Alexander Albon remembers well what it was like to drive the car that was tuned to Max Verstappen. The British Thai indicated that the car had such a strong front that he only had to blow on the steering wheel and the car turned in. Albon struggled in the team built around Verstappen and it hurt him to see the team succeed in 2021 when he could watch from the sidelines, not drive himself.
Albon is one of four drivers who have shared the Red Bull Racing garage with Verstappen in the past few years. The 26-year-old was suddenly allowed to step in in 2020 after the summer break to replace Pierre Gasly. The Red Bull car was, as it were, a ‘Verstappen car’ and it was difficult to deal with it. “The car is set up in a unique way around the number one driver, and that is Max (Verstappen, ed.)”, Albon writes at The Players Tribune. And look, I totally get why. I mean, when all is said and done, he might just be the greatest driver of all time,” Albon continues.
“But he has a very distinct driving style and he likes the car to be set up in a certain way, which is difficult for many drivers to synchronize. Of course you can tinker and tweak your own car, but the Red Bull in general fits the style of Max (Verstappen, ed.)’, says the Williams driver. “I like a strong front. Basically, think of front-end sensitivity. And when I got into the Red Bull… I mean, it had such a front end that if you blew on the steering wheel, the car would turn. If you are playing Call of Duty or similar game, set the sensitivity as high as possible. That’s what it’s like to drive that car.’
Albon didn’t want anyone’s pity: “I just wanted to be there”
At the end of the 2020 season, Red Bull decided to say goodbye to Albon. The driver did not achieve the expected results and had to make way for Sergio Pérez. Albon took a gap year from Formula 1 and threw himself into the DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft) in 2021 to continue racing. He was also a test and reserve driver for Red Bull, and so he experienced many things from his former Formula 1 team up close. “I did everything I could in the simulator and raced GT3 cars in the DTM to try to keep my skills sharp,” Albon says of his gap year.
‘I didn’t want anyone’s pity’, Albon writes firmly. “So during that year I sat there watching Checo (Pérez, ed.) and Max (Verstappen, ed.) collect points for Red Bull Racing, and that almost killed me. It wasn’t because I wasn’t happy with their success. Hand on my heart, I was really happy for them. I worked with both of them all winter to get the car right in the simulator. I remembered all the problems Max (Verstappen, ed.) and I had had with the car the year before, and the team and I spent hours in a dark room reviewing the data, making sure we had the car on track.’
Albon was happy to be able to contribute to the success of the Austrian racing stable, but that he was not in that car himself, that hurt. “And when we were testing and I saw the guys come in and they said, yeah, the car feels really great,” I was really happy that it performed well. But I just wanted to be there.’ Albon made his comeback to the Formula 1 grid in 2022, after Jost Capito, the former Williams team boss, had thoroughly read his CV. The 26-year-old was given another chance to prove himself at the British racing stable, where he will also drive the 2023 season. From March 3, Albon will compete with his new teammate Logan Sargeant.