2020: The year Alex Albon has to prove his worth

11-02-2020 09:50
by Nicolás Quarles van Ufford
F1 News
2020: The year Alex Albon has to prove his worth

After an impressive rookie campaign, Alexander Albon now has a year to impress Aston Martin Red Bull Racing sufficiently to keep his seat into the new era of Formula 1 next year; does he have what it takes?

Two rookie seasons

Starting at Toro Rosso and moving to Red Bull during the summer break, Albon really had two separate seasons within a season. Starting out at Toro Rosso, things didn't get off to a great start with a crash during FP1 in Australia, the very first session of his F1 career.

Although the mistakes didn't stop there, the points did start flowing early in the season. P9 in Bahrain and P10 in China, the last of which coming after a sublime comeback drive from P20 as he missed qualifying - because of a massive shunt in FP3. In total, he got five points finishes, the same as more experienced teammate Daniil Kvyat. Albon's confidence grew and he put in consistent reliable performances, catching Red Bull's eye as Pierre Gasly was simply not doing good enough in the RB15.

Despite insisting Gasly would finish the season at Red Bull, they pulled the trigger during the summer break: Albon got the promotion and his second rookie campaign was underway.

Good, not great

Albon's nine races at Red Bull did seem great at first. His first outing at the Belgian Grand Prix was a very promising one, starting 17th with a grid penalty but driving up to P5 (including a sweet move on Daniel Ricciardo), already matching Gasly's best result for the team. Max Verstappen crashed out as well, making the Thai's drive seem even more impressive.

While Albon was undoubtedly better than Gasly (for Red Bull, at least), the rookie never really kicked on from his debut. The spectacular overtake here and there were just as noteworthy as some of his shunts, like his qualifying crash in Russia. Although he consistently finished fifth and sixth, his race pace was nowhere near Verstappen's. This is completely understandable as he didn't have the off-season or pre-season to get used to the RB15, but this brings us to 2020.

Time to shine

Don't get us wrong, we're absolutely not picking on Albon for not being as quick as Verstappen. In that case, you can pick on just about any driver on the grid. However, 2020 will be the year the 23-year-old will have to start closing the gap to the Dutchman. 

He'll have the winter and pre-season to study the RB16 inside-out, just like Verstappen. This should translate in a less one-sided season for Red Bull, where Verstappen really was the only one ever challenging for podiums or wins. Albon never beat the Dutchman in qualifying (besides the one time Max didn't participate), for example. The race pace will have to be comparable as well - no more differences of over half a second per lap. 

Albon will know better than anyone his seat at Red Bull is not guaranteed beyond 2020. Gasly has looked a man reborn since his demotion and the Frenchman could well be in for a return at the Bulls in 2021. It's now up to the Thai driver to prove to Helmut Marko and Christian Horner he is the right man next to Red Bull talisman Verstappen. 

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