Toto Wolff and Christian Horner discuss on how F1 2022 line-up is shaping up with names of Alexander Albon & Nyck de Vries popping up at Alfa Romeo/Williams.
Aside from F1, Albon’s name has been mentioned in IndyCar circles and Formula E and for this year he has been one of the happening guys in DTM, but its Formula 1 that they all strive for. He has been there, having made his debut in 2019 with AlphaTauri and then a mid-season move to Red Bull as Pierre Gasly wasn’t cutting the mustard before being dropped himself for 2021 in favour of Sergio Perez.
In the last few weeks, Albon’s name is being mentioned with a number of teams and there is a chance so that he will be on the grid. It is of course all ifs and buts. The word on the street seems to be though that he should be on the grid. Red Bull chief Horner has noted about interest, especially from Alfa Romeo and Williams.
Horner: “Alex deserves a seat in Formula 1 next year. There’s quite a bit of interest in him for next year. We’ll do whatever we can to try and enable that. I hope that nothing prevents him from realising one of those opportunities. I think he’s a talented drivers and subject to George moving, now Kimi’s retiring, that does open up opportunities. I’m that will get resolved over the next week or so. We are looking at external teams. Williams and Alfa Romeo have both expressed interest and we’re keen to see him back racing in Formula 1. Hopefully that can get resolved over the next few days.
“As I said, we want to see him race so we’ll accommodate whatever we can to ensure that he’s back in a race seat next year. There’s always obstacles but he’s a lad that deserves an opportunity in Formula 1 next year and we’re doing our best to try and help him achieve that. We’re trying to help him get a seat. I think he’s good enough that he doesn’t need to be taking a funding package with him but obviously we’re looking to enable that he gets a drive. So wherever we can help, we certainly will.”
It does seem that the Brit is hell bent on getting Albon back on the grid for a race seat in 2022. In fairness, he would not have this issue if they had kept him at Red Bull, naturally. From a Red Bull viewpoint, test and reserve driver isn’t a bad place to be, but with talk of Williams being in the mix, it could be strategic too, considering that the team uses Mercedes parts – which is why Wolff is not keen on having him at Williams.
Horner: “As I said, we’re working hard to get him a seat. I really hope that Mercedes don’t block his opportunity at Williams, that would be a great, great shame, because of his linkage to Red Bull. So it would be a great shame if a driver were to pay the penalty for that. Hopefully that won’t come to play but there are opportunities at a couple of teams and our priority is to see him racing next year. If he can’t do that, we’ll keep him in a test and reserve role because we rate him extremely highly. I think his preference would be Williams but obviously there’s a few hurdles. He’s had about four phone calls telling him not to go there from the team next door. I told him to ignore them.”
But what about a return to where it all began at AlphaTauri? It seems a long shot to be fair as there is no mention right now of Yuki Tsunoda or Pierre Gasly going elsewhere. There is the Red Bull connection there of course, but whatever happens he does appear to be in the mix for something to happen for now.
Horner: “A possible return to Faenza at AlphaTauri for Albon is something you probably have to speak to Franz about. Obviously from a Red Bull Racing perspective, our line-up is fixed for next year. Our objective would be to see him race in another team, rather than spend another year on the bench. He’s got a couple of opportunities to do that outside of Red Bull, and hopefully, he’ll get that chance.”
While Horner is trying to push Albon in, Wolff has brought de Vries in the game. The F2 champion, who moved to Formula E and won the title there with Mercedes, has suddenly become a hot name in the paddock. Even though, he is not tied to the German manufacturer as a junior, they are still helping him as much.
The talk of de Vries in frame for a F1 seat came about in the last month or so. Initially, it was of him going to Williams, but the links with Alfa Romeo popped up too. Even though Wolff is not directly looking after him, but he is certainly pushing him through and he wouldn’t block his F1 move if he wishes to, which moves him away from Formula E.
Wolff: “Nyck is a Mercedes driver in Formula E and he’s won the Formula E world championship and helped us to win the constructors world championship and he’s an extremely important member of that team. I admired his decision back in the day after winning the F2 title to say ‘I want to be part of a works team and that’s why I’m joining Mercedes in Formula E’ rather than running behind the dream in Formula 1.
“Now the time has come that people recognise his talent and his ability and therefore those talks are taking place. But for us, most important is that he stays within the family. I don’t want to lose him at that stage for another Formula E championship, but I wouldn’t block him for Formula 1.”
As Wolff points out, he has no intention to block his and or Albon either, but it is a cat and mouse game at the moment, as he wishes de Vries to be in F1 too. After Horner talked about Mercedes not wanting the Thai in, the Austrian noted it is not the case as such, only to elaborate more on the following day.
Wolff: “At the moment it revolves around Alex Albon, who as Christian said deserves a seat. He’s a really good kid and he’s probably the main protagonist in the moving chairs. Nyck has a guaranteed seat in Formula E with us and I’m in two minds as I said before – I wish him to be in Formula 1 but I don’t want to lose him for our Formula E campaign
“I would never block someone like Alex Albon. He’s a fantastic guy, his personality is great. I was personally sad to see him going. And if he has to be driving in a Formula 1 car, I think that’s the right thing to do. But equally, maybe Nyck has. So we need to look at the open spaces at Alfa and at Williams and try to find a solution.
Having talked about not wanting to block Albon’s move to Williams, Wolff elaborated on the topic of the Thai driving a Mercedes engine, being part of Red Bull family. The Austrian was more clear this time, stating that he would want him to be free of Red Bull contract, before they can work with him at Williams – something which Horner indicated. He also clarified the Thai’s talks with Mercedes junior head after Horner’s comments on phone calls.
Wolff: “It’s one thing about the power unit and I think with Albon, as I said, is a driver that deserves a seat in Formula 1. But it’s tricky to have a 100% Red Bull driver with a Mercedes power unit. So, happy to work with him, as long as they let him free from his Red Bull contract. And on the other side we’re supporting Nyck de Vries obviously, and he’s in talks with Williams, to get the seat there. So, there’s quite some balls in play in there.
“I think Alex Albon is in regular contact with a good friend of mine, who is Gwen Lagrue, who is running our Mercedes junior programme, and they were discussing with James Vowles, our head of strategy, the opportunities for next year. Things get always, how can I say, tweaked in a way. He wasn’t told to do or not do anything, it was just exploring the opportunities for Alex and for Nyck in an amicable way.”
The article was co-written by Neil Farell
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