Handed a late call up to Formula 1, Alex Albon reckons he was “one of the most unprepared drivers” to ever line up on the grid.
Saying farewell to the Formula 2 series after finishing third in 2018, Albon had signed a deal to race for Nissan in Formula E as he believed the F1 door was closed.
And then Red Bull came knocking.
The team needed a replacement driver for its junior outfit, Toro Rosso, after Daniel Ricciardo upset the team’s plans when he left for Renault. That meant Pierre Gasly was promoted to his Red Bull and Toro Rosso was left a driver short.
They approached Albon, a former Red Bull-backed driver, and with Nissan releasing him from his deal, he was on his way to Formula 1.
“It happened very last minute,” the Thai driver told the Motor Sport Magazine Podcast.
“I don’t want to go into details about how the whole thing kind of happened. But it was a tricky one because, obviously with Nissan tied up and everything like that, it didn’t make it as easy as it should… as I wish it had been, to switch from Formula E to Formula 1.
“Obviously, as a driver my age, I always want to be in Formula 1. That’s everyone’s goal being a kid. But yeah, we just had to find a deal, and once the deal was sorted, that was it.
“I remember the day, I remember how it happened. It was Russia and Marko called me up to his office but at that point I was already signed, I was already a Formula E driver, and he said to me ‘so we want you to do sim for the team next year’.
“I thought ‘you know what, this is great’. Being a Formula E driver there is okay money and I’ll be a Formula 1 reserve driver, might even be able to test a couple of times in a Formula 1 car. That was what I was thinking.
“If I don’t get into Formula 1, it is shame, but I just want to drive it and feel what these guys are feeling. At least I’ll get that bit so I was kind of excited.
“And then I had a really good Russian GP and he [Marko] called me back and the conversation changed completely, and it was like by the way…
“And then that was it, the announcement and everything got done in Abu Dhabi and it just got… the process, it was such a quick process, and at no point until kind of late Russia [in late September] had I ever thought F1 was possible, because I spent so long never being part of a programme, never being really approached by a programme, never kind of having this opportunity.
“And then suddenly, literally, at the last two races of my Formula 2 career, I got this opportunity and I was in F1.”
Albon spent 12 races at Toro Rosso, now called AlphaTauri, before he was promoted to the senior team when Red Bull made the decision to drop the under-performing Gasly.
Albon scored in eight of his nine races with Red Bull but failed to reach the podium, his closest shot being the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix where he was fighting for a top three position late in the race only to be hit by Lewis Hamilton.
He stayed with Red Bull for 2020 but managed just two podiums, dropped at the end of the season.
“I was one of the most unprepared drivers, I think, ever to get into F1,” he believes. “Because I think everyone’s done testing before they arrive into F1.
“But my first test was literally the day one of Barcelona winter testing, and that was it. And I spun! I spun straightaway. I spun in Turn 4.
“And I was like, ‘Oh my God, what have I got myself into?'”
Albon will be back on the grid this season having signed with Williams as Nicholas Latifi’s new team-mate.
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