Red Bull’s new signing Alex Albon says he will be ‘keeping [his] feet on the ground’ ahead of his first race for the team at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.
Albon has just twelve Grand Prix under his belt and while he is excited about the prospect of racing for one of the most competitive teams in F1, he is nonetheless aware that he has a lot still to learn.
“Not many drivers get the chance to drive a car capable of winning a race so early in their F1 career, so it’s a great opportunity to be driving for Red Bull,” Albon said. “It’s a big step, a big difference, and the factory’s a lot closer to my house which is handy!
“We know what the car is capable of and we’ve seen what Max has been able to do this year. I want to see what it’s like compared to what I’m used to, but at the same time, I know this weekend is my first time in the car, I’m still learning and improving as a driver and there’s definitely more to come.
“I know one of the main differences will be the noise and attention that comes with the move but I’m keeping my feet on the ground. I’m just focused on the job I have to do for Spa, I’ll be doing a lot of listening and observing.”
The news of Albon’s promotion came after Pierre Gasly, who himself had moved from Toro Rosso to Red Bull at the beginning of 2019, struggled to match the performance of Max Verstappen. Despite assurances from both Christian Horner and Helmut Marko that his seat was safe for the time being, Gasly nonetheless finds himself back at the junior team for the second half of the season.
Albon made his first official trip to the Red Bull factory as one of their drivers on 26th August, two weeks after the announcement was made, for a seat and suit fitting.
“We’ve got as much simulator prep done as we can,” Albon said, “so now it’s about going through procedural things with the team and getting to know everyone. It should be good!
“This is a big step, but I feel I’ve been through these big jumps before and taken the opportunities – I’m not worried about that. I’m focused and ready to be as strong as possible for the second half of the year.”
[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]
On Monday morning, Red Bull announced that it would be swapping Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon for the remaining races of the 2019 season.
The move was met with no small amount of surprise—not least because Christian Horner and Helmut Marko had both stated categorically that Gasly’s seat was safe for the rest of the year—as well as a great amount of debate over whether or not the decision was the right one to take.
For Red Bull themselves, at least, the switch is a definite win-win solution.
After the Hungarian Grand Prix, Horner lay the blame quite squarely on Gasly for Red Bull being 44 points behind Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship, despite being the only team other than Mercedes to win races this year. It was the first time Horner had publicly criticised Gasly’s performances, saying that the Frenchman “shouldn’t be racing Saubers and McLarens” in a car capable of victories and podiums.
Having seen little improvement from Gasly over the opening 12 races, it was clear that Red Bull needed something to change in order to outscore Ferrari by the end of the year. And with a buffer of 162 points back to fourth-placed McLaren, the team had nothing to lose in switching drivers. At the very worst Albon would be no improvement over Gasly, but Red Bull would still comfortably finish the season in the top three.
Looking beyond 2019, there is another clear benefit to trialling how Albon works within the senior Red Bull team—and in particular, how he works alongside Max Verstappen.
On paper, Albon is the ideal driver for Red Bull’s current situation. For starters, he’s undeniably quick. He ran Charles Leclerc hard for the 2016 GP3 title, was a consistent frontrunner in Formula 2, and last year was offered a seat with Nissan’s works Formula E squad.
But perhaps most importantly, Albon’s reputation is for a calm, mild-mannered team player—a driver unlikely to level public criticism at Honda should performance falter, or threaten Verstappen’s position as Red Bull’s top dog.
And with Verstappen’s contract expiring at the end of next year, creating the right environment with a teammate like Albon might be crucial in convincing the Dutchman to stay at Red Bull long-term.
As for Albon, however, moving to Red Bull now could go either way.
On the one hand, this is a remarkable stroke of good fortune. Just nine months ago Albon’s F1 chances looked to have all dried up and he was preparing for a career shift to Formula E—now, he’s driving a car that has every chance of making him Thailand’s first-ever Grand Prix winner.
But there’s absolutely no guarantee that Albon will succeed where Gasly hasn’t. Of Red Bull’s last three promotions from Toro Rosso, only Verstappen has so far managed to hang on to his seat. That will only increase the pressure on Albon to prove he can buck the trend, with only nine races in which to do so.
