Alexander Albon is already working on the 2022 car on the simulator, as he admits to having some frustration seeing how the 2021 F1 car is performing.
Albon’s life has changed radically in the last 12 months. Last year, he was one of only 20 drivers in the world who had the honour of lining up on a F1 grid, not only that but he was with the second best team. This year, most of his professional driving time is spent in a dark, windowless room, piloting a state-of-the-art simulator for hours at a time, with very few breaks.
Albon is now Red Bull’s test and reserve driver, having lost his race seat alongside Max Verstappen to Sergio Perez for this season – a life he is adjusting to and getting a different perspective. “I’m getting a different outlook on things,” he said to F1.com.
“I’m seeing what goes on at the factory behind the scenes, the development work and seeing the things we work on in the simulator go to the track. It’s very rewarding. Of course, it’s not what I want to be doing long term, but it’s interesting to see. I’m learning from Max and Checo about the car,” summed up Albon.
A perspective change is always good and maybe this experience will help him long term, but I’m sure given the choice this isn’t what he’d choose. It’s the price you pay for not performing, especially at one of the hottest and most competitive seats on the grid. But Albon is doing his best to re-frame everything into a positive light.
The simulator is a crucial way for teams to gather data which is why the role Albon is playing this year is so important despite him not being in the limelight. He terms it as ‘intense’, but crucially, he reveals that his work is divided between 2021 and 2022.
“A lot of the work I’m doing now is on next year’s car,” said Albon. “I’m about 50% on that and 50% on 2021 car on Fridays of a Grand Prix weekend.” So in a way it’s useful for him personally, so should he get a seat for 2022 he’s already got some sort of a feel for the drastically new cars, all be it behind a simulator.
Apart from the simulator work, for which he has gotten praise from Verstappen, Perez, Christian Horner and Helmut Marko, he is also testing the 18-inch tyres for Red Bull, which adds more to his 2022 learning. “Obviously it’s nice to hear the comments from both of them, from everyone,” said Albon. “It’s a different role. For me, it’s clear, I just want to do the best I can. Whatever I can do for the team, I want to show my worth, show what I can give to them.”
He knows the value he can provide and its proving vast for the team, it should put him in good stead for a 2022 seat. One thing that is evident to obviously Albon but everyone else, is the steps forward Red Bull and their car have made since 2020. They’ve stepped out from underneath Mercedes’ shadow and are taking the fight to the Brackley outfit.
“Already in winter testing, it was clear – when the guys went out – and there was a lot of rear grip in the car, which is something that we were struggling with last year,” said Albon. “It was like ‘Ugh! OK! Fine!’ The team have definitely made a big step on it from one year to the next.”
It is a irritating thing for Albon, whose 18 months at Red Bull tenure had several ups and downs, especially in 2021. A lot of trouble was down to not having a stable car, could have perhaps been avoided which they were by teammate Verstappen. It’s unfortunate timing for sure because 2021 is the car that he may have had to best chance to succeed had he kept his seat.
“It was tricky last year, it wasn’t easy to drive,” said Albon, who is right in fairness as Red Bull made no secret of the fact that their car was hugely rear limited in 2020 which for such an inexperienced driver like the Thai is tough. “When the car is on the limit, it’s never going to be easy.
“There is that side of frustration at missing out on driving a championship-contending car. I feel like, the car, the team, we’re on the up. Look at us now, we’re right up at the very front,” said Albon. It’s a philosophical view to the situation and the best one he can take. It’s a case of opposing thoughts for the Thai of being happy his team are title contenders but at the same time not being able to drive the best car they have produced since 2013.
No one can fault his attitude though, it’s been somewhat remarkable that in such a tough situation he’s been able to stay level headed and positive. Albon’s role at Red Bull is evidently hugely important and his work is paying off and the team value him a lot.
The story was written by Ollie Pattas
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