Alex Albon on his year on the sidelines, how Red Bull helped him get back on the grid and the next chapter with Williams
Alex Albon is a fighter. A Red Bull driver on and off since 2008, he knows what it’s like to feel pressure. If you don’t deliver, you get the dreaded phone call from their Motorsport Advisor Helmut Marko telling you it’s over.
Albon is also a rarity. Last year he became the first driver in the Red Bull family to receive a second ‘it’s not us, it’s you’ call from Marko, dropping him from a racing seat for the second time. .
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This one hurts more. While the first time he knew his results weren’t good enough after his 2012 season, the second time he tasted the sweet nectar of Formula 1, and with a team capable of winning races nothing was wrong. less, and felt he hadn’t had time to prove himself.
Many would have called for a stop at this point. After all, F1 is a competitive business with just 20 seats. How many drivers have a third chance? Albon, however, stubbornly refused to let him go.
It’s arguably his greatest strength, that rock-solid resilience, and something of a hidden trait that’s masked by a modest, gentle, and somewhat shy exterior that makes him one of the nicest people in the world. paddock.
Red Bull isn’t known for its long fuses, but at Albon they made an exception. This was partly circumstance, as they had unknown amounts of rookie Yuki Tsunoda – and to some extent Sergio Perez as he hadn’t competed in a top-tier team despite his brilliant midfield – so keep Albon just in case that makes sense.
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But they also felt that it could be of use to their championship load, even if it wasn’t in a racing capacity. And it turned out to be a clever move. Of all the reserve and simulator pilots on the team, Albon had the most recent experience. And with the pressure released, they were hoping he could deliver the talent they thought he had.
Albon seizes his chance, throwing everything on his reserve role. No job was below him. He would do whatever we asked him to do.
And it paid off. His work on the simulation resulted in performance in the car, which in turn delivered results on the track. Albon was a useful piece of the Red Bull Racing puzzle.
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When it became clear that Perez and Tsunoda had done enough to keep their seats on their respective teams, and knowing that Albon was desperate to get back on the grid, they rewarded him for his efforts by doing something they didn’t. ‘had never done before – fight for it in the driver market. It wasn’t lip service either. Horner and Marko spoke to Williams boss Jost Capito and Alfa Romeo boss Fred Vasseur about the vacancies. Their efforts were sincere.
Albon therefore had to play the game of waiting. “There were sleepless nights, early morning awakenings,” he says, when we chat outside the Red Bull home unit. “It’s one of those things that is happening this year, even a month ago it didn’t seem to be going the right way, but things worked really quickly.”
He was kept informed of progress by Red Bull and tension mounted as uncertainty continued during the summer break. “Most of the time it was just about keeping your head down,” he says. “People’s opinions, things like that, you can’t control. You can control what you do and for me it was about being as involved as possible with the team, doing the best job I could do off the track.
“It’s hard to prove yourself when you’re not driving the car, but at least on that side, cover all your bases. Once Valtteri [Bottas] and Georges [Russell] were moving, it started to spice up the market a bit – and there was an opportunity. “
When he got the right kind of call from Red Bull on Monday, two days before the official announcement, a weight he had carried for months and which had increased around July when it became apparent that there had a realistic chance of joining Williams. , instantly evaporated.
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“It was tough,” he says. “When you’ve been in F1 and you’re on the racetracks watching it, not driving but being there, it’s hard to sit back and relax. I’ve improved over the course of year. In the first race it was torture. But I got into the rhythm. If anything, it increased my desire to be back on the grid, not just for friends and family. family, but also for the fans and everyone who supported me – it motivated me and kept me going to get the seat.
Red Bull’s longtime ruthless personality had softened. “They get bad press for a lot of things,” says Albon. “But in the end, they were extremely helpful. They helped me talk to Williams and sort it out. It’s nice to feel this confidence and belief in me. I owe them a lot and I continue to do so. I’ve been with Red Bull since 2008, so it’s been a long time.
Albon had a lot of people pushing for him, including his friend George Russell, who launched a charm offensive with the Williams board and campaigned for Albon to get his seat if Mercedes signed him.
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“I don’t think he did any Powerpoint presentations for me, on my behalf, but I know from the folks at Williams, the board and everyone else that he tried very hard. to get me that seat, ”said Albon. “So I owe him a few beers, for sure.” But also, just getting out of that seat helped. I owe him one!
His return to the F1 grid, where he will be added to his 38 Grand Prix starts, also reconstitutes the group. Along with their friendship with Russell, the couple are part of a quartet of Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc who have gone through junior formulas and get along well, as the world saw during the lockdown when they aired their competitions. fun esports.
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“People saw this during the lockdown on the streaming side, but we’ve been running together for a long time,” he says. “We have a good relationship, especially George. He practically lived in my house in 2016, so we get along really well.
“I hope we can do more of this stuff. I know everyone is busy now, and even if everything is back to normal, I hope we can still do this stuff, because I enjoyed it and I’m sure they do too. “
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His goal for the rest of the year is Red Bull and does what he can behind the scenes to bring the world championship back to Milton Keynes for the first time since 2013. But then his new project with Williams is going full speed ahead. . .
“There is still a championship to be won here, so we’re going all out and I’m in the sim a lot. But at the same time on my side, getting in shape, getting ready, focusing on next year, getting to know the faces of Williams, but at the same time bringing us home a championship victory, hopefully.
Albon hopes to pick up on the “incredible job” Russell has done at Williams, the Briton scoring 16 points so far this year, including a debut podium at Spa, and although he has no illusions that he has ” big boots to fill “he is” delighted to seize this opportunity “.
He adds: “With Williams they are thinking long term, and the investment that has been made, they are on the rise, so now is a great time to be a part of it – and hopefully move them forward. “
However, there will be no Russell-style topless selfies. “No way,” he said. “It’s his job. Lewis and George can do it together! There may be a calendar coming out!
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