The improbable, astonishing rise of Alexander Albon

2019 F1 season

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Alexander Albon, who Red Bull cut from their Junior Team at the end of a disappointing 2012 campaign, will make his first start for their F1 team at the next round.

But that’s just one example of how Albon’s route to a drive in a race-winning Formula 1 car has been so improbable.

It’s doubtful he saw this coming, even after his remarkable drive in the German Grand Prix last month, where he held fourth place for lap after lap and at one stage even took a pop at Lewis Hamilton. RaceFans has asked Albon for the latest on his contract situation for the 2020 F1 season on several occasions in recent races, but each time he’s had nothing to report.

“It’s quite quiet,” he told us in Hungary. “Just focusing on my job. There’s nothing changed since the start of the year, no extra talks like that.”

“It’s quite weird because the F1 world operates quite quickly,” he added. “For instance, at this time in junior level it’s quite normal not to even have these kind of questions. But it doesn’t faze me at all. There’s no worry.”

Undoubtedly, Albon has plenty of experience when it comes to fixing his plans late in the day. Last year he began his second season in Formula 2 without a full-time drive. Yet it was Albon, and not more lauded drivers such as Lando Norris, who kept the title fight against eventual champion George Russell going until the final round.

Albon made the transition from karts to cars two years before his fellow F1 debutants. But he didn’t meet success early on. On his single-seater debut in the Formula Renault 2.0 ALPS series at Monza he suffered a huge crash – bigger, he says, than the smash which kept him out of qualifying in Shanghai this year.

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Meanwhile his team mate won both races and went on to take the title. His name was Daniil Kvyat, and while their paths would meet again, at this point their careers diverged.

Alexander Albon, Epic Racing, Moscow Raceway, Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup, 2012
Albon was a Red Bull junior in 2012 before being dropped
While Kvyat was promoted into GP3, clinched the title and landed himself an F1 seat in the space of two years, Albon was shown the door by Red Bull at the end of 2012. Then-F1 outfit Lotus added him to their substantial roster of single-seater talent, but within a few years they were gone from the sport and Albon no longer had a direct link to a top team.

In the meantime Albon served a long apprenticeship at the Formula Renault 2.0 level, eventually peaking with third place in his third year in the top-flight Eurocup. That 2014 championship was won by Nyck de Vries, who’d entered the category at the same time as Albon.

It was easy to overlook Albon’s seventh place in the 2015 European Formula Three championship as he finished behind other series rookies, such as Charles Leclerc, Lance Stroll and George Russell, who had stepped up from karts later than he had. But while they raced for established outfits Carlin, Van Amersfoort and, in Stroll’s case, champions Prema, Albon distinguished himself with newcomers Signature, and contributed the majority of their points tally.

Once on the F1 support roster in GP3 and F2, Albon’s performance began to really catch the eye. He fought Leclerc for the 2016 GP3 title in the final round. In Abu Dhabi he planted his car on pole position, trimming Leclerc’s lead to 25 points. But in the race he tangled with Jack Aitken while scrapping for the lead and retired.

While Leclerc dominated F2 with Prema in 2017, he saw comparatively little of Albon, but has spoken highly of his rival. Albon finished a distant 10th in the points (not aided by missing Baku due to injury), but was the fourth-highest rookie.

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This might have made most drivers a shoo-in for a second season in a category not regularly won by first-timers. But he could only cobble together a late deal to start the season-opening round of 2018 for DAMS. But he started the season strongly with fourth, and within a few rounds DAMS had signed him up for the full season.

Alexander Albon, Formula E, Marrakesh, 2018
He abandoned plans to move into Formula E last year
Although Albon kept in the championship hunt with Russell and Norris, and went into the final round as the only driver capable of stopping Russell from winning the title, the interest from F1 teams didn’t appear to be there. Instead, he signed a deal to join Nissan’s Formula E team for the 2018-19 season.

But then Red Bull came knocking, six years after cutting him from their programme. Albon had a decision to make.

“When I was six years old, whenever I thought about motorsport… Formula 1 was always what any driver wants to do when they’re young. And of course even in Formula 2 the goal was always Formula 1. But as it looked less and less likely that’s when I went to Formula E.

“So when I got the chance again it was quite clear to me what I wanted to do. Of course there is less stability in Formula 1 but still staying that in Formula E you still have to perform and deliver results. On my side it was just kind of ‘no regrets’. You don’t want to miss out on your one chance of Formula 1 so that was quite an easy decision.”

