Alexander Albon, Red Bull, Imola, 2020

“I was slightly down on experience”: Albon on what went wrong in 2020 and his determination to return

2021 F1 season

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Alexander Albon’s demotion from Red Bull at the end of last season isn’t the first setback his career has suffered. Speaking ahead of the launch of the team’s new car today he made his goal clear: “I want that seat back.”

Reflecting on a difficult 2020 campaign, which he ended with less than half the points of Max Verstappen despite completing more racing laps than his team mate, Albon admits he found last year’s RB16 a “difficult” car.

However he believes there was a discernible improvement in his performance, even if it wasn’t enough to prevent Red Bull replacing him with Sergio Perez for the 2021 F1 season.

“Truthfully things were going better,” said Albon. “But obviously it was still a little bit too late. I think my best race of the year was in Abu Dhabi.”

Alexander Albon, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2020
Albon ended 2020 with fourth place in Abu Dhabi
He ended the season with fourth place behind his race-winning team mate and the two Mercedes drivers. He only finished higher twice, aided by retirements in Mugello and Bahrain, where he claimed a pair of third-place finishes.

These were the first podium appearances for a driver who, it is often forgotten, had not driven a Formula 1 car until a brief run for Toro Rosso shortly before pre-season testing for his debut 2019 campaign. Just 12 races into that, he was promoted to Red Bull.

“I think I was slightly down on experience,” said Albon of his 2020 campaign. “It felt like during the year, working with my engineer, we were just getting an understanding of what needed to be done to get the performance out of it. And that was just an ongoing process.

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“It felt like things were definitely clicking more and more towards the end of the year. Maybe some results weren’t great, but the general path was improvement.”

Race-by-race: How Horner explained Albon’s route from near-winner to ex-driver
While Red Bull has been quick to drop struggling drivers in the past – as Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly will readily attest – Albon was allowed to see out the season. However he does not expect to have much chance to make up for his deficit in Formula 1 experience during 2021.

He will be on simulator and reserve driver duty at Red Bull, showing up at all 23 rounds in case they or AlphaTauri require a substitute. As Nico Hulkenberg showed last year, such opportunities are more readily found in the Covid-19 era, though two drivers in the Red Bull roster – Perez and Gasly – have already had the virus.

“I won’t be in the car as much this year,” Albon acknowledged. “But what I can do is learn, firstly.

“I will be at the track every race so I can at least understand from an engineering side of it, how the team operate on a more in-depth scale.”

However Albon is confident that he can show what he is capable in a more compliant car, one that he feels “on top of”. He says Red Bull are trying to engineer that trait in the RB16B, which will be revealed later today.

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“It wasn’t an easy car, last year,” said Albon. “And part of me knows for a fact if I could be able to be more comfortable with it, the performance would have been much stronger.

“That’s kind of what I’m doing right now for this RB16B, it is about making the car better. That’s been a lot of the stuff that I’ve been doing over the winter right now.”

Alexander Albon, Epic Racing, Moscow Raceway, Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup, 2012
Albon lost his Red Bull Junior Team place in 2012
Albon’s arrival in Formula 1 with Red Bull’s then-junior team Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) came as something of a surprise, and not just because he had to be prised out of a Nissan Formula E deal for it to happen. Red Bull had assessed his abilities much earlier, in 2012, and dropped him from their Junior Team. Having recovered from that setback, Albon believes he can do it again.

“I’ve been through this kind of situation many times in my racing career,” said Albon. “So it hasn’t been all that bleak, let’s say. There hasn’t been any violins in the background. It’s more just about getting back into it. Now, I’m confident in myself. I know I can bounce back and that’s my target.”

“I have been dropped before,” he added, “so it’s not been the first time. What I learnt was, in the end of the day, how much do you want it? I want it more than, I would say, anyone on the grid. And with that comes a lot of determination. I won’t stop at any point.

“So for me, it’s just about putting my head down. I got through it before, I’ve been able to get to where I am because of all the hard work I have done. And as I said, I want that seat back.”

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23 comments on ““I was slightly down on experience”: Albon on what went wrong in 2020 and his determination to return”

  1. His helmet in the 2012 FR 2.0 Eurocup image reminds me of Sainz’s Toro Rosso design(s).

  2. Lucky for Perez the new car is designed to be easier to drive

  3. I think this does highlight how the pressure to “get there” fast, and especially the way how RB tends to fasttrack their drivers with Marko’s pressure cooker approach just does not work for all (most?) drivers.

