The team that has been sacrificed to test Honda engine developments for Red Bull’s use in 2019 may have one further incoming issue to cope with, and that is as simple and straightforward as which drivers should occupy their seats.
Gasly’s presumable promotion as Max Verstappen’s teammate already leaves a space free, and the other slot is currently in the hands of an underperforming – but so far also unfortunate – Brendon Hartley, scoring just a pair of the total 28 points as the 8th team of the provisional F1 standings. Problem is, Hartley is not even a young prospect to work with to get him ready for a takeover at Red Bull; he is a 28-year-old with a successful Endurance career behind his shoulders, but not properly at ease with Formula 1 yet.
Yesterday’s whispers that Formula E champion Jean-Éric Vergne has raised interest from an undisclosed F1 team – which may well be his former – suggest there’s a lookout for talent outside the circus. An actual possibility for Gasly’s replacement comes from Woking: Toro Rosso has indeed long been working on a loan deal for McLaren young star Lando Norris, current Formula 2 runner-up and already a F3 champion, one that McLaren may struggle to field next year if Vandoorne is confirmed alongside new signing Carlos Sainz.
Who could complete the line-up then? Assuming that the team prefers to release Hartley, Red Bull’s youth programme ranks are fairly empty as long as F3 points leader Dan Ticktum is the only concrete-looking prospect for a future in top-tier racing – but said driver is still short of the requirements for a F1 Superlicence. This means the choice could be left to Toro Rosso: as an Italian team, offering the seat a long-awaited Italian driver is eagerly searching for might be spot on. Thus, should Ferrari face issues finding Antonio Giovinazzi a place to contest next year’s Formula One World Championship, a drive on the Toro Rosso STR14 may be just the most appropriate solution for both sides.
A pair of young, raring and promising racers would shape up: talents to grow, which is just what Toro Rosso has been so well accustomed to since its inception.
On the other hand, there is still half a season left for Brendon Hartley to prove his worth – on the back of recent improvements - , which might convince Red Bull to prefer one of its own backed drivers, though not truly a youngster, rather than handing rivals such chances to develop their own talents.