Alexander Albon, Toro Rosso, Hungaroring, 2019
The interest in Albon grew after Hockenheim
Red Bull showed considerable faith in their former driver by appointing him to their junior F1 squad before he’s even driven an F1 car. But if that development came as a surprise, it was nothing compared to yesterday. Having been reunited with Kvyat, seven years since they first teamed up in Formula Renault, Albon has been chosen over his now considerably more experienced team mate for a Red Bull seat.

Albon’s produced some fine drives over his first half-season, not least a starring turn at the Hockenheimring. Kvyat may have come out ahead on the day, but as Albon pointed out, it was the fact Kvyat was running several places behind him which enabled him to make the gamble on slick tyres which put him on the podium.

Unsurprisingly, after that drive Albon found his first media session at the next race was a lot busier than usual, which he found “weird”. After that it returned to business as usual. “This is nicer,” he told RaceFans. “It’s easier to speak to you guys.”

It’s safe bet those days are over now…

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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37 comments on “The improbable, astonishing rise of Alexander Albon”

  1. Watching winter testing I knew this guy had talent – first time in an F1 car he was flying from day one.

    And his interviews were so chilled out and humble, if he can just keep that level of calm then I think he’ll do extremely well.

  2. I almost never heard any hype about Albon before this week. My first reaction of the promotion was how unfair it was to Kvyat. But finally read Formula Scout about how little to no media exposed Albon has in comparation to Norris and Russel.

    Leclerc speak highly about him and he looks like he could adapt to new environment quickly. I think Red Bull make the right decision this time.

    1. @ruliemaulana my first reaction was, this could have been Lando’s, he chose mclaren insteen. Albon has been quicker than kvyat so no surprise there.
      Wild ride for Albon.

  3. This is a good read. I followed karting back when my countryman Nyck de Vries and Max Verstappen stormed up the ranks and Albon was also a big name. I expected much from him, but just like De Vries his star faded a little in racecars. I never understood why he slipped away and this article gives some insights.

    1. Well said @matthijs, agreed.

  4. He is good there is no doubt about that. BUT so were Gasly and Kyviat when they were at Toro Rosso. Gasly especially showed real fire. It takes a driver like Max with real arrogance to survive the pointless psychological pressure of the malign Marko who does his best to undermine the confidence of young drivers.

    1. The environment at Redbull seems really harsh. I hope Albon is up for that pressure, would hate to see his humble personality compromised.
      Regarding Verstappen, I heard him mention several times the feedback he is getting from Marko is nothing compared to the pressure he would experience from his father when coming up through the karting ranks.

  5. Cristiano Ferreira
    13th August 2019, 9:04

    He seems like a humble and likeable person, but he will need to deliver and adapt quickly before Red Bull has second thoughts about sticking with him for a full season in 2020.

    Now there’s only Mercedes, Haas, Racing Point and Renault seats available. I wonder if Haas will go for 2 new drivers or retain one of them.

    1. It would be insanity to replace 2 drivers at the same time. No one to provide feedback that compared the previous car with the new.

      …. As a Dane, it hurts me to say, but I think Grosjean would be better for that task than Magnussen. Not because he’s a better driver (he most definitely isn’t), but simply because he seems to be a lot more sensitive to how the car behaves, which is a bit of a deficit on the track, but at least intuitively seems like a good skill for car development.

      1. McLaren replaced both their drivers this season and it hasnt did them any harm, HAAS just need to aquire a promising rookie (Mick Schumacher?) and an experienced lead driver (Hulkenburg?)

        1. Mick is really far from being ready for F1. At least from the outside it looks like both drivers can’t stay on the team, but I see no reason why one of them can’t stay. Kevin is really fast (although overly aggressive) and Romain has proven he can pull off remarkable drives when everything in his head is in place.

          So I’d retain one of them, and then try to hire someone like Sergio Perez, as I don’t see Hulkenberg wanting to leave a works team given 2021 is around the corner

  6. I hope he has some good people around him as Marko and co will try to put him through the meat grinder as well.
    As for Kvyat I think he dodged a bullet he is a good driver and should look at getting away from RB altogether, Gasly should also be looking elsewhere.

