At the end of 2020, Alex Albon fell to the brink of Formula 1 after being dropped as a race driver by Red Bull. However, with the way the driver market is shaping up for 2025, he could be set to return to the front of the grid.
Albon’s current deal keeps him at Williams until the end of next season, after which he is free. It wouldn’t hurt to stay with a team that has been built around him and is making genuine progress, but he will be aware of the time pressure if he wants to get back to the front in F1. Williams could get there in the long term, but not on a timetable that necessarily works for the 27-year-old Albon, given he is now in F1’s ‘middle age’.
One of the reasons that 2025 is so promising for Albon is that even after 17 months it is clear that it is likely to be a season of big changes in the driver line-up. Right now, there is a chance that every team will change at least one driver. McLaren are perhaps the exception as they have Lando Norris under contract until 2025 and will likely have an option on the services of Oscar Piastri to take over.
Albon won’t exactly be at the top of shortlists for major teams. That’s because they’ll be targeting proven, established superstars with multiple wins and championships on their resume. However, these are rare and in huge demand. This means that sometimes there is a need for the next best thing, or a completely high level number two.
That’s where Albon comes in. Any doubts about his mental strength after an underwhelming 18-month experience with Red Bull Racing, where he fell out with Max Verstappen, will have been put to rest by what followed.
He looked like a shadow of the driver he was until the second half of 2020, clearly lacking confidence behind the wheel. Red Bull gave him every opportunity to justify his continuation, admiring his contribution off the track and believing in his abilities, but ultimately had no choice but to replace him due to his struggles.
After his year on the sidelines as Red Bull’s reserve driver, a period in which Albon made the most of his understanding of how F1 teams work, he returned to Williams last time determined to “step up as a driver and be that leader”. was needed. He did so very effectively, making a strong start and continuing to build on it in 2023. Based on The Race’s post-Grand Prix performance ranking average, he is the sixth best player of the season so far.
Through his time at Williams, Albon has proven that he is very fast. He is a driver who has long had a great reputation, originally built on his glory days in karting, so it is easy for prospective employers to largely dismiss his Red Bull tenure as an aberration in difficult circumstances.
He has also proven that he can lead a team, is confident in attack, is perfect in defense and can take a car that usually requires perfection to score points in the top 10. This skill set, combined with his experience, makes him an attractive choice.
Exactly where the opportunities will present themselves is unclear. There are more important drivers ahead of Albon in the queue and their decisions will shape the paths open to him.
That means waiting for Lewis Hamilton’s deal with Mercedes, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz’s future with Ferrari after 2024 to become clear and how strong the possibility of a change in Aston Martin’s driver line-up for 2025 is. and a return to Red Bull cannot be ruled out, especially with the uncertainty over Sergio Perez’s long-term future. And that’s not something the new, improved Albon would fear.
Regardless of how he breaks into a breakthrough team, and if it does it likely won’t be as the team’s undisputed captain, he can then use his footy start to show his worth. Albon would just accept a number two or second best role because it would give him a chance to show how good he is. It will prop itself up to perform at a level that would usurp any fictional established order. Then it’s up to him to produce the show to do that.
Even if a top-team spot doesn’t suit him, he’d also make a strong pick for an upwardly mobile midfielder.
Audi will certainly have him on their shortlist, given that Andreas Seidl has considered him for team principal at McLaren, while Alpine have also shown an interest in Albon in the past. Albon would be a slam-dunk option for teams at this level and below, though they’d obviously have to prove he’s a more attractive option than sticking with Williams.
Exactly how this will be done remains to be seen. What is clear is that Albon will be an important piece on the board and will get opportunities, possibly some very good ones. This is an impressive career resurrection considering where he was at the end of 2020 and reflects well on Albon’s fundamental ability, approach and mindset.
In the meantime, he just needs to sit back, see how things play out and continue to excel for Williams.
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