'We're pushing forward': Alex Albon steps up as Williams F1 team leader


Alex Albon rediscovered his confidence at Williams last year. Now he goes into 2023 as the senior driver with a rookie team-mate to coach, a new boss and, he says, determination to get off the back of the grid

Alex Albon steps off scales after 2022 F1 Grand Prix

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Will Alex Albon be able to take a step in 2023 as he slips into the role of team leader in his second season with Williams?

With a year’s knowledge of the Grove outfit now under his belt and a rookie partner in Logan Sargeant alongside him Albon has the chance to build the team around him.

He faced a tough job in 2022. He had to follow in the footsteps of George Russell, whose giant-killing performances the previous year helped to propel him into a Mercedes seat.

“2022 was my strongest year in F1”

It wasn’t easy. Albon had endured a tough season with Red Bull in 2020, and subsequently had to take the pain of a year on the sidelines, keeping his hand in with a DTM programme and the odd tyre test for RBR.

The Williams deal for 2022 represented a much deserved second chance. However it came with challenges. He had to get back up the speed after a year out, find his feet in a new environment after spending so long in the Red Bull camp, and deal with a car that wasn’t as competitive as it was for Russell in 2021.

Alex Albon portrait

Williams drive gave Albon a second chance after Red Bull struggles

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Last year Haas made a big leap and Alfa Romeo also took a step, and over the season the Williams was the least competitive car on the grid. It had its moments, allowing Albon to occasionally bang in an impressive qualifying performance, but it was inconsistent.

On paper the results were unspectacular – Albon achieved a ninth place in Miami and 10th in Australia and Belgium, However he totally overshadowed team-mate Nicholas Latifi, who had on occasion shown well against Russell the previous year.

On balance it was a solid first season with Williams for Albon, and one that put him firmly back on the map.

“I think it’s been my strongest year in F1,” he says of 2022 . “I haven’t done many years, but out of the three, it’s my strongest one. And I feel like I’ve developed as a driver, which is really the main thing.

“With the experience that I’ve learned over the last few years, I’ve been able to apply it in the right ways. And I feel like I’ve got the most from it.”

Alex Albon in red Bull F1 garage

A stint with Red Bull knocked Albon’s confidence

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Albon admits that he wasn’t in a good place at the end of 2020 as the pressure of trying to match Max Verstappen and hang onto his RBR seat weighed heavily in his shoulders.

“When you have bad years in F1, and I can talk about my experience in 2020, it drains you massively,” he says. “The noise in the paddock and, of course more than anything, your own performances – we’re born to be competitive and hungry for it.

“That’s what we live on. It’s all about performance. It’s all about doing a good job. So yeah, it’s very heavy, and I think it took me a couple of weeks to kind of get through the emotional impact of missing out on a seat.

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“But because I was young, I think I kind of felt like it was never over. And I knew I could have a chance back. And I think it’s possibly what also Mick [Schumacher] is feeling right now, is that sense of ‘OK, I feel like I’ve got much more to prove, and I’ll be back,’ basically.”

The Williams deal brought the chance of redemption, and he grabbed it with both hands. The year out had made him hungrier and given him the opportunity to recharge his batteries. He was soon back into the groove.

“I believe that the main thing is just the confidence with the car,” he says. “More than anything it’s the driving confidence, I feel like I’ve got that back, which is the most important thing, because obviously, you’ve got to drive quickly. I feel like I’ve been on top of the car, I feel like I’ve been able to push it to the limit.

“And that was something which I struggled a bit with in 2020, just starting to lose that authority on the car, and being able to get what I want out of it. I was a little bit reactive in that sense in 2020, just kind of letting the car do its thing and then reacting to that.

“Whereas [now] I just feel like I’m being able to put the car where I want it. And not to say that it’s more stable, because it isn’t, it’s less stable. But truthfully speaking, as soon as I first drove it, I straightaway felt good in it. And it’s just built from there.”