And if Albon fares no better than Gasly and Red Bull decide to drop him at the end of the year as well, then his meteoric F1 career could be over before it’s even truly begun.
On that note, it’s hard to find any benefit to this decision for Gasly himself. Although Red Bull will no doubt argue they want to give him the opportunity to recover his form away from the limelight at Toro Rosso, that will seem like a hollow sentiment given they said the same thing about Daniil Kvyat in 2016.
But even if Gasly does regroup and flourish away from the glare at the senior team, it will take something special to shake off the black mark of being dumped by a top team midway through a season.
Given Gasly’s racing record to date—GP2 and Formula Renault 2.0 champion, Super Formula title contender and near podium-finisher on his debut Formula E weekend—it would be a true shame if this instead becomes the defining moment in the 23-year-old’s career.
Alex Albon has said he’s expecting this weekend’s German Grand Prix to be “another tough event” for Toro Rosso, as they try to get on top of the latest developments to its car.
The team enjoyed a competitive outing at the last race at Silverstone, with Alex Albon qualifying in the top ten and Daniil Kvyat rising from P17 on the grid to score points in P9.
But that was Toro Rosso’s first points finish since Canada as the team have struggled for pace in the intervening rounds, and in Austria they saw their lowest finish of the year with Albon in P15 and Kvyat P17.
Speaking about the team’s prospects in Hockenheim this year, Albon said: “In Silverstone, we were definitely more competitive than at the previous two races…and the car generally felt good. We have made progress and we know which parameters we need to work on.
“However, that doesn’t mean I expect an easy weekend in Germany, which will be another tough event for us.”
Albon identified tyre management as a particular issue for Toro Rosso in Germany, due to Hockenheim’s rough track surface: “Even in qualifying, you have to make sure you look after them on a single lap, or the tyres can be shot by the last couple of corners. It’s something we will be keeping an eye on.”
Kvyat was similarly wary about expecting a strong race in Germany after returning to the points in Britain: “It’s a bit too early to tell if our performance in Silverstone was the start of an upward trend, as…conditions at Silverstone were quite different to those in France and Austria.
“Germany will be an interesting challenge for us. I’m not expecting it to be easy, but we will try our best as always to be in a position to score points.”
Toro Rosso scored a point at last year’s German Grand Prix, courtesy of Brendon Hartley finishing in P10.
Over the course of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, the world of Formula 1 came together to celebrate the extraordinary life of Niki Lauda, triple world champion who sadly passed away in Vienna on the 20th of May at the age of 70.
The drivers all paid their respects, and the teams placed their own tributes on their cars, with Mercedes’ tributes have been most poignant. Lauda had been the non-executive chairman of the team and was regularly seen in the team garage alongside Toto Wolff; he had been an enormously important figure in bringing Lewis Hamilton to the team.
Lauda was always seen in the paddock wearing a red cap and so, in tribute, Hamilton and Bottas‘ cars had a red star painted on the bodywork – a reportedly permanent change – and the normally silver halo was painted red in the triple world champion’s honour.
Prior to the start of the Grand Prix, a minute’s silence was held to remember the Austrian, who fought against all odds following a horrific crash at the Nürburgring in 1976. At the time, his chance of recovery was slim and a priest administered the last rites and yet, miraculously, he survived. As the F1 world took a moment to remember a legend, few words were needed, other than ‘Danke Niki.’
Qualifying once again saw Mercedes at the front of the pack, with Lewis Hamilton taking pole position with a staggering 1:10.166. Teammate Valtteri Bottas, who posted a time just eight hundredths of a second slower, lined up alongside the Brit. Max Verstappen had looked quick in free practice and secured third position, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel securing 4th. Unfortunately for Charles Leclerc, his home race weekend didn’t get off to the best of starts and he qualified 16th after a major strategic error from his Ferrari team. The midfield once again remained incredibly close, bringing hopes of wheel-to-wheel action and entertainment in a race which is notorious for being fairly uneventful.
