A strong Formula 2 campaign in 2018 earned Alexander Albon a chance to drive for Nissan’s Formula E team. But after the deal was announced Albon was surprisingly absent from pre-season testing amid rumours Formula 1 team Toro Rosso had made a late bid for his services.
He lost his place on the Red Bull programme after a point-less first season in the Formula Renault 2.0 in 2012. However Albon moved to rival F1 team Lotus’s driver scheme, joining Esteban Ocon among others, and consistently improved over the coming years. He eventually finished runner-up to dominant Eurocup champion De Vries in 2014.
That paved the way for a move into European Formula Three where Albon partnered Dorian Boccolacci. He beat his Signature team mate by 160 points and finished in close company with fellow rookies George Russell and Lance Stroll, though some way behind fellow newcomer Charles Leclerc.
Albon and Leclerc got to know each other much better the following year when they teamed up with crack GP3 squad ART. Albon won more races than his team mate but lost the championship in the end due in part to Leclerc’s greater consistency.
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The pair graduated to F2 (previously known as GP2) the following year. Albon remained with ART, joining Nobuharu Matsushita, and began his first season well with points scores in all of his first eight starts. However he was forced to miss the Baku round due to injury.
After his return Albon gradually lost touch with Matsushita in the points standings. He ended the year strongly in Abu Dhabi, though Leclerc denied him a breakthrough win with a forceful pass in the final race.
Albon returned for a second season in 2018 with DAMS, starting from scratch again with a new team and the championship’s overhauled V6 turbo car. Albon emerged as a championship contender against the likes of Russell and Lando Norris, winning four times and taking the title fight against the former down to the final round. He slipped to third behind Norris in the final standings, but ended the year with four wins.
The British-Thai driver comes from a racing family. His father Nigel competed in GT series, won the 2002 Sepang 12 hour endurance race, and also raced in the popular British Touring Car Championship.
Albon only drove an F1 car for the first time when Toro Rosso shook down their new car pre-season at Misano. Despite his limited experience, he was on the pace quickly, and scored points in his second start in Bahrain. He took another point at the next round in China, impressively recovering through the field after a heavy crash in practice forced him to start from last place.
He continued to impress with another points finish in Monaco, but Germany was where he demonstrated real potential. Driving in wet conditions for the first time, Albon got up among the front-runners and was on course for a strong finish. He eventually took the chequered flag in sixth place, having lost several positions to drivers including his team mate, who had been running further behind and gambled on early pit stops for slick tyres.
Albon had impressed those who mattered within Red Bull, however, who were seeking a replacement for Pierre Gasly, whose first season at the team had not begun well. During the summer break, Albon was handed a shock promotion to the top team.
He rewarded the team’s faith first time out with fifth place in Belgium. While new team mate Max Verstappen hit a rough patch, Albon briefly out-scored the team’s other car. His run of seven top-six finishes, peaking with fourth in Japan, out-did Gasly’s best effort in the same car.
He was on course for a podium finish in Brazil when Lewis Hamilton blundered into him, but Albon had already been rewarded with a contract extension to start a full season at Red Bull in 2020.
Albon’s second season in F1 started at the Red Bull Ring with his best ever qualifying result, fourth place, but then put in a messy race in which he made some strong overtaking moves with others that were less successful. Near the end of the race, another clash with Lewis Hamilton sent him spinning into the gravel.
He was able to keep going, until an electrical issue put him out of the race, and a week later he qualified sixth and finished fourth at the same track.
Bad qualifying results at the next three races meant he could finish no higher than fifth, then he was lapped by team mate Verstappen at Barcelona.
At Spa-Francorchamps he could only finish sixth, and Verstappen now had twice as many points. The situation got no better at Monza, where opening lap contact in the race sent him tumbling down the order and finishing 15th.
A week later at Mugello he finally did what Red Bull had been asking of him, qualifying fourth and then being Mercedes’ closest rival in the race to earn his first F1 podium in third place.
Another would come six races later at Bahrain, and before then he would have to endure a grid penalty for a gearbox change in Sochi that meant he could finish no higher than 10th, clashes with three different drivers and then a race-ending radiator leak at the Nurburgring, getting lapped by Verstappen again at Algarve and spinning away fifth place at Imola with less than six laps to go.
F1 raced at Bahrain for two consecutive weeks, and second time around Albon fared worse as he failed to make it to Q3.
The season ended with a fourth place in Abu Dhabi, and Albon lost his race seat for 2021 to Sergio Perez, although he remained as Red Bull’s reserve driver.
Red Bull placed Albon with the AF Corse-run AlphaTauri squad in the DTM for 2021, and he quickly adapted to racing GT3 sports cars. He finished his debut race on the podium, won from pole at the Nurburgring and finished sixth in the standings.
But he wanted to race in F1, and Albon swooped in to take a seat at Williams for 2022 on a multi-year contract as soon as a vacancy was available with George Russell moving to Mercedes.
Albon qualified 14th and finished 13th on his F1 return at Bahrain, retiring in Jeddah following a clash, then got removed from the results of qualifying in Melbourne due to being unable to provide an adequate fuel sample.
His comeback drive from the back of the grid was remarkable, starting on Pirelli’s hard compound tyres and making them last until he took his compulsory pit stop on the penultimate lap of the grand prix. The reward for his efforts was tenth place and a singular point.
He started from the back again the next race, due to his brakes setting on fire in qualifying at Imola. He could only recover to 18th place in the sprint race, but he was a few seconds shy of scoring a point again in the grand prix.
The trend continued into Miami, with Albon only outpacing team mate Nicholas Latifi in qualifying yet able to score points by finishing the race in the top ten.
Williams had the least-competitive package on the grid, but Albon was able to progress past Q1 eight times, including reaching Q3 at Spa where he returned to the points.
The worst moment of his season occurred during the Italian Grand Prix weekend as he was struck down with appendicitis following the second practice session. He had to withdraw from the event as he was taken to hospital to have surgery, and he then suffered respiratory failure there due to “post-operative anaesthetic complications”. He recovered in time to contest the next race in Singapore and complete the season, but admitted he was not at “100% physically” over the final rounds of the year.
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Alexander Albon pictures
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