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Alexander Albon

Albon opens up on Verstappen's 'eye-watering' driving style

Alex Albon spent one-and-a-half seasons competing with Red Bull and struggled to compete alongside Max Verstappen. Now, the Williams star has reflected on his stint with the front-running outfit.

Albon Verstappen 2020
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To news overview © XPBimages

Prior to becoming a staple of the current Williams Formula 1 set-up, Alex Albon endured a challenging 18-month period at Red Bull.

The Thai-British driver was promoted to the senior squad just half a season into his rookie campaign with Toro Rosso and thrust into the juggernaut world of Formula 1.

Reflecting on this early period, he told the High Performance podcast: “It was a very odd situation where I was starting to get very comfortable at Toro Rosso.

"I was living in this dream where the pressure of every race was becoming less and less. I knew after the first race that I belonged. I knew I had got what it takes now and I did genuinely believe in myself.

“Then summer break came around and I got Helmut Marko calling me back to his office. I had no idea why. I thought it was to go through my residency because he was helping me move to Monaco and all this kind of stuff.

“And then just as the meeting ends, he goes, ‘Oh, by the way, you're in the Red Bull seat. This is the number to speak to, this is going to be your engineer, maybe give him a call and figure [it] out'.

“You can't go to the factory because it's shut down [during the summer break]. You're not allowed to speak to anyone during the shutdown. But [Marko said] 'you're going to be announced in about two hours'. And that was it. It was big.”

			© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool
	© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool

"Can I do it?"

When it came to making the jump to a front-running team, Albon admits that he had doubts over whether or not he had what it took to perform alongside Max Verstappen.

“It was exactly the same emotion I had when I first got my Toro Rosso chance. It was ‘I’ve just gone through this literally, I've just gone through this. Am I good enough? Can I do this? What's it like to be Max's teammate?’

“I’ve got two weeks of nothing, just thinking about this opportunity, but I can't drive. I can't get into my happy place, I can't get my helmet on. I've got to just prolong this anxiety.

“But of course, I went into it with more confidence than I did the first time. But it's these opportunities, you just have to take them because Formula 1, the way it is, it's so cutthroat.

“At the same time, I thought to myself: ‘There are so many drivers who would kill this opportunity, there’s so many drivers who wish they could have a spot in a top team. And within six months, you have got that already’. You're not going to reject it.”

Not enough experience

Albon's stint as a Red Bull driver came to an end at the end of the 2020 season when he was dropped in favour Sergio Perez, who currently occupies the seat.

He stayed on as its reserve driver for the 2021 season that saw Verstappen emerge victorious in the Drivers' Championship for the first time.

Having had time to reflect on his time at Red Bull, Albon recognises where it fell apart for him.

“I think in hindsight, it was probably a bit too early,” he stated. “I definitely was not prepared enough for my first year. There’s so much that goes on in F1. People always think it's the driving side of things and you’ve just got to perform in the car when it matters and all these kinds of things.

“But truthfully, for me, the biggest thing to get used to was everything around a bit. So once you're in that top team, the spotlight gets put on you far, far more than what it was like at Toro Rosso.

“The first race that I went to [with Red Bull] was in Belgium. The attention around this whole seat swap was massive. Every mistake, everything you do gets criticised.

“In F1, the engineering level is far more advanced than anything that happened in Formula 2. But also, when I'm struggling with the car, what do I need to do? Do I need to do some settings on my steering wheel? Will that help?

“There are literally 30 or 40 different things you can do to solve one problem. And I had no knowledge really, I didn't have experience. I never went through these problems before.”

Pleased with Red Bull start

Albon revealed that he struggled more with the car that Red Bull fielded for the 2020 campaign compared to the one he experienced the year before.

“It was good for the first year, I was still behind Max a little bit, but I had some really good showings, some qualifyings went really well and some races did too. The year after, the car changed quite a lot and became much more tricky to drive. I think that's especially where experience helps to get you out of these problems.

“I didn't really know what direction the car needed to go in. I didn't know how to drive around the problems as well, which is a big issue.

“And I had a driver who could drive pretty much anything. It didn't really affect him too much. So what I ended up realising in hindsight was this feeling of overanalysing, being overly critical.

“So I spent so much energy in trying to find the solution, trying to find a problem when really, I believe I should have taken a step back a bit, trusted myself a bit more not go through the data.”

			© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool
	© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool

Driving style of Verstappen

Albon denied that Red Bull builds its cars around Verstappen, but highlighted the vastly different style that the Dutchman possessed compared to him.

“The first thing is a lot of people say that car is built around him, that he’s like the Michael Schumacher of Ferrari and he's created this team around him,” Albon said.

“But truthfully, the car is what it is. He is very quick. So what ends up happening is, he has quite a unique driving style and it's not that easy to get along with.

“I would say my driving style is a bit more on the smooth side. But I like a car that has it good front end, so quite sharp, quite direct. Max does too. But his level of sharp and direct is a whole different level. It's eyewatering.

“To give people kind of a maybe an explanation of what that might feel like, if you play computer games at all, if you bump up the sensitivity completely to the max and you move that mouse, it's just darting across the screen everywhere. That's kind of how it feels, it became so sharp that it makes you a little bit tense.

“And every time the car becomes sharper and sharper, you start to become more tense. Every time you go into a corner, you don't know how it's going to react, you don't have that pure confidence in the car. It just doesn't work. It never works.”

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