RACE DEBRIEF

    The 2019 Belgian Grand Prix will see Alex Albon donning Red Bull Racing overalls for the first time as he lines up to drive for the Milton Keynes squad, seven years after being dropped from Red Bull’s young driver programme. But ahead of his senior team debut, the Thai driver revealed that, far from being bitter about his 2012 dismissal, he fully understands why Red Bull made the decision to axe him back then.

    Having been a Red Bull-supported frontrunner in top-level karting – he finished second to current F2 points-leader Nyck de Vries in both the 2011 WSK Euro Series and the CIK-FIA World Championship – Albon moved into single-seaters with the backing of the Red Bull Junior Team programme in 2012, only to endure a tough year where he finished 17th in the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps series and 38th in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 series (won that year by ex-McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne).

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    Albon on the podium with future Red Bull Racing team mate Max Verstappen at a 2010 WSK Euro Series karting event

    He was duly dropped from the programme after just one season, only to land a shock call up to Toro Rosso at the end of 2018 after finishing third to George Russell and Lando Norris in that season’s Formula 2 championship. That unexpected twist was then followed by another over the summer break, when Red Bull deemed that Pierre Gasly’s performances had failed to pass muster and announced that Albon would see out the rest of the season at the team alongside Max Verstappen, completing a remarkable turnaround in the 23-year-old driver’s fortunes.

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    And having already being hailed earlier in the year as “the surprise of the season” by Dr Helmut Marko – the man who ultimately made the decision to drop him in 2012 – when Albon was asked ahead of his Red Bull call-up whether he’d had a chance to discuss the events of seven years ago with Red Bull’s Motorsports Advisor, he laughed “not really, no”, before admitting that there were no hard feelings about what had transpired in 2012.

    “Back then I was not driving very well,“ he said, “and there was no reason to keep me on board, so no, there's none of that.

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    Albon spent one season in the Red Bull Junior Team in 2012, alongside Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz

    “It's nice that I'm a surprise to most people,” he added. “I would almost, in a way, wish it wasn't a surprise! But it's nice that people are happy with how it's going.”

    Having only driven a Formula 1 car for the first time in February of this year, Albon – who while only sitting 15th in the drivers’ standings has had a strong rookie season so far – will now prepare to line up in one of the top current machines for the Belgian Grand Prix, a race Red Bull last won with Daniel Ricciardo back in 2014, while Albon finished on the podium at the track in F2 last year.

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