As the race got underway, Hamilton got a perfect start, with teammate Bottas also starting well. Around Sainte Devote, Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi had to cut the corner, however the stewards deemed an investigation was unnecessary. Leclerc fought his way past the cars ahead, making a memorable move around Lando Norris at the hairpin. Despite an impressive start and progression up the pecking order, a tussle with Nico Hülkenberg caused a puncture in the Ferrari driver’s right rear tyre and damage to the floor of his car.
With debris from Leclerc’s tyre littered across the circuit, the safety car was brought out and many drivers dived into the pits. In a rare mistake from the Red Bull pit crew, Max Verstappen was let out of his pitbox too soon and found himself pushing Bottas near to the wall. As a result, Bottas lost second place and was forced to pit again, changing onto the hard compound tyres. The stewards investigated and gave Verstappen a five-second penalty for the unsafe release, which was to be added to his time post-race. He was also given 2 points on his license.
Leclerc was stuck at the back of the train of cars due to his collision with Hülkenberg, and on lap 16, both himself and George Russell found the road ahead blocked by Antonio Giovinazzi and Robert Kubica, the latter having been hit by the Alfa Romeo when the Italian took the inside line at Rascasse. Luckily, all four drivers managed to get back on track and carry on with their race, even though Giovinazzi was given a ten-second penalty for the incident.
Leclerc made another pitstop and switched to softs, but his car was suffering from a severe lack of downforce. Unfortunately, he was forced to return to the Ferrari garage and retire from his home race.
Stroll was investigated by the stewards for a clash with Kimi Räikkönen – the Finn taking part in his 300th Grand Prix – and was given a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage.
By lap 48, the leaders were caught in a train of backmarkers, with Bottas being compromised by Lance Stroll and losing a chunk of time.
Lewis Hamilton was doing his utmost best to care for his tyres, however their deteriorating condition and Mercedes’ strategy left the Brit anxious. In the closing stages of the race, Verstappen remained on Hamilton’s tail, posting similar lap times which kept him on average just half-a-second behind the leader. Sebastian Vettel had been running in 3rd place for most of the race and it was a quiet and uneventful afternoon for the four-time World Champion.
After a brilliant effort to pass the race leader with two laps to go, Verstappen and Hamilton made contact at the Nouvelle Chicane, but luckily both escaped the incident unscathed. The stewards reviewed the incident, but confirmed no further action was needed.
Hamilton took his fourth victory of the season, dedicating the win to Niki Lauda, with Verstappen finishing second. However, because of his penalty, he was classified fourth behind Vettel and Bottas.
Pierre Gasly secured a bonus point for posting the fastest lap time, the second time he has done so this year. Carlos Sainz had a strong race for McLaren, finishing in 6th, while both Toro Rossos impressed in 7th and 8th. Daniel Ricciardo took the final point for Renault, with Lando Norris just missing out in eleventh.
There are now 17 points between Hamilton and Bottas in the Drivers’ Championship. Mercedes appear to be running away at the top of the Constructors’ standings
The seventh round of the 2019 Formula 1 season will take place on the 9th of June at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for the Canadian Grand Prix.
Toro Rosso rookie Alex Albon said he was ‘very happy’ to pick up his first ever points in Formula 1, thanks to a ninth-place finish in what was a very dramatic Bahrain Grand Prix.
He admitted that a certain amount of luck played into the result, having been promoted a couple of positions thanks to the retirements of both Renaults ahead of him.
“That was a busy race – I felt like I was always fighting with someone at some point, there was always something to do!” Albon said. “I didn’t have the best start as I was a bit shy into the first corner, but after that, I put my head down and got on with it.
“We had a good strategy and decent pace on the prime tyre. In the end, we got a bit lucky with the retirements, but I’ll take it!”
He also spoke of the difficult nature of the race, highlighting a mix of the weather conditions and the roughness of the circuit on the Pirelli tyres.
“It was so tricky with the wind out there and it made the car unpredictably, but we were quite strong in the race, it’s just a shame about the start. It was a challenge to overtake because when you get close to another car the tyres overheat and you get a bit stuck.
“However, I enjoyed myself out there and it was good to get that experience. I’m very happy to pick up my first points in Formula 1 and I hope we can carry this pace into China.”
[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]