Alex Albon has admitted that his axing from Red Bull at the end of the 2020 season „killed“ him, but acknowledges that he has used that experience to fuel his recent comeback to Formula 1.
The British-Thai driver started his career in the sport at the then-called Toro Rosso outfit in 2019, before being promoted to the main squad midway through the season following Pierre Gasly’s struggles to match the pace of Max Verstappen.
Albon remained with the outfit into 2020, but similarly was unable to equal the achievements of Verstappen, with the Dutchman ending the campaign on 214 points compared to Albon’s 105.
At the end of the year, Red Bull opted to replace Albon with Sergio Perez, though he was retained as a reserve and test driver.
Albon admits being on the sidelines was „terrible“
Reflecting on the experience of watching Verstappen and Perez race for the team as he sat on the sidelines in 2021, Albon says that it proved very challenging for him to adjust to.
„It killed me,“ Albon told the Beyond The Grid podcast.
„It killed me. It was terrible. It was one of [those] things. [It] got announced that I was no longer going to be a race driver pretty late, I think it was maybe December. That was late for me too, obviously.
„But they still believed in me, and they still trusted in me, Christian [Horner], Helmut [Marko], everyone at Red Bull, and I still have a very good relationship with all of them, the people that I worked with.“
Despite the disappointment of losing his race seat, Albon’s thoughts quickly turned to how he could make his way back to the grid.
He explained: „On my side, it was more or less like, ‘I want to be in F1. I feel like I’m the hungriest driver I know, because I want to be in that sport more than anyone. How can I get back into it?’
„And very quickly, it was just, ‘Okay, I need to do the best job I can, right now, straightaway, and show my value.’ Almost in the sense that I was just talking about; I’m not driving the car, but I need to show my value in everything outside of the driving side.
„The sim[ulator] is driving, so there’s still that. But yeah, that was really it, and I went straight to work.“
How Albon contributed to Red Bull’s 2021 car
Getting straight to work meant that Albon immediately began to help the team with developing their 2021 F1 car.
The results of this became evident during pre-season testing, and Albon admits that there were mixed emotions involved for him when seeing the other drivers benefit.
„The car was quick out the blocks,“ he said.
„I was listening to Max and Checo [on the radio], I was there at the time. Obviously Checo was new, but Max drove the car last year, and he was talking about how much better the rear felt, how much more stable it was.
„It does hurt a little bit, because at the same point, you’re like, ‘Okay, that’s great. I feel like I’ve contributed to that.’
„To be fair, people like Adrian [Newey] and Christian, they gave me a lot of credit for it. I don’t want to say I helped in a massive amount, but of course, I felt like I chipped in to the whole thing.“
Albon says that his first few races of watching on were „terrible“, adding: „I was a reserve driver, so I had to go to every race.
„But just being there, I couldn’t watch or anything. I was pretty much just sitting down and trying to stay away from it as much as I could. But you kind of get used to it.“
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Planning the next steps away from Red Bull
He may not have been behind the wheel on Grand Prix weekends, but Albon’s desire to return to Formula 1 as a race driver didn’t diminish.
„The hunger never went, and the hunger just got more and more,“ he admitted.
„The more that I sat watching everyone driving, the more I wanted to be back in it. But, of course, there comes a time when you just don’t know what’s going on.“
As Perez found his feet, and Yuki Tsunoda – who Albon had become a driver coach of kinds to – looked set to stay with AlphaTauri in 2022, Albon became aware that he was unlikely to find an opportunity within the Red Bull family for the next year.
This led him to consider his other options; whilst F1 was his main goal, he also looked at alternative paths such as IndyCar and Formula E.
„I couldn’t be silly and put all my eggs in Plan A and then not have a back-up plan, so I was still scouting,“ Albon said.
However, his future started to fall into place when he first spoke with Williams CEO Jost Capito in the summer.
Albon’s approach to Williams
Albon says that it was him who approached Capito rather than the other way around.
Whilst his fellow F1 driver and friend George Russell had famously used a PowerPoint presentation to explain to Toto Wolff why he deserved to be a part of the Mercedes Junior Team, Albon opted for a different kind of document to showcase his skills.
„I gave him like a CV,“ he recalled.
„Not a PowerPoint, [I] didn’t follow George’s one! Paper’s fine. But I basically said, ‘Listen, this is what I can do.’ I put some statistics that go in my favour, of course, as you should.“
Capito seemed to respond well to this, with Albon explaining: „He was great. From the very beginning, he was very interested.“
The process then moved reasonably quickly.
„We just started that conversation, and we spoke more and more,“ Albon said.
„There was a point where George was definitely confirmed [to move to Mercedes], even if it wasn’t announced, it was clearly on the way through, and it went pretty seamlessly from that point on.
„In a two-week span, the conversations just ramped up very quickly, and then by the end of the two weeks, it was all pretty much done.“
The feeling of making an F1 return happen
Despite the fact that he would be moving away from the Red Bull main team, Albon still required the support of his bosses there.
„I still relied on Christian and Helmut to help me out in crossing the line, because I was still [under] contract with them,“ he explained.
„And it was this whole [sense of], ‘Okay, there’s a lot of things that need to be moved around, a lot of paperwork that needs to be done.’
„They were very happy for me, and everything just all clicked together, and it all gelled up and the puzzles all connected, and there we were.“
Following an initial sense of relief at getting the deal done, Albon admits that his mind rapidly turned to the preparations for his Formula 1 comeback.
„It was one of those things where I was just like… So much effort’s gone into it, and there was that kind of calmness, that [feeling of], ‘Okay, we’re in it,'“ the driver stated.
„But then, within an hour, your mind is going, ‘How do I need to prepare? Okay, I need to start speaking to the team, need to understand, speak to George, speak to Nicky [Nicholas Latifi] and understand it from that side, and start going into meetings and understanding the car and the people within the team.’
„And then that’s it. Your mind’s gone, and you’re back into it.“