Amidst the drama of Alpine and Oscar Piastri’s driver market dance, on Wednesday Williams revealed they are retaining Alex Albon for next season and beyond. Lawrence Barretto explains why the news makes sense for both sides, but also gives options for the future…
Why were Williams keen to keep Albon?
Williams boss Jost Capito had high expectations of Albon when he joined the outfit after a year out of a race seat as Red Bull’s reserve.
The Thai driver’s efforts in the simulator and behind the scenes at Milton Keynes had not gone unnoticed, with Albon’s feedback and hard work ethic playing a role in helping Red Bull win their first drivers’ championship in close to a decade with Max Verstappen.
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In signing Albon, Capito had a driver he knew would be super motivated to deliver, had shown at points that he had raw pace and would galvanize a team that is battling to haul itself back into the midfield, while also bringing experience from a world championship -winning team.
In a little over half a year, he has delivered on his mandate. Every weekend, he’s getting the most out of the car, which is an engineer’s dream as they can see what their package is capable of and where to improve.
His feedback is articulate and reliable and he’s getting results – two points finishes in that car is impressive – and comfortably outperforming his team mate Nicholas Latifi. And to top it off, he’s a hugely likeable character who is good to have around for team morale and great for the brand.
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Putting this announcement out now will end speculation that he might join Alpine if Oscar Piastri doesn’t end up in that seat (I understand Albon was of interest to the French manufacturer should they require a driver for 2023) and allow Albon to focus on the rest of the season without distraction.
It’s also a move that both sides knew was coming, because when he was originally announced, the team only said he was driving for 2022, but I understand the deal was multi-year anyway – with the option to continue beyond that first season lying with Williams.
What is significant now is Capito is speaking of a long-term arrangement with Albon. He can see the merits in keeping him. The new deal is multi-year, which means there’s options to stay on for 2024, too, though both will know the driver market opens up more widely for that season. As Williams looks to push his way up the grid, having a driver who can deliver consistently is crucial. Albon fits the bill perfectly.
Why is Albon staying?
Ultimately, his initial deal laid the pathway for him to drive in 2023 to be a formality, unless he didn’t deliver the kind of performance both he and the team expected.
Albon has made the most of this opportunity. His results from him at Williams have done his reputation for him the world of good, after a difficult experience with Red Bull and Toro Rosso. He’s quickly shown that he can make a race car go quick, deliver quick lap times under pressure in qualifying and bring home strong results – and points – on Sunday.
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It may be a little disappointing for him that he faces another difficult season towards the rear of the grid, with Williams unlikely to make a huge step forward next year given the stability of the regulations, but he can take comfort from the fact his friend George Russell had three seasons in an uncompetitive Williams and showed enough to earn him promotion to the Mercedes works team.
That same avenue isn’t likely to be open to Albon, but it will make him a very attractive prospect to other teams if he keeps delivering strong performances. Already, other team principals are privately talking about him and rating his results. While that’s no guarantee of a shot in the future, it’s important to be involved in the conversation.
It’s also significant that Capito, the engineers and the Williams board back him. They believe in him and want him to stay for the long term. That does wonders for a driver’s confidence – and it’s clear that Albon is relishing this environment.
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For now he can focus on continuing to lead the team, sharpening his race craft and enhancing his experience both on and off-track. Then if the partnership is a success he can look at extending his stay from him or he can look elsewhere knowing he will have a strong body of results behind him.
It’s a great position to be in – and one he deserves to be in after bouncing back from a difficult place with Red Bull.