Thai driver Alexander Albon wants to surprise a few people

Thai F1 driver Alexander Albon of Scuderia Toro Rosso poses for a photo with a fan at the paddock ahead of the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne.
Thai F1 driver Alexander Albon of Scuderia Toro Rosso poses for a photo with a fan at the paddock ahead of the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne.

LONDON • Alexander Albon would have to start thinking about competing in next year's Tokyo Olympics to truly follow in the footsteps of the only other Thai to race in the Formula One world championship.

The Toro Rosso rookie, who was 13th in qualifying and will make his race debut in Australia today as his country's first F1 driver of the modern era, moves in a very different world to his late predecessor.

Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh, known simply as B. Bira, started 18 championship grands prix, including the first at Silverstone in 1950, and retired at the age of 40 in 1954 as one of the sport's more colourful characters.

A British-educated member of the Siamese royal family, he also competed in sailing at four