Alex Albon has revealed on the latest edition of F1’s podcast ‘Beyond the Grid’ how it felt to lose his seat in the pinnacle of motorsport at the end of 2020. After a year effectively on the sidelines, the British-Thai F1 driver has emerged from the shadows as a member of Williams. Albon was one of the lucky ones to find his way back to the starting grid and now in discussion with Tom Clarkson has given an insight into how devastated he was to lose his place on the F1 starting grid.
After just three race weekends, Alex Albon had already scored a point for Williams in 2022, following his superb nursing of the tyres in Melbourne. However, Alex Albon was always known to be a talented driver which is why Red Bull Racing plucked him from their sister team, then-called Toro Rosso, midway through the 2019 season to partner Max Verstappen and replace Pierre Gasly in the process. Unfortunately, Albon encountered similar struggles in his first full season with the team (as the departing Frenchman had) and concluded 2020 with a mere 105 points compared to Verstappen’s more than double 214 haul of points.
To the surprise of no one, Red Bull Racing replaced Alex Albon with Sergio Perez at the end of 2020. It wasn’t a full exit from the sport for Albon as he was retained by Red Bull Racing as a reserve and test driver. Notably, this involved the racer reenacting the infamous Verstappen/Hamilton Silverstone crash in the days after it happened. Such a role though was not close to being on the starting grid and when host Tom Clarkson asked Alex Albon on ‘Beyond the Grid’ how losing his felt, he replied "It killed me. It killed me, it was terrible.”
As much as the news was hard to take, it was one which had been widely predicted in the media and seen as inevitable based on the ruthless history of the Red Bull Racing Young Driver Program. Albon’s response on the issue was pragmatic but no less panful.
"It was one of those things – it got announced that I wasn't going to be a racing driver pretty late, I think it was December. They still believed in me and still trusted me, Christian [Horner] and Helmut [Marko], everyone at Red Bull, and I still have a great relationship with them. But 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, how can I get back into it?'"
At this stage, it seems that Alex Albon made a conscious decision to soak up as much information as he could in his time away so as to ensure that when any opportunity came, he would be ready to answer it.
"What was also important was just listening to Max [Verstappen] and Checo [Sergio Perez]; I'd always listen to their engineers… and I would take bits from it. As people, their personalities – how did they interact with the team and how did they learn? It was quite interesting to have that step back away from the spotlight and from the paddock in that way, and look at things in a different perspective."
Having a plan is one thing, being able to execute it is a whole different matter. This was then made even more of a challenge to see that Max Verstappen claimed the F1 Drivers’ Title with the team that used to be his own. Seeing Red Bull Racing in the running was incredible to see but a tough watch for Albon nonetheless. However, the racer could see the part he played in the team’s success.
"The car was quick out the blocks… Max 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, 'That's great, I feel like I contributed to that. People like Adrian [Newey] gave me a lot of credit for it. I don't want to say I helped a massive amount, but I felt like I chipped in. The first few races... it was terrible, I was a reserve driver, so I had to go to every race, but just being there, I couldn’t watch, I was just sitting down and trying to stay away from it as much as possible.”
At present, Alex Albon’s Williams’ teammate Nicholas Latifi seems to be struggling this season having already found the wall on numerous occasions. Alex Albon, on the other hand, has already found his groove. With his seat surely secure at Williams, Albon can focus on his on-track performances rather than being concerned with anything happening off it.
Alex Albon revealed on ‘Beyond the Grid’ that being in the Red Bull Racing garage on the sidelines was a challenge “But you kind of get used to it”. However, what Alex Albon will now have to get used to is being a meme since being labelled by his own team as the ‘tyre whisperer’. This accolade bestowed on him after his historical stint of 56 laps on the same set of hard compound tyres in Melbourne at this year’s Australian Grand Prix.
Losing his seat in Formula One figuratively killed Alex Albon at the time – as it has to so many drivers through the years. That was the past though, now he is alive and kicking and in the driving seat with his sights set on those in front of him. If his Williams’ success continues, it may well be the other drivers on the grid having to stop Alex Albon from taking their seat.