Alex Albon is determined to return to the Formula 1 field in 2022 and has outlined his intentions to win back his place at Red Bull after being dropped this season.
Having proved no match for teammate Max Verstappen throughout a difficult 2020 campaign, Albon, who himself was drafted into the senior squad to replace the struggling Pierre Gasly midway through his rookie F1 season in 2019, found himself on the receiving end of similar treatment.
Despite claiming two podium finishes in his one-and-a-half-year stint at Red Bull, the Anglo-Thai racer has been dropped in favour of Sergio Perez for the upcoming 2021 season after scoring just under half the points Verstappen managed and qualifying on average around 0.5 seconds slower than the Dutchman.
In his first interview with the written media since being demoted to reserve driver by Red Bull at the end of last year, Albon spoke of his desire to bounce back from losing his race seat.
“Of course it’s disappointing, it’s always going to be disappointing – this is our dream,” he explained. “But very quickly it was one of those things where there’s no point feeling sorry for yourself.
“You’ve got to get back into it and do as much as you can to get back so my goal, of course, is to be back in a seat next year and just be ready for this year as well. You never know what will happen with Covid.
“I am confident in myself. I know I can bounce back and that is my target. We just have to see how things work out.”
Still only 24, Albon has his sights firmly set on a return to F1 with Red Bull, but what are his chances of achieving his target?
Could a Red Bull return happen?
Alongside his Red Bull reserve duties – that will see him attend every grand prix this year and work in the simulator on the development of the 2021 and 2022 cars – Albon will also race an AlphaTauri branded Ferrari GT3 car with Red Bull backing in the DTM.
It will be a difficult task for Albon to make an impression in the DTM given he has only ever completed a handful of laps in a GT3 car before and is set to miss three rounds of the eight-race 2021 DTM season schedule due to clashing F1 commitments.
Going off Red Bull’s previous form and the demotions of both Gasly and Daniil Kvyat, the team has not previously brought a driver it booted back into the senior team fold.
A decision on Red Bull’s 2022 line-up will be swayed by a number of factors and in many ways, it is out of Albon’s hands, with much depending on how Perez performs. In the meantime, what Albon can control is focusing on doing the best job he can while juggling both roles in a bid to impress Red Bull.
“Firstly, the goal has to be to return with Red Bull, there’s not just two, there are four seats there,” he explained. “And my goal is really to wait and assess how it’s going.
“Obviously if everyone’s performing then you’d be able to know what the situation is. My duty is to focus on what’s going on right now, focus on getting the best for the team, doing what I can, improve myself within the factory. Once we can do that then we’ll see what happens.”
It is not the first time Albon has been dropped in his career and he certainly has the experience and resilience to bounce back from the setback providing all the pieces of the puzzle fit into place.
What about an AlphaTauri seat?
Should the door to Red Bull remain closed, there is a possibility that Albon could return to the company’s sister team AlphaTauri in 2022.
Like Red Bull, this a complicated picture that relies on outside factors. Red Bull has just promoted Yuki Tsunoda, who it rates very highly, to an AlphaTauri seat for 2021 after an outstanding rookie season saw him finish third in Formula 2 last year.
Red Bull is seemingly prepared to give the exciting 20-year-old Japanese racer time to learn at AlphaTauri alongside Gasly, who will take on the team leader role following his own brilliant year which was capped off with a surprise maiden victory at the Italian Grand Prix.
With AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost expecting strong performances and “some crashes” from Tsunoda during his debut F1 season, it would appear unlikely he would be dropped after a year unless he endures a complete nightmare.
But if a drive at AlphaTauri was to be on the table for 2022, would Albon accept it?
“As I said my main goal is to be in a Formula 1 car so, I would, yeah,” he replied when asked that very question.
Unless things don’t work out for Tsunoda, or Gasly decided to move on, it is hard to picture Albon returning to AlphaTauri.
The Red Bull ship may well have sailed for Albon with the energy-drinks firm already keeping its eye on other juniors waiting in the queue, including the highly-rated Juri Vips who faces a big year during his first full season in F2.
Are there options outside of Red Bull?
If it is clear that seats at Red Bull and AlphaTauri are locked out for 2022, Albon may be forced to take control of his own destiny by quitting the Red Bull programme altogether and begin shopping around for other alternatives.
His saving grace is that the 2022 driver market already looks incredibly open. This hinges heavily on what happens at Mercedes, with both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas out of contract at the end of the year. Any decision there is likely to set off a domino effect, with only half of the grid currently signed up for 2022.
Albon will have plenty of competition for the places, though, with Nico Hulkenberg among those vying for a drive after his starring cameos last year and a host of exciting talents looking to make their mark in F2 and progress.
While Albon insisted his priority is to secure a drive with Red Bull, he admitted he will be keeping an eye on developments in the coming months.
“We’ll have to see,” Albon said. “By the summer break, you’ll understand how things are playing out.
“Right now, until that point, the full effort is with Red Bull.”