There is, as yet, no guarantee that Pierre Gasly will leave AlphaTauri at the end of this season, but who should Red Bull choose to replace him if he does?
Gasly has impressed since his return to the junior side following his tough half season alongside Max Verstappen in 2019, earning three podiums and a race win in the process.
The Frenchman has always made it clear that he wants to return to the main fold, and his performances with the Faenza-based squad were putting him back in contention, but Sergio Perez has proven a solid team-mate to Verstappen.
The Mexican has earned two wins since his arrival in 2021, and he looks set to help the Austrian side to their fifth Constructors’ Championship success this year.
That has earned him a new deal that keeps him with the team until the end of 2024.
Gasly’s contract with Red Bull expires at the end of next year, at which point he wanted to move up to the main fold again.
With Perez extending his stay though, this will no longer be possible for the 26-year-old, who will be looking for another seat when his term with both Red Bull and AlphaTauri runs out.
That alternative could come in the form of Alpine, who have fumbled two drivers in as many months.
The French side have lost both Fernando Alonso and Oscar Piastri going into next season, so they are looking for another option.
They are currently mulling over whether to pay Gasly’s buyout clause at AlphaTauri, along with 13 other drivers they have been in touch with.
Should Gasly leave, Red Bull have several drivers in their pool that they could call upon to replace him, the most immediate ones being Liam Lawson, Jehan Daruvala, Juri Vipa, Ayumu Iwasa and Dennis Hauger in Formula 2.
Dr Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s adviser, however, does not feel that any of his juniors on the final rung before Formula 1 are ready to climb up to the junior side, which is why Red Bull are trying to convince the FIA to grant Colton Herta a superlicense.
The Andretti IndyCar driver has won four races in the American series, but IndyCar does not hold the same value as F2 or Formula 3 regarding superlicense points, so Herta only has 32 of the required 40.
However, there is another possibility, one that still beggars belief as to how it has not even been considered, and that is Felipe Drugovich.
The Brazilian leads the F2 championship by 69 points heading into the penultimate round of the season in Monza this weekend, so he is poised to wrap up the title in Italy.
Somehow, Drugovich remains unaffiliated to an F1 team and, despite showing dominance and supreme consistency this year, no team even appears to have cast a glance in his direction.
Red Bull could be fighting a lost cause with Herta, when they could be bringing in a driver who will qualify for a superlicense in Drugovich.
That, of course, if entirely dependent on whether Gasly leaves for Alpine, and whether Yuki Tsunoda leaves when his contract expires but, after a solid season for the Japanese driver, he is expected to re-sign.
Even if Gasly does not leave, getting a talent such as Drugovich on the books, perhaps as a reserve driver with AlphaTauri, might be a prudent move by Red Bull.