  7. I doubt there’s anyone that doesn’t wish this young man well.

    I know I’ll be glued to my TV for P1 to see how he settles in to driving the RBR car. Won’t be super surprised if he has a quiet P1 and a slightly less quiet P2 as he seems to be able to come to grips with his machine pretty quickly.

    Ruthless they may be but at least Red Bull give us the chance to follow great new talent.

    1. @dbradock Yeah your right, Williams (Russel), Mclaren (Norris), Sauber (Giovinazzi ) have never done that. Lets not talk about Leclerc going to Ferrari in his second yr of F1.

      1. Really,
        So Ferrari does it once in it’s history, McLaren or Williams never did while they were a “Top” team before Lewis Hamilton, and Sauber have always been a mid to bottom team where you normally expect young talent to appear.

        RBR have done this for years and its an intrinsic part of their philosophy – maybe some of the other teams have now realised that it does get results instead of paying out for tired ex WDC’s to be their drivers.

        1. @dbradock If you where a boat you’d have sunk your argument is so full of holes :))

          1. Hmmm, well, I do think RBR should be applauded for having a young driver program and of course it helps that they have a junior team in F1 and the expenses that come with that, supplying two seats at STR. So of course this is going to result in us seeing new faces and of course RBR runs the risk of appearing ‘brutal’ at times as they juggle these drivers around. Personally I don’t buy most of the negativity towards RBR or at least Horner and Marko that makes them sound heartless and cruel. After all, if they were that then they likely would not have given many of their drivers their chance to shine to begin with.

            It has to be said, as has been alluded to, that the top teams generally attract the top drivers that can utilize a top car to it’s fullest, and often throughout the years we have heard team principals with cars that are not top 3 say that their cars in their current iteration would not be worthy of a top driver nor his salary, so they still take the best drivers they think can advance the project at least and try to get themselves up into the top 3 and then take on a top driver and his salary to go from there.

            Of course other teams throughout the years have also given younger drivers their chance and to say Ferrari has done it once in their history with Leclerc neglects a young Gilles Villeneuve impressing us all in the late 70’s. This to say it would be interesting to read a summation of the young drivers throughout F1’s history that have been given their chance in a somewhat surprising or unexpected way and passed or failed the test.

        2. Williams never did while they were a “Top” team

          Hill, Coulthard, Villeneuve, Button, Montoya. Sorry if I missed sarcasm.

          1. Not sure about the sarcasm either, though you certainly missed Rosberg too matt90 ;-)

  8. i always liked Albon. I hope RBR will not destroy him like they did with KVY RIC and GAS already

    1. Did red bull destroy ric?
      That’s a strange vision on his career.

    2. they didn’t distroy KVY and RIC. The russian is very well at STR, a team good enough for his skills, and RIC chose to leave to pursue a path that looked promising last year (Renault was on the rise, while RBR with Honda was seen as ‘sure to be struggling’).

      As for GAS, not sure he is destroyed but pushed back to a team that is more suiting for him and his style / personality. Also, he never quite deserved that seat in the first place, because we only could compare him to Hartley, which was not a high benchmark at all.

      1. @gechichan, I believe that, after Kvyat was dropped from Toro Rosso in 2017, Horner did make some comments that suggested the team believed they had somewhat mishandled the way they moved Kvyat back to Toro Rosso, such as the decision to change the team of engineers that he worked with. It was notable that, in the few races at Toro Rosso where they did finally allow him to work with the engineer he had a long term relationship with before they dropped Kvyat, his performances in those races were noticeably better.

  9. I somehow don’t have a good feeling about his elevation. Nothing against him, especial since I have seen him only this season,but he doesn’t seem to have a killer instinct. And he has the seat for the same reason that Gasly got it, RB couldn’t find anyone else other than Kvyat who they either don’t trust or are too egoistic to put again in the RB after beating out his confidence and kicking him out or is it some other reason.

    Based on a recent interview with the TR principal, I think he was also expecting Kvyat to get the call and so wonder what/who has a problem or whether Kvyat has found another seat (back to Ferrari stable with Alfa Romero?

  10. His promotion is the logical choice from Red Bull, being the only unknown quantity in RB / TR drivers so I guess RB went for testing him. I won’t hold my breath about his performances and don’t expect it to be much better than Gasly, but hope he’ll fare well anyways. My gut feeling is that Kvyat is the better of the three but they still need to evaluate Albon in a race-winning car.

