You have to look very hard in the Formula 1 paddock to find a nicer driver than Alexander Albon. In fact, you may not find it even after careful research. It makes the man with 38 race starts to his name endearing in the paddock, although that may also be one of the reasons why he didn’t make it during his first stint at Red Bull Racing. The British Thai was thanked for services rendered at the end of last year and had to make way for Sergio Perez. Albon had to watch from the sidelines for a season, although that has not been a year of sitting still.
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He has been named Red Bull’s test and reserve driver in addition to his DTM activities and has thus proved to be an important linchpin behind the scenes. That work already started last winter with the development of the RB16B. Due to the corona crisis, the 2020 chassis has been used for another year and further development is limited, but that did not mean that there was little to start. “We spent a lot of time in the simulator last winter to make our car more stable than 2020’s and to address the main weaknesses.” Ironically, Albon was able to learn from the things that cost him his own life. Max Verstappen’s former team-mate struggled quite a bit with the RB16’s unstable rear end and that experience made him the best driver to provide feedback and assess progress in the simulator.
Pay for work
“In 2020, the car was still quite tricky, yes, especially because of that fickle rear. Of course, the rules for the adapted floor helped us, but at the same time we really maximized our own package.” For example, Red Bull has used the tokens to adapt the housing of the gearbox and the rear suspension – for which the Mercedes design has been closely examined. Albon’s knowledge, who was able to compare the old situation perfectly with the new one, played a nice role in the testing and development phase that came with it. It is not for nothing that Verstappen and Perez have praised Albon’s work. These are words that have done him good, although the real reward has only come at the Yas Marina Circuit. “This title feels great, also for me”, Albon says in the paddock Motorsport.com Netherlands know. “The men have worked so incredibly hard, not just me, but everyone in the factory. And yes, it just feels great to be rewarded for that. Even if I only contributed 0.1 percent to the end result, it was not in vain and this success gives me great satisfaction.”
With the aforementioned 0.1 percent, Albon is logically too modest. His winter test work has already been worth more than that and the decisive phase of the season is on top of that. With the circuits in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the modified layout in Abu Dhabi, F1 teams have entered uncharted territory. It has made his simulator work even more important to be able to start on Friday with a good base set-up. The latter was worth gold for all teams, but just a little more for Red Bull Racing. Verstappen and Helmut Marko have repeatedly stated that the RB16B was more complex and therefore more difficult to adjust than the Mercedes copy. A flying start was therefore vital. In other words: a weekend in which the appropriate set-up had not been found could have put an end to the title ambitions at this stage of the season.
When asked whether Albon’s activities had more influence on the result as a result, was the answer. “A little, yes. As the title race got more exciting, we’ve refocused our work on this year’s car. In any case, we did more for the races in Jeddah and Abu Dhabi than we would do in the simulator for a normal race weekend. Fortunately, that worked out very well.” However, the way in which it turned out well during the final race is indescribable. Despite all the work behind the scenes, Red Bull was still too slow and help had to come from an unexpected source. “But this season has been dramatic from the very first race. It’s still unbelievable that it all came down to that last lap. It almost feels scripted, although of course that’s not the case.”
Final phase Abu Dhabi as karma
Lewis Hamilton did speak about manipulation via the on-board radio and the course of events still causes bad blood at Mercedes. However, Albon wants to nuance that. “I understand both sides of the story, but I have to say that I’m quite a bit religious. I feel like a lot of decisions or moments have gone against Max this year. Just look at Silverstone, Hungary, Jeddah and even the first round here in Abu Dhabi. So yes, we were incredibly lucky at the last minute, but at the same time I think we deserved that luck. Nothing against Lewis and Mercedes, but in a way we got the karma that Sunday that we deserved as a team. In this way, most things can be crossed out against each other over a season.”
In any case, the denouement ushered in special scenes on the straight of the Yas Marina Circuit, where Honda people had tears in their eyes after the rejected Mercedes protest and Red Bull team members couldn’t believe their luck. The satisfaction is also enormous for the usually calm Albon, who was the very first to shout into Verstappen’s ear via the on-board radio. “Naturally. I’ve done hundreds of thousands of laps in the simulator and really tried in this role to perform as best I could for the team. So yes, I also got nervous in that final phase. I gave a whole year for this and now it feels like it was worth all the effort. I can also say that the team and Max fully deserve this.”