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Albon explains how Helmut Marko gave him his surprise chance in F1

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IMOLA, ITALY - OCTOBER 31: Alexander Albon of Thailand and Red Bull Racing talks with Red Bull

Alex Albon has shared how he surprisingly landed his first Formula 1 opportunity, thanks to Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko.

After finishing the 2018 Formula 2 championship in third place, Albon’s closest rivals in the series – George Russell and Lando Norris, who had ended the campaign in first and second places respectively – each quickly gained a seat in F1 for 2019, while Albon looked set to move to Formula E. Despite being happy about landing a spot in the electric series, the Thai driver had not given up on seeking an opportunity in Formula 1.

READ MORE: 'Every mistake gets criticised' – Albon opens up on Red Bull struggles and how they made him stronger

“[Formula E is] the next best thing career-wise to do outside of Formula 1,” Albon told the High Performance Podcast. “I got approached to do Formula E and I thought, ‘Amazing, that’s great’.

“I actually called Helmut Marko, who’s the boss of the Red Bull junior programme, before I signed the contract, just to say, ‘Just out of any chance, is there a seat going in F1 before I sign this Formula E contract?’ and he told me, ‘No. Our seats are full, there’s no chance’.

“I think at that point I was disappointed. I did go around more than just Red Bull, I did give it every chance I had to see if there was a spot in Formula 1, but I knew there wasn’t, so I thought, ‘Okay, Formula E it is’. And my mindset was there.”

FIA Formula 2 Series - Round 12..Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates..Saturday 24

Albon ended the 2018 Formula 2 season in third place in the championship

With his Formula E future long secured, Albon went into the final race of the 2018 F2 season in great form – and that was when he received further contact from Marko.

“I signed that [Formula E] contract maybe three, four months before the final race of the season in Formula 2, and then it came to the last race of the year and Helmut Marko got me back again,” he explained.

IN DEPTH: ‘We’ve had to have our elbows out’ – Alex Albon reflects on a pivotal season for him and Williams

“He enquired about my ‘simulator services’ – that’s what he said. He got his PA to come over and speak to me and say, ‘Do you mind just popping into Helmut’s office at the circuit?’. We had a chat about simulator [work]. I was actually at the simulator at Mercedes doing work for them, he wanted to know how much I got paid at Mercedes. I gave him a big number! And then he said, ‘Okay, can I see it then?’”

Off the back of a successful outing at the penultimate Formula 2 weekend in Sochi, Albon assumed that Marko wanted to further discuss the possibility of simulator work when he was called to speak to the Red Bull advisor again.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 05: Red Bull Racing Team Consultant Dr Helmut Marko walks in the Paddock prior

Discussions with Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko led to Albon landing his debut in F1

“I thought, ‘Great, he’s agreed to my terms on my simulator contract!’” the 27-year-old recalled. “I don’t know what it is, I think it’s just something he does occasionally, [but] he was speaking about this contract the whole time, [and] as I was walking out the door, he was like, ‘By the way, what’s your position with your Formula E contract? Can you get out?’

“And the one thing I did make sure with my Formula E contract was to have a clause in it that, if I had a Formula 1 offer, I was good to go. I said, ‘That’s the way it is’, and he said, ‘Okay, let me get back to you’. And then within 24 hours it was almost pretty much all done. He called me literally in 24 hours time saying, ‘Okay, yep, good to go. We’re going to make your press announcement in about an hour’, and I was a Formula 1 driver.”

READ MORE: 'I'd throw a tantrum if he didn't win!' – Albon explains how Michael Schumacher inspired his F1 journey

With that, Albon had landed a seat at the Toro Rosso outfit for 2019. When asked about his feelings upon the surprise move, Albon conceded that he felt “fear more than anything else”, having a lack of F1 testing in comparison to many of his rivals.

“Maybe you see it with me, I was not the most confident person going through,” he continued. “I needed this kind of feeling, like I didn’t feel I was quite there yet, and had these stumbles along the way. So when this Formula 1 opportunity came about, I thought, ‘Am I ready now?’

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 29: Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Williams FW45

Albon will enter into his third season as a Williams driver in 2024

“A lot of the drivers, for example like George or Lando, they did a lot of testing in old F1 cars, in previous F1 cars, before they started. I was going to start my first year in Formula 1 with literally zero days. My first day would have been Barcelona in the freezing cold [for pre-season testing], where you do a day and a half with your team mate, and then go into your first race.

"You imagine going into work and you’ve done a day and a half in a Formula 1 car before your first weekend. I was more anxious and felt like, ‘I’ve got to make the most of this situation. I haven’t been dealt the best cards for this opportunity, but it’s Formula 1, I’ve got to take it.’

END OF YEAR REPORT: Progress for Williams as they look to build on a promising 2023 campaign

2019 proved to be an eventful year for Albon, with the rookie being handed an opportunity at the main Red Bull squad later in the season as part of a swap with the struggling Pierre Gasly. Another campaign followed with the team in 2020 before Sergio Perez was brought in for 2021, leaving Albon on the sidelines.

After a year working as Red Bull’s test and reserve driver, Albon returned to the F1 grid with Williams in 2022 and now enters into his third season at the outfit in 2024.

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