    This is also a bit about expectation of fans off course, we sometimes write off rookies for not being “the next Alonso/Hamilton/Verstappen/Leclerc” in the first few races of their rookie year. Instead of just understanding that F1 is something a driver has to bed into, learn to understand and then they can build on that to become a serious challanger.

    1. I think it works perfectly fine. Which of the drivers that was fast tracked in and out of Red Bull made it elsewhere? None. Which of the current top drivers needed more than one year to show they were special? I can’t remember any. Red Bull gives their juniors the chance to show they are one of these special drivers. If they are not, they are not only not good enough for Red Bull, but also not good enough for other teams. Sadly, drivers who are “okay” are only welcome in F1 if they bring a large pile of cash.

  4. I think he was just down on talent compared to the drivers around him. Simple as that.

    1. I don’t think it was a talent issue, the gap between him and Verstappen seemed to widen over time. That suggests to me it was a psychological issue, it’s quite common for a driver being beaten consistently to lose confidence and pace, happened to Vettel and Albon. It’s one aspect of Bottas that I find impressive, he’s maintained his standard despite being consistently beaten.

      1. That was certain with Gasly after the test phase his driving was forced and very causious. But it’s also the pressure of being in a top team.

        1. That’s a good point, Gasly certainly seemed to be under driving at Red Bull, he made very few mistakes but had no pace. I think Albon approached it differently as he seemed to overdrive the car and make some high risk overtakes. I think Perez will be a welcome change to the team as he knows he won’t be challenging Verstappen so he can focus on his own driving and he’s already well established whereas Gasly and Albon knew their Red Bull seat could be their last.

  5. How long before anglophones finally come to understand that Albon had the 4th best car for a full season and a half and managed to fall short of this position all but a handful of times? He didn’t have “too little time”, he wasn’t dropped “early”. We have seen him drive for two seasons. There is no speed, there is no consistency, there is no craft, most of all there is no spark.

    1. To be fair though, his 9 race stint with Red Bull was quite impressive. He showed great consistency and made many good overtakes. Because I have no knowledge of the behind the scenes, we will never really know exactly what happened. He was on track to have a good or at least a decent season in 2020, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. I find it very odd that he changed so quickly. It could have been the pressure, lack of experience, or him not feeling very comfortable in the car. He is a good driver, he just wasn’t ready for Red Bull, just like Gasly. F1 fans tend to pick and choose, so a lot of his good race weekends are overlooked. In the end it didn’t work out for him at Red Bull, but we should remember that to be in F1, you have to have talent in the first place.

    2. Agree, absolutely disappointing, and got worse on his 2nd season than the first; overall just as bad as gasly at red bull, kvyat was more convincing, now he was unlucky that verstappen was looming.

  6. I sympathise with Albon. He was thrust into F1 quickly, and held to a very high standard vs Verstappen.

    Saying that, every driver that lands an F1 drive talks to the media shortly after saying how they are “Ready”, when maybe they aren’t. This isn’t the fault of the drivers, but a consequence of the teams being such a large factor in overall competitiveness. The driver has to roll with it or miss out on F1.

    It’s not necessarily a problem, as the sink or swim approach will usually promote the strong and weed out the weak. But it will chew up and spit out young drivers who don’t succeed quickly, leading to some “failed” drivers in other championships. We’ve seen how good Buemi, Vergne, McNish, Davidson, Hartley and Rossi etc have been once leaving F1, so I suspect the sport’s high pressure approach doesn’t work for all.

    1. @racerjoss I think that is a fair comment. I too think AA was thrown a bit into the deep end a bit prematurely but that’s just the way things evolved after DR left the team. I think AA acquitted himself quite well in some of his battles with other drivers considering he was fighting the car at the same time. I agree with AA that more experience would have helped, as would a less temperamental car, and I think that is why he is still part of the team, as RBR know circumstances were not ideal for him last year. Yeah sure some of that lays on AA’s feet, but he needn’t be slagged as a not-for-F1 driver either, imho. I hope he gets another chance at some point in F1. For now SP is only on a one year deal with RBR.

    2. Max was 18 and thrown into the deep end against Ricciardo who had destroyed Vettel two years earlier.

      No excuses for Albon.

