Part three of our series: How Albon got his second chance at Red Bull.
Russell – Leclerc – Albon: The racing dream team. When competing against each other on the kart track as young boys, racing in Formula 1 and even entertaining fans in esports racing: the trio forged their path in motorsports together. We want to put the three youngsters in the limelight and take a closer look at their career, their esports racing experience and their personalities away from the high pressure environment on the race tracks. Red Bulls’ Alex Albon is our last piece of the puzzle.
It’s race day at Spa in Belgium. Hundreds of people are swarming around, some are giving orders, others are tightening screws in the last second. A horde of spectators and photographers is trying to find the right spot to have a perfect overview of the circuit – and to catch a glimpse at the fastest drivers in the world. Right in the middle of all the chaos, one of those star drivers is resting in his booth. A tall young man with short brown hair, his eyes are closed, his hands folded. He is meditating, mentally preparing for his first Formula 1 race for his new team.
The young driver is Alex Albon. 24 years old, driver for Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, second Thai driver in the history of Formula 1 and one part of the entertaining racing trio of Charles Leclerc, George Russell and Alex Albon, who conquered the esports racing scene during the lockdown.
The second Thai Formula 1 driver in history
Meditating is a ritual before every race for Alex. Usually, he even attends a session at a temple before every race weekend, as he revealed in an interview with a Dutch Formula 1 news page. “The sessions are a symbol of peace and happiness for me,” he says.
Even though Alex was born and raised in England, he holds a dual citizenship as his mother is a native of Thailand. The nation is much more than just a simple biological heritage for him, as he decided to represent Thailand and race under their flag instead of Great Britain. This makes him only the second Thai driver in history to race in Formula 1, after Prince Bira in 1954.
He hopes to be a role-model for young Thai kids and aims to inspire them to get into motorsport, as he explained in an interview with Sky Sports F1:
“It’s definitely a goal of mine (…) to support Asian drivers, especially Thai drivers to have the chance to be able to fight against drivers over the world in motorsport. (…) It’s engineers, mechanics, it can be all forms of motorsport.”
Racing alone through the hardest year of his life
Like many motorsport enthusiasts, Alex started his passion with karting at the age of eight. But his path was not free of obstacles. Nowadays he is considered to be one of the top drivers in the entire world and competes in the highest class in motorsport, but his career nearly ended prematurely in 2012.
Two years prior, Alex got selected as junior driver for Red Bull’s Thai division despite being only 13 years young at the time. But he was not able to seize on the opportunity and improve. On the contrary, his prospects went downhill and he had to endure “by far the hardest year I’ve had in my life” in 2012, as he revealed in the Netflix documentary “Formula 1: Drive to Survive”. One day, police showed up, arrested his mother and took her to prison where she was convicted for fraud in the seven figures.
In the Netflix documentary, he further recalls feeling lost while dealing with these personal hardships and his racing performance suffered tremendously. As a result, Red Bull dropped him and his first chance to make it to a professional team was over.
It comes as no secret that it is a harsh world and they put you in a position where they know you’ll be naturally under pressure. One of their aims is to see how the driver is able to react in those conditions. It’s very character building, especially in karting when you have your family around but you still have to focus on your performance. And when you don’t deliver it, Red Bull calls you and ask why, so that’s something you have to deal with. Source: TheRaceBox
With no money left, Alex saw little hope to further pursue his way to the top. His prospects started to change when he found a new sponsor: ThaiBev, one of Southeast Asia’s largest beverage companies. Results started to improve, Alex started to score podium placements and was finally back on track.
Getting a second chance – and turning it into success
In 2018, he had made it to Formula 2 – with solid success. He finished the season in third place, right on the heels of his friends Lando Norris and George Russell. But despite his convincing path straight to the podium, he was not able to secure a driver’s contract for the next season. Once again, the young rookie was facing a dark future and thought that this would be the end of his racing career.
His saviour was none other than Red Bull. Seven years prior, the motorsport giant had dropped Alex from their junior programme due to his weak performance. In 2018, they were back as his saving grace, showed trust in his abilities and offered him a seat in their secondary team Toro Rosso.
“It’s such an amazing feeling to know that I’m in Formula 1. I think I haven’t fully realized yet. Ever since I was five or six years old, becoming an F1 driver has always been my absolute goal. In the end, Toro Rosso was my only chance to be in F1 and it was the right time to take such a decision. Otherwise, I would not have had the budget to join another team or afford one more season in F2.” Source: TheRaceBox
The youngster turned his second chance into success. After only twelve races for the secondary squad of the Bulls, he impressed their chief torero Christian Horner to such an extent, that the team’s boss decided to promote Alex to the second seat in Red Bull’s main team – right in the middle of the 2019 season, while driver Pierre Gasly was still occupying the spot. Alex took over his friend Pierre’s place and sent the Frenchman back to Toro Rosso while continuing his career at full speed. His first ever season in Formula 1 ended on the eighth place with 92 points – and an extended contract for the next year. Horner was convinced right from the start as he stated in an interview with PlanetF1:
“You can tell he’s very bright, he’s intelligent and he’s asking all the right questions so I’d say it’s been a positive first day. (…) He’s certainly doing a good job at the moment, and his potential looks very high”
Wrapping up his first day at the factory 👊 @alex_albon is ready for Belgium 🇧🇪 #GivesYouWings pic.twitter.com/h9mf3VaJZc— Aston Martin Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) August 26, 2019
New way of connecting with fans via esports racing
2020 marked a big turning point for the entire world, and Formula 1 was no exception. But while Alex was not able to showcase his driving skills in F1 during the lockdown, he started to establish himself as a fan favourite thanks to his shenanigans on the digital tracks, together with William’s rookie George Russell and Ferrari’s talent Charles Leclerc. The calm and meditating Alex we saw at the beginning shared his entertaining and jaunty side with his fans.
“I’ve kind of been opened up to this whole new world that I’ve never really delved in before, and I think it’s a really exciting opportunity for us. (…) That feeling of being at home, speaking to your audience and getting that interaction is something really special.”
The youngster is sure that the trio will keep the newly formed bond with their fans even when returning to the real track. While Alex will still have to find his tranquility during the tense and chaotic atmosphere before entering the cockpit, he can be all the more relaxed in his sim rig in the future.
Are there any personalities in motorsports or esports racing that you are looking up to? Tell us on social media!