One of the things that stinks about Formula 1 these days is that even if you’re above the high bar for talent required to get into the sport, it’s still tough to break in and even tougher to hold on to your seat. There are only 20 slots on the grid and just a few of them are vacant between seasons. It’s especially difficult if you’re a Red Bull driver and paired with Max Verstappen. Alex Albon was in such a situation in 2020 and lost his ride for 2021, but he’ll be back on the grid next year with Williams.
The long-rumored move was announced Wednesday. With George Russell departing for Mercedes, the question of who was going to partner with Nicholas Latifi at Russell’s old team was up in the air. Albon’s name was consistently linked to the seat, as was that of Formula E champion Nyck de Vries, but the big question was whether Red Bull would let Albon go. He was still under contract with the Austrian team, which has a habit of developing drivers and then systematically kneecapping their careers if they’re not quite good enough to make names for themselves, like Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo were.
In fact, Red Bull boss Christian Horner basically teased as much last week, saying it’d be “a great shame” if Mercedes, which is Williams’ engine supplier, denied Albon a ride based on his association with his former team.
Anyway, Red Bull and Mercedes were thankfully able to work this little disagreement out, so that drama is all in the past now. Albon has been let out of his existing Red Bull contract — he’s currently the team’s reserve driver for 2021, and has competed in DTM in an AlphaTauri-liveried car — though Red Bull says it still retains “future options” on him, according to F1.com. “Just when I thought I was out, they’re pulling me back in,” I assume Albon is muttering to himself.
The duration of Albon’s Williams contract is unknown, but it would seem to be a one-year deal, based on the prevalence of those in F1 and Williams specifically stating that this lineup is in place for 2022. The Grove squad has made tremendous strides in the past season since the Williams family sold the team to a private investment firm, and while Russell has received the bulk of the praise, Latifi has dug himself out of the bottom of the pack in recent races, finishing seventh in Hungary and ninth (technically, anyway) in Belgium. Hopefully Albon can thrive in his new spot along with his new team.