Alexander Albon’s demotion from Red Bull at the end of last season isn’t the first setback his career has suffered. Speaking ahead of the launch of the team’s new car today he made his goal clear: “I want that seat back.”
Reflecting on a difficult 2020 campaign, which he ended with less than half the points of Max Verstappen despite completing more racing laps than his team mate, Albon admits he found last year’s RB16 a “difficult” car.
However he believes there was a discernible improvement in his performance, even if it wasn’t enough to prevent Red Bull replacing him with Sergio Perez for the 2021 F1 season.
“Truthfully things were going better,” said Albon. “But obviously it was still a little bit too late. I think my best race of the year was in Abu Dhabi.”
He ended the season with fourth place behind his race-winning team mate and the two Mercedes drivers. He only finished higher twice, aided by retirements in Mugello and Bahrain, where he claimed a pair of third-place finishes.
These were the first podium appearances for a driver who, it is often forgotten, had not driven a Formula 1 car until a brief run for Toro Rosso shortly before pre-season testing for his debut 2019 campaign. Just 12 races into that, he was promoted to Red Bull.
“I think I was slightly down on experience,” said Albon of his 2020 campaign. “It felt like during the year, working with my engineer, we were just getting an understanding of what needed to be done to get the performance out of it. And that was just an ongoing process.
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“It felt like things were definitely clicking more and more towards the end of the year. Maybe some results weren’t great, but the general path was improvement.”
While Red Bull has been quick to drop struggling drivers in the past – as Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly will readily attest – Albon was allowed to see out the season. However he does not expect to have much chance to make up for his deficit in Formula 1 experience during 2021.
He will be on simulator and reserve driver duty at Red Bull, showing up at all 23 rounds in case they or AlphaTauri require a substitute. As Nico Hulkenberg showed last year, such opportunities are more readily found in the Covid-19 era, though two drivers in the Red Bull roster – Perez and Gasly – have already had the virus.
“I won’t be in the car as much this year,” Albon acknowledged. “But what I can do is learn, firstly.
“I will be at the track every race so I can at least understand from an engineering side of it, how the team operate on a more in-depth scale.”
However Albon is confident that he can show what he is capable in a more compliant car, one that he feels “on top of”. He says Red Bull are trying to engineer that trait in the RB16B, which will be revealed later today.
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“It wasn’t an easy car, last year,” said Albon. “And part of me knows for a fact if I could be able to be more comfortable with it, the performance would have been much stronger.
“That’s kind of what I’m doing right now for this RB16B, it is about making the car better. That’s been a lot of the stuff that I’ve been doing over the winter right now.”
Albon’s arrival in Formula 1 with Red Bull’s then-junior team Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) came as something of a surprise, and not just because he had to be prised out of a Nissan Formula E deal for it to happen. Red Bull had assessed his abilities much earlier, in 2012, and dropped him from their Junior Team. Having recovered from that setback, Albon believes he can do it again.
“I’ve been through this kind of situation many times in my racing career,” said Albon. “So it hasn’t been all that bleak, let’s say. There hasn’t been any violins in the background. It’s more just about getting back into it. Now, I’m confident in myself. I know I can bounce back and that’s my target.”
“I have been dropped before,” he added, “so it’s not been the first time. What I learnt was, in the end of the day, how much do you want it? I want it more than, I would say, anyone on the grid. And with that comes a lot of determination. I won’t stop at any point.
“So for me, it’s just about putting my head down. I got through it before, I’ve been able to get to where I am because of all the hard work I have done. And as I said, I want that seat back.”
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