  11. While Albon indded did the good job this year, the decision to place him in RBR is not a tiny bit surprising.

    After first few races it was clear Gasly has no place in RBR.
    As they don’t want to give Kvyat another chance at RBR (in my view totally justified – he improved a bit, but not enough for RBR), and as RBR doesn’t have anyone else in their pool of drivers, Albon was the only driver, who could fill Gasly’s place.

    Now let’s see what happens during the winter.
    My predictions Gasly – out, Hulk\Ocon\Unknown – in. Where – depends on Albon’s performance in coming 9 races.

  12. From everything I’ve read, Marko is a tough but honest character. But then, Red Bull is the one handing out the money, which they are under no obligation.

    I’m not defending Marko, but he’s not too far off some of the race dads that I’ve met.

    It’s not enough to be fast. You’ve got to be socially tough and psychologically smart to succeed in F1.

  13. His inch perfect wheel to wheel racing at Hungary shows me that this guy has real talent. (Certainly Seb Vettel hasn’t been able to race another car like that in recent times)

    His humility and calm demanour off camera suggests to me he could soak up the pressure well.

    Let’s see what happens but i’m cautiously optimistic he will nick podiums in the latter half of the season, especially if Ferrari’s decline in form vs RB continues which I think it might given the opinion pieces at the start of the year about how their aero philosophy may be fundamentally flawed compared to Merc and RB…

  14. I really like Albon, but I wouldn’t call his rise ‘astonishing’ yet. He isn’t promoted for his 12-race stint at STR, he’s simply one of the few options to replace the poorly performing Gasly. He might be chosen over Kvyat for liking the same kind of oversteer setup Verstappen likes. He might be chosen for being a Thai. Or he might be chosen because it wouldn’t hurt his career as much if he would fail.

    I don’t think Albon is on Marko’s ideal line-up list (yet), Albon is basicly patchwork. It’s not a ‘Verstappen-Kvyat’ swap to keep Albon away from Ferrari and Mercedes. Don’t get me wrong, I hope Alex succeeds, but we have to call it what it is.

    1. I personally think they chose him, because with this single swap they get a comparison of all 4 Drivers. They know Albon vs Kvyat, now they get a good comparison of Verstappen vs Albon and by Proxy Kvyat as well as Gasly vs Kvyat. They can get a feel for where all their Drivers are at.

  15. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    13th August 2019, 12:36

    He seems such a likeable guy. Rather quiet, very polite – a bit humble. From what the article says of his career he’s been on a lot of up and downs, never seeming to attract as much attention as those around him but seemingly doing pretty well with the machinery he ends up with.

    I’m still in two minds whether promotion this early in his career’s a good thing, but if the opportunity came to drive a front running and potentially race winning car came I can’t imagine saying no. It seems he has a lot of experience of jumping in at the deep end and making do so it’ll be fascinating to see what he can do. Also if he does well that’s a great advert for Russell and Norris.

  16. I remember him knocking out the Race Leader (de Vries) in Monaco in F2. Therby outscoring him in the rankings and that got him a place in F1.

  17. I dont like how he got here, his mom stole so much money from people and yes its not his fault but guess how those private schools and educations got paid. He benefited alot from it and now his mom is walking around with a big smile in the paddock…….

    1. But this is F1 and not the french revolution

    2. They both paid for it as she was sentenced to jail and he was kicked out of the Red Bull program.
      He only made it back in because of his success in GP3 and F2.

      1. I think I have to agree with @silfen on this – he still did profit from the money initially, but we can’t really fault him as a young boy profiting from his parent’s money, wherever it came from (he’s not the only one who needed such money; and for some of the sources of teams and drivers in the past, well the less said; though he seems to have come out of it the best, so far).

  18. Meanwhile his team mate won both races and went on to take the title. His name was Daniil Kvyat, and while their paths would meet again, at this point their careers diverged.
    While Kvyat was promoted into GP3, clinched the title and landed himself an F1 seat in the space of two years, Albon was shown the door by Red Bull at the end of 2012.

    Hm, with Albon now definitely getting the RBR seat for 2020, I am glad that Horner previously already said that Kvyat’s treatment in the program wasn’t great. Because it sure looks like a year, or 7, out of it, finding their feet by themselves, might have been better for several of the drivers, like Kvyat’s year with Ferrari, and one has to too wonder whether that could have helped Gasly deal with the RBR car/pressure better as well. Well, it makes me wonder at least.

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