Alexander Albon says his Williams team tried to prevent him from realising how long his final stint would be on his way to their best result of the season so far yesterday.
“To be honest I do think we had similar pace to the McLarens the whole weekend,” said Albon. “I think realistically, where we were, we had to do something different to them, as they were in front, to get the points.
“We’ve had very good pace this weekend, it’s just to still get points is difficult. You’ve got the eight cars – the Astons, the Red Bulls, the Ferraris, the Mercedes – and the final two positions normally it feels like it’s the Alpines now.”
While many drivers in the midfield made two pit stops, Albon only changed his tyres once during an early Safety Car period, then ran a set of the hard rubber for 58 laps to reach the end of the race as a queue of rivals built up behind him.
The team has used similar single-stop tactics to good effect several times before with Albon. However on this occasion they deliberately told him he had fewer laps to complete than was the case. Albon revealed he discovered the true lap count when he saw it on one of the video screens around the track.
“We had to stick to the one-stop,” he said. “When the guys told me I had – I don’t know what it was, 35 or 40 laps, they even told me ’20’ just to make me feel better – I looked at the TV screen and I was like, oh my god, I hope that’s not real.”
The strategy of making an early pit stop and running to the end plays to the strong straight-line speed of Williams’ recent cars. However Albon said keeping Esteban Ocon and a train of rivals behind while on badly worn tyres was challenging.
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“I’ve done these races a lot now and I can tell you they’re not that fun. We’re good at defending, we have a straight-line car. In these situations it’s all about you’re obviously in a big tyre deficit but at the same time saving the tyres to make the key corners count.
“[I was] making sure I positioned the car in Esteban’s dirty air to try to make him hurt his tyres, hurt his traction. So you’re driving a race that’s very much in your rear-view mirrors, even though obviously you’re trying not to make mistakes.
“The other thing is obviously when the tread comes down, the tyres start to cool down quite a lot and you have to start pushing. And by the end of the race the carcass is almost, like, you see white parts where you’re right down to the canvas. And you’ve got to push flat-out.
“It feels like qualifying for the last 20 laps. At the same time, you can’t afford to make a mistake. There’s this real balance going on. But that’s what we’re paid for.”
Albon, who scored Williams’ only other point this year in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, believes their gains have been overshadowed by the progress of some rivals.
“We go under the radar,” he said. “A lot of our good races get completely unseen by everyone because honestly, it’s a boring race for most people. It’s just how it is.
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“We’ve got our TV time, I think, today. When I saw the screens, I was always there. It’s great and if anything it just shows the progress we’re making.
“I know I’ve said it before, but everyone talks about the Aston, how much they made a step forwards. You could even argue, [if you] look at Barcelona, you see it as a disappointing weekend but we were still far more competitive than we were last year.
“So I’m really positive for the team. I think we’re on our way, we’re on our journey. I feel like we’ve still got a couple of years ahead of us. But it’s great to be able to do these kind of results.”
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