After a year in DTM, Alex Albon is back in Formula 1. In an interview, the Williams driver explains how he used the time and why he would like to move to the Eifel.
You entered Formula 1 in 2019. What advice would you give the rookie from back then now?
Albon: I felt well prepared back then. But I would tell him that you can't buy experience that easily. Everything needs it's time. Although I wasn't in Formula 1 last year, I now feel better prepared than I did at the end of 2020. And when I say experience, it's not just about the driving itself.
They won the rookie of the year vote against Russell and Norris. What went wrong after that?
Albon: I wouldn't say anything went wrong. That would be an exaggeration. After half a year I was put straight into a top team. Earlier than any other driver and without testing the year before. If you look at youngsters today, they get the chance to develop slowly. 2019 was a good year. Then in 2020 I struggled with the car.
Where were the problems?
Albon: It was the experience that was missing. If you look at the gaps from Checo (Perez) to Max (Verstappen) at the beginning of last year, it was no different than it was for me. I took a lot of criticism for my performance. The break in 2021 came at just the right time. When you're not driving, you can step back and suddenly see the whole picture. I realized how important it is to get everything out of the car. Sometimes you don't feel comfortable with a setup, but it's still the best set-up. I had to understand that first.
You drove DTM for a year. Did you always believe that the Formula 1 return would work?
Albon: Of course you can never be sure. But I was always fully motivated to work towards the comeback. We also had a plan B and C. But plan A was always Formula 1. I really enjoyed DTM, but I've been dreaming of Formula 1 since I was five years old.
You wouldn't call the DTM a lost year?
Albon: Of course a year in Formula 1 is better than a year outside. But I tried to minimize the loss and use the time. I had a few Pirelli tests with Red Bull, but it was three or four days at most. That's why I had to improve mainly through the work off the track.
How difficult was it to switch back and forth between DTM and Formula 1?
Albon: A DTM car is something completely different. Funnily enough, I mainly had problems with the electronic helpers in the car. Driving in Formula 1 is very puristic. It's just you and the car, while the DTM racers still have ABS and traction control.Sometimes it's more about understanding these helpers than the car itself. You had to know the limits of the electronics and not the limits of the tires.
Which DTM track do you remember in particular?
Albon: The Lausitzring was really super cool. We drove the oval variant. I already knew some of the other routes from my junior days. The best was the Nordschleife. We raced the DTM on the GP circuit, but Liam (Lawson) and I spent every available minute on the Nordschleife. At first we messed around with a rental car. I had a Citroën C3, he had a VW Polo. At some point Red Bull gave us two Porsche GT3 RS. That was really awesome. I couldn't believe how much fun this is. Liam and I have even considered buying a house near the Nordschleife so we can drive our own cars every day.
What would you think of Formula 1 on the Nordschleife?
Albon: That would be perfect. Of course we need hard tires that don't overheat so quickly. But otherwise it wouldn't be that complicated, I don't think. For the carousel you would have to think about something. And then please DRS on the whole long straight.
Back to Formula 1 today: How difficult was the transition from the big Red Bull team to Williams?
Albon: Of course, Red Bull has financial advantages that still have an impact even with a budget cap. In terms of structure and working methods, however, both teams are very similar. The dynamic always depends on the personalities of the employees.
And how does it feel when you suddenly don't have a chance to get a top place?
Albon: It has no effect on my motivation. I really want to show people what I'm capable of. I still have a few scores to settle with Formula 1. Of course, the perspective is a bit different. Points are like wins for us. But you get the hang of it quickly. I still have a lot of fun. We're seeing the progress. It would be more difficult if we didn't develop further.
How big was the disappointment at the beginning of the season with the new car?
Albon: We had high hopes before the winter tests. Unfortunately, we weren't where we would have liked to be. But we knew we could improve more this year than we used to. We then completely changed our design concept in the middle of the season.
With the B version, are you able to score points regularly?
Albon: I wouldn't say that. The upgrade brought us closer to midfield. But we still have to fight for every point. That's an improvement for us. We're still learning with the new package. With a few more upgrades, things could look very different in a few races.
With Jost Capito you have a German team boss who always makes a very funny impression. Can he also be a tough dog?
Albon: He is a very charismatic and passionate person. But he also has a serious side. He asserts his opinion and has a clear vision, which is very important. He is strong when asked. I have a lot of respect for him.
Imagine being a team boss yourself and being able to choose two drivers from the field.
Albon: If I didn't have to consider salaries, I would definitely take Max (Verstappen). He is extremely talented and brings everything with him. Looking to the future, I would still choose a young driver. Because of the team dynamic, the choice would fall on Lando (Norris). He gets along well with Max. Max and George (Russell), that would probably mean fireworks.
Are there big differences among the young drivers?
Albon: All are on a similar level but with different experience. Max has the most races under his belt. He's used to driving at the front of a top team. Charles also made a move this year. Then there's George fighting with Lewis. That's very impressive. And then there's Lando, who drives very hard.
You were on a par with these drivers when you were a junior. Stuck at Williams now?
Albon: You have to accept that. Everyone has the chance to prove themselves. Mine came very early in my career.
Did the promotion to Red Bull come too soon?
Albon: I wouldn't say that. But with the current experience, it would certainly have looked very different back then. As for the others, I know them all very well. They are all very talented. We've all fought each other in the karts and pushed each other. It is fascinating how this young generation is now pushing forward. I see it as a kind of changing of the guard. And we're actually not that young anymore.