  7. The reserve role’s a smart move, and his best chance of getting a race or two to remind teams what he can do – and avoid any silly arguments on track.

    Even if two out of four Red Bull racers have already had Covid, we don’t know for sure what that means for immunity or for how long. Ideally, his contract would let him race for any team that suddenly has a vacancy.

  8. From Red Bull’s perspective, one of the best things about Sergio is that he is a known quantity, he has been around long enough that where he finishes when faced with Max gives you an accurate reading of the car and also Max. ‘The car is hard to drive’, ‘Max is just too special’ conversations should end after one season with Sergio, the answers will be evident.

    Max is most probably just ‘a cut above’, but Alex wasn’t dropped because of Max, he was dropped because he wasn’t in a position to make life difficult for Mercedes and challenge often enough, whether he would have got there is a bit of a mute point, we’ll never know and Red Bull aren’t the type of team to wait to find out.

    Sergio at Red Bull is actually the thing i’m looking forward to most this season.

    1. @bernasaurus Well said. My focus will be on Max but for sure this is going to be a great pairing to watch. Can’t wait.

    2. @bernasaurus IMO he wouldn’t have been dropped if it wasn’t for Perez’ experience with Mercedes now that they are to build their own engine.

      1. @balue While his Mercedes pu experience was mentioned by I think Marko, I envisioned it would be most useful just in terms of him talking to them about how it feels, it’s power band, drivability, that kind of stuff. Not taking away from your point, but I just wonder how much more he can contribute pu wise other than to communicate comparisons about feel, and I would think once SP is in this year’s car for a few months there won’t be much more he can say that he won’t have already communicated in terms of what the Honda pu feels like in comparison to the Mercedes.

        I may be splitting hairs here but I’m not sure how much they knew they’d be building their own engines at the time they hired SP, for they didn’t know whether or not there would be agreement to the freeze, but that said they may have been preparing for that possibility anyway, and likely were.

        But then the other thing I wonder about is this. Perez had been prepared to sit out this year if needs be, and he seemed quite comfortable and confident that he had something lined up for a return in 2022. He is also only on a one-year with RBR. Now all things considered, and we don’t know what this year will bring for him yet, I would find it hard to believe that if SP has something lined up, it will be better than staying at RBR if they want him to. Yet, the one-year deal, and something theoretically waiting for him on the other side? Going to be interesting to see what happens with SP’s future after this year.

        But anyway I think you are right about the Mercedes pu experience he can bring, at least imho for the short term, and I’m sure he has already communicated everything he can think of to them ahead of feeling the Honda in the RB16B, after which he will have much more to say, and they’ll be ears wide open. As to them replacing him with AA because of that, I think it is moreso his experience in general that has attracted them.

        Interesting that they could have had Vettel, presumably, but put that one to bed pretty much immediately upon the news of Ferrari letting him go. I think a) they weren’t that interested and at the same time b) that would not have done AA’s confidence any good, knowing that no matter how hard he tried he’d be replaced. As AA speaks of being slightly down on experience, I think he also gained a great deal of experience by being in the running until the very last race, for that is how he was able to (forced to) put his 100% all into it. I’m sure that experience will bode well for him no matter what is in store for him. He’ll have learned some things about himself and the mental aspect of the game particularly.

      2. @balue Red Bull aren’t actually building the engines – they are being built by AVL, which was already a parts supplier for Honda. Besides, the point at which AVL would take over is the point at which the development freeze kicks in – so, at that point, it doesn’t matter what information Perez brings if the engine freeze means they can’t change the design.

        As for this year, all of the engine manufacturers are now having to bring forward their planned engine design work to this year to make sure they can beat the homologation deadline for 2022, including Honda. With Honda already having to accelerate the work that it was planning to do, it is going to be very unlikely that Honda would be making further significant alterations in the design of their engines if it runs the risk of potentially delaying the overall design programme ahead of the engine freeze kicking in for 2022.

  9. Fell short on talent. There’s simply no excuse for the gigantic time and finishing positions. You can make a thousand excuses why I am wrong, but when has a future star ever came into F1 and been walloped by their teammate?

    And for the record, I really like Albon as a person.

  10. Max jumped into the RBR and won in his first race for them at 18.

    There are 6 seats in the world you want to be in and Albon was stealing an opportunity from people more worthy.

  11. Purely hypothetical, but I feel that George Russell would have done a better job.

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