Red Bull Racing for 2005. The young team opted for experience, and recruited David Coulthard, who had already stood on the F1 podium 60 times (13 on the top step) in 11 seasons with Williams and McLaren. 

Much is made of the work done by Christian Horner and Adrian Newey in the early years of Red Bull Racing, turning the Team from a midfield outfit to a championship contender – but the experience and input of DC in those early years should not be underestimated. He could also be relied upon to get the best out of the tools at hand. Our debut race, at Albert Park in 2005 saw David use all of his guile to qualify fifth and, after a lightning-quick start, bring the car home in fourth. With Klien finishing seventh, the new team was off and running with a double points finish. 

“I made a good start and managed to get into third place,” said David after the race. “I struggled a bit initially with a heavy fuel load, then had lots of trouble with traffic and lost chunks of time. I hit a Minardi at one point. A podium finish was achievable today – that would have been a dream start for Red Bull and at one stage I was beginning to dream a little, but I can't complain about fourth place. It is much more than we expected. With Christian scoring points as well, it is a fantastic start for Red Bull Racing.”

Close, but no cigar: Sebastian Vettel, 2009 Australian GP 

Sebastian Vettel was the first driver to tread what became the familiar path of elevation to the Red Bull Racing team after learning his trade at Toro Rosso. When David Coulthard announced that 2008 would be his final season in F1, Vettel was a natural choice to step-up and replace him – although ‘step-up’ is a relative term. Having been announced during the summer, Seb would go on to secure his first victory at Monza a few weeks later, and have a strong finish to the season to ensure Toro finished above Red Bull Racing in the Constructors’ Championship. Unexpected though that was, it did mean the German came to Red Bull Racing as a hot property.

It was very much a case of right driver, right time. The RB5 – even the early version lacking the double-diffuser – was a thoroughbred race winner. After a promising winter, Seb qualified in P3 for his Red Bull Racing debut in Albert Park behind the dominant Brawns. That translated into P2 at the start, when Rubens Barrichello bogged-down. 

Seb held the position for most of the race but in the latter stages, being chased by BMW’s Robert Kubica, Seb had a wobble. Kubica pounced and Seb defended perhaps a little too robustly, resulting in neither car making it to the chequered flag. Better races would follow…

“Should I have let him go,” queried Seb after the race. “You always want to fight. Maybe I should have let him go and brought third home, but that's life. I tried to defend and, up to the mid-corner, I had reason, but then I had no grip to avoid a collision. I'm sorry to the Team and also to Robert, as it didn't just mean the end of my race, but also his. We had good pace today, so overall we have a reason to smile.”

The ghost podium – Daniel Ricciardo, 2014 Australian GP 

After a half-season baptism of fire at HRT in 2011 and two campaigns with our sister team Toro Rosso that yielded 13 points finishes, Daniel Ricciardo was drafted into the Team for the 2014 season in place of departing countryman Mark Webber. The Perth-racer’s arrival came at a tricky juncture, however. F1 was making the transition to hybrid power and in pre-season testing it became clear the power unit in use by the Team was off the pace. By Melbourne, however, the Team had got on top of many of the problems seen in testing and Daniel immediately showed why the Team had confidence in his skills. 

In qualifying he showed the lightning quick one-lap pace that would become his trademark to line up on the front row in P2 alongside pole sitter Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes.

And in the race the Aussie was equally impressive and he put in a faultless performance to take P2 on the podium behind winner Nico Rosberg. However, post-race, Daniel was disqualified from the race results for a breach F1’s then complex fuel-flow regulations. It was a bitter blow for Daniel on home soil, and for the Team. However, the Honey Badger was quickly back in the groove and three races later, in Spain, he claimed his first official podium finish with the Team, taking third behind Hamilton and Rosberg.

First time, first place: Max Verstappen, 2016 Spanish GP 

Having delivered 10 points finishes with Toro Rosso in his rookie campaign (which he began at the tender age of 17), Max was elevated to the senior squad after finishing in the top 10 in three of the opening four races in 2016.

However, despite the teenager’s evident talent, no-one predicted heroics in his first race for the Team in Spain, a fact Max himself acknowledges. “Nobody expected anything from me in the Team. Not in a bad way, they just said ‘get used to the car, just get comfortable and see where you end up’.”

Where he ended up was beyond imagining. On Saturday, he took fourth place in qualifying behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo and a front row made up of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. 

And on Sunday, Max seized the opportunity presented by a first-lap collision between the Mercedes drivers with both hands. The lead eventually fell to Max and in the final third of the race the newcomer to the Team was imperious. In the final laps he was relentlessly pressured by Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen but Max defended like a seasoned pro to hold on until the chequered flag, when at 18 years and 228 days he became Formula 1’s youngest ever race winner. “It's a very special feeling,” he said afterwards. “It's amazing, I have no words for it.” 

Thai delivers: Alex Albon – 2019 Belgian GP

Alex didn’t have much time to prepare for his debut race with the Team at Spa last weekend. Announced as a Red Bull Racing driver during the summer shutdown, and with the whole team forbidden from working during the break, there was simply no one at the Team Alex could talk to in order to prepare for his Team debut. Indeed, it wasn’t until the Monday before Spa that Alex had a seat fitting.

Not that the lack of preparation disadvantaged the Thai racer, who had similarly been thrown in at the deep end at Toro Rosso at the start of this season. Alex was quick from the start in the RB15, finishing fourth in FP1 and 10th in FP2.

Qualifying was more difficult as due to penalties for taking a new-spec Honda power unit the Team elected for Alex to effectively back out of the session in Q2 as he would be starting from the back regardless of results.

Alex had proved himself a fighter earlier in the season, however, racing from 20thto 10thin China with Toro Rosso and in Belgium he put in an equally brilliant, battling performance to rise from 17thon the grid to P5 at the flag.

 “It was a difficult race and in the first stint I struggled with grip in the dirty air and couldn't overtake anyone,” he said. “But then once we pitted for the soft tyres, the car came alive and I was like – now we can do something! The last lap was really good, I had a good fight with Sergio where we were both on the grass and it made for some good racing.”