Promotion to Red Bull marks Thai's meteoric rise

Thailand's Alexander Albon (right) will join Dutch sensation Max Verstappen at Red Bull from the next race in Belgium till the end of the 2019 Formula One season. PHOTO: REUTERS
Thailand's Alexander Albon (right) will join Dutch sensation Max Verstappen at Red Bull from the next race in Belgium till the end of the 2019 Formula One season. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Rookie Alexander Albon, the first Thai driver in the modern Formula One era, will replace Pierre Gasly as Max Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate from the next race in Belgium until the end of the season, the Formula One team announced yesterday.

The underperforming Frenchman will go in the other direction, taking British-born Albon's seat at the junior Toro Rosso, where he started out before being promoted at the end of last year.

Red Bull said in a statement: "The team will use the next nine races to evaluate Alex's performance in order to make an informed decision as to who will drive alongside Max in 2020."

The switch marks a meteoric rise for the 23-year-old Albon, who was racing in Formula Two last year and seemed destined for a future with Nissan in the all-electric Formula E series before Red Bull stepped in. The energy drinks brand had dropped him from their young driver programme in 2012, but he has seized the second chance they have given him.

Last month's German Grand Prix at Hockenheim was Albon's first wet F1 race and he now finds himself in a winning car after just 12 starts.

Being measured against Verstappen will, however, be a tough challenge, with the sport's youngest race winner seen as a champion-in-waiting. Verstappen, 21, has won two of 12 races this term to lie third on 181 points. Gasly, the 2016 GP2 (now F2) winner, has earned only 63 points and been lapped twice by the Dutchman.

Gasly's demotion means Toro Rosso now have two drivers rejected by Red Bull, with Russian Daniil Kvyat also promoted early in his career, and then demoted and dropped entirely before being given a second chance.

"We're excited to see Alex get the opportunity, and we're happy to be working with Pierre Gasly again," Toro Rosso tweeted.

Albon has gotten himself noticed this term with strong performances, and has even been singled out in testing by team boss Franz Tost as the potential surprise of the season, scoring 16 of Toro Rosso's 43 points from 12 races.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2019, with the headline 'Promotion to Red Bull marks Thai's meteoric rise'. Print Edition | Subscribe