Rear view of 2022 Williams F1 car

Williams spent 2022 playing catch-up says Albon

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Crucially Albon got off to a good start at the first race of last season, where he qualified 14th – and left Latifi trailing.

“I feel like Bahrain was a real big turning point,” he recalls. “Having a year away and having that kind of sense of a little bit of anxiousness where you just want to get out and get some good performances early into the season to settle the nerves. You want to overcome and be that better driver that you once were. In Bahrain coming into qualifying straight away we got into Q2 in the first session.

“And that was a really good start to the year. It meant a lot, firstly, after all the headaches of a year out of the sport. To start off straight away, and really feel that the team is straight away behind you, very supportive with the result itself, because it was a very unexpected result at the time.

“Looking forward into the future we don’t want to be the 10th fastest team.”

“It started the season off in a very good way. Straight away you have that confidence. And then you just build on it from there.”

If there was any frustration it was generated by the aforementioned inconsistency. In between the odd highlight there were circuits where Albon had little chance of qualifying any higher than 19th.

“It feels like we had a very similar year to what George had been doing previously. I haven’t been quick in all circuits. Our car was quite unique. it seemed to suit a certain characteristic of track. And when those moments happened, we seemed to be able to make the most of it.

“I think we’ve been very good on Saturday as well, which created opportunities where we otherwise wouldn’t have been close, we’ve been there to fight for it. It’s obviously been in some ways also disappointing, because as the performance side of things goes, we want to be fighting more regularly. Sometimes we’d find ourselves in situations where we were P19 and P20.

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“And that’s kind of where we were, we were kind of taking chances when others fail, or aren’t on the top of their top of their game. And obviously, I think we want to make it that when we do well, that’s when we’re scoring a lot of points, and when we’re not doing so well, we’re still chasing points.”

On the positive side the FW44 did improve over the course of 2022, although as ever it’s all relative to the opposition.

“If you look at even where we were at the start of the year, we were already on the back foot going into winter testing. And as the season went on, we started to take weight out of the car. Our upgrades worked. We didn’t have this amount of upgrades that other teams had, I think we really had one major one and that was it.

“So we played catch up, we understood the car well. I think we also got on top of the tyres. We could often outqualify the car with the right tyre prep and making the most of that situation. But yes, looking forward into the future we don’t want to be the 10th fastest team.”

Alex Albon in focus behind blurred Nicholas Latifi

Albon outclassed Latifi in 2022, and has rookie Logan Sargeant as his team-mate this season

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Along with the arrival of James Vowles as team principal the other big change in the camp in the form of Sargeant. The American is not short of confidence but inevitably he faces a steep learning curve.

Albon is now clearly the senior driver in the camp, and he’s in that awkward position of wanting to underline that on track while also being expected to help with the newcomer’s learning process.

“There is definitely going to be a bit of a focus on Logan and his experience, and I guess, trying to push his F1 vocabulary up a little bit, as us two kind of push this team forward and get on top of it early.

“Obviously, he doesn’t have the experience right now. But he is learning, he’s getting a lot of confidence. Even in the sessions I’ve seen him from Austin to now he’s really stepped up each time. And you can see his communication with the team is getting much better. So it’s going be really important, actually.

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“As I said, we are the 10th quickest team, but we need to not be. And to do that we need a lot of teamwork. And we’re going to drive the team together to push forwards.”

He may appear to be low-key and undemonstrative by nature compared with the typical F1 driver, but over time Albon is learning how to make the most of his position in the Williams camp.

“The only thing you need to think about is being constructive,” he says. “You need to make sure that you’re getting the most out of everyone, and everyone’s going in the right direction in terms of where the car needs to go, where performance needs to go. And still kind of finding the sweet spot about it, because yes, you want to be pushy in certain aspects.

“I definitely think people just behave differently. Culturally, mentally, there’s ways to extract performance out of individuals. You can’t do that until you know people personally on a personal level.

“And that takes time, that takes a bit of getting to know and sitting down, that’s dinners, just conversations with the factory. So it feels like going into [the 2023 season], there’s obviously a sense of getting to know them much more.”