Roar From The Paddock Returns With A Latest Edition From Overtake Motorsport’s Feature Writer Specialist, Aaron Gillard. This Edition Discusses How Toro Rosso Rookie Alexander Albon Shun At The Chinese Grand Prix And Why He’s Always Been The Real Deal.
The 2019 Chinese Grand Prix will be remembered as Formula 1’s milestone for staging the 1000th Grand Prix in the sport’s prestigious history.
The winner of such a milestone rightly went to one of the best drivers in the sport as Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport led a dominant one-two with Lewis Hamilton taking the win ahead of team mate Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton, who claimed his 75th win in F1, was untouchable throughout the race ahead of Bottas and third-place driver Sebastian Vettel, who was in the centre of another episode of Ferrari’s latest drama surrounding team orders and the pending friction with team mate Charles Leclerc.
Aside from the Ferrari drivers’ brawling to their team about who was the faster driver and the collision between the McLaren’s and Daniil Kvyat, the 1000th race didn’t have much to offer. It’s a shame in a way as China often produces some of the best racing in F1.
But inside the mediocre race, there was one driver who was having the drive like no other. A drive that rightly earned him the Driver of the Day award at the end of the race for his comeback after his weekend went in tatters the day before.
Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon displayed what could be his best drive of his career, having started from the pit lane and turned that disappointing starting position into a points finish.
— Toro Rosso (@ToroRosso) April 15, 2019
It’s rare for a driver in a car that is low in the pecking order compare to some of the teams to deliver this type of performance, but Albon’s drive on a one-stop strategy paid off and captured a points finish with tenth place.
To make the achievement more amazing, he did it in only his third race in F1 and after crashing heavily the day before.
Albon’s weekend started promising when the pace of the Toro Rosso looked to show some potential for a possible points finish. The Thai-Anglo driver rounded off Friday 14th and 12th overall, but displayed consistent lap times throughout.
But on Saturday during final practice, Albon’s weekend looked to be over when he crashed heavily at the final turn, destroying his car as a result.
He lost control of his car at the exit of the turn after going wide and onto the run-off area, resulting in a trip into the barrier.
With the damage terminal, it was unlikely that Albon would make it out for qualifying. The mechanics worked out hours throughout the session and into the night to prepare the car for the race. It would mean a pit lane start however.
But what soon followed was a strong drive from the Toro Rosso driver, utilising a one-stop strategy to good effect and jumping ahead of the pack into a points paying position.
He even was able to hold off Romain Grosjean in the Haas, who was on fresher tyres at the time for tenth place at the end of the race, claiming the sole point rewarded.
It was his second points scored following another strong drive at the previous round in Bahrain, where he ended in ninth place.
A lot of people have been reacted positively towards Albon’s latest efforts in F1, even surprising those who thought the twenty-three year old driver would be lost in the world of F1.
He was a late edition of the F1 2019 grid, with his seat only confirmed a day after the final race of 2018 in Abu Dhabi.
His announcement was somewhat of an emergency signing by Toro Rosso, as they had no junior drivers ready to make the step up to F1. Dan Ticktum, the next British driver who is seen as the next driver to join F1 through their junior programme didn’t possess the correct amount of Superlicence points for a drive.
But Albon nearly didn’t race in F1 completely if it wasn’t for two factors: His 2018 FIA Formula 2 season and his connection with DAMS.
Last year, Albon was racing in his second season of F2 with the French team DAMS. But before he even turned a wheel, his status in the series was in question after not having enough money to secure a full-time seat.
He had to ‘beg’ to DAMS’ team principal Francois Sicard for a test drive, in which he accepted and would lead to Albon signing a race-by-race contract.
There wasn’t a lot of expectation with Albon heading into the 2018 season. He was seen as a driver making up the numbers and wasn’t sure whether he’ll be there full-time.
But after two rounds, Albon picked up a pole position and a feature race win around the streets of Baku, in which he displayed superb driving throughout by holding against the likes Lando Norris, Nyck de Vries and George Russell.
His reward? An upgrade on his contract, a full-time seat for the whole F2 season. It proved to be the right call. Four wins in 2018 were down to his raw speed, overtaking abilities, tyre management and confidence put him in a strong position in the championship race.
Albon has always been a driver who is solely focused on the job ahead. He’s quiet character but is well liked and respected in the paddock. He always has a smile on his face.
George Russell raced with Albon in their karting days and have a strong friendship together ever since. Lando Norris even admitted that he has a poster of Albon during their youth years in Motorsport. A lot of people and journalists rated Albon in the junior categories.
Heading into the final round in Abu Dhabi, Albon was the only one who can stop Russell from claiming the F2 crown. Despite it being a big gap from first to second, Albon was hoping to take any chance given to reduce that gap.
He couldn’t reduce it as Russell won the feature race, becoming champion in the process. He ended the year in third as Norris overtook the DAMS driver in the final race of the season. But his season was one of surprises and surpassing expectations, having started the year with no permanent seat.
What was strange was that Albon had no links to any F1 teams, compare to the likes of Russell, Norris, Nyck de Vries and Artem Markelov, who had connections within F1 with the likes of Mercedes, McLaren and Renault. Albon was a driver from the outside looking in.
But years ago, he had two programs that ended badly. First with Red Bull, who picked him up and raced in the junior program. But at the end of 2013, Albon was dismissed. A year later, he joined Lotus’ junior program, but his time there was short lived and was out of the door.
Despite the drops, Albon still progressed up the Motorsport ladder. In 2016, he ended up with ART in the GP3 Series. That year alone, proved to be the moment when the world started to see what Albon can do and was up against a driver who as well as Albon, is destined for a bright future: Charles Leclerc.
Coincidentally, the two would be team mates at ART and would squabble for the GP3 title. But Albon lost out after a double DNF in Abu Dhabi, handing the title to Leclerc who at the time had a health points lead to the Thai driver.
His 2016 GP3 campaign was statistically his strongest season in racing, capturing four wins, three pole positions, seven podiums and three fastest laps towards a second place finish in the championship.
This was the season that Albon showed the world of what he is capable of, going up against the driver many consider to be Ferrari’s next hope for an F1 title.
His efforts earned him a promotion to Formula 2 in 2017 with ART, but he struggled in his rookie season and could only manage tenth overall in the championship with two podium finishes. He was dropped by ART in favour of Jack Aitken and Russell.
But a year later with DAMS, he would charge for the F2 title which ultimately attracted attention, not just from F1, but from the Motorsport world as well.
DAMS were so impressed by Albon’s drive in F2 that he was offered a seat to race in Formula E with e.DAMS, who would partner with Nissan for the 2018/19 season. Albon accepted and looked like he was on course to join Formula E next year.
But then the stories of re-joining Red Bull commenced. Around the Russian Grand Prix, a weekend Albon cemented himself as the sole title contender to Russell, news speculated that Albon was to join back with Red Bull as the replacement to Brendon Hartley.
This rumours were dismissed and later, moved on. It looked like that was the end of it.
But no. The speculation continued long into the late stages of the season.
And at the final race of the 2018 season, the news broke out. DAMS would cancel Albon’s contract to Formula E and allow him to join Toro Rosso.
It was a hard decision to make. Do you join a growing series and race for one of the best teams, or race in the ‘pinnacle of Motorsport’ with a team who previously backed him before and race with a team that at best will score points.
We all know the decision in the end.
Despite the turn around, DAMS said that the door isn’t closed for Albon to return with the French squad if his F1 stint doesn’t go well. A sign that the two parties had good relations throughout 2018 and a mutual understanding from DAMS that the chance for F1 comes rarely.
No doubt if it wasn’t for the French team giving him a chance, Albon’s shot at F1 would be just a dream.
Already three races in, Albon has shown himself to be a top rookie in the Toro Rosso, already outscoring and beating his veteran team mate Daniil Kvyat in the opening three races.
Whilst he may not be the best rookie on the grid as Lando Norris in the McLaren has continued to show his talent, Albon has certainly been a surprise so far. The fears and doubts of him being washed up by the world of F1 has quickly been put aside.
Despite the accidents he’s had in Australia and in China, Albon has been able to shake them off quickly and build the confidence back up to good results. Accidents and mistakes are expected to happen to rookies. Nobody is perfect.
His performances in the Toro Rosso has even created speculation surrounding him making the jump to Red Bull as early as this year, as newly promoted Pierre Gasly is having a tough time settling in his new environment.
Would the move happen? Who knows. Red Bull will only do it if they believe that he has the potential to deliver results and wins.
But it is no doubt that Albon has earned his place in F1, despite many factors not falling to his favour. The drops, the title losses and losing out to some of the best young talent, didn’t falter Albon and now, he finds himself as one of twenty drivers to say “I’m an Formula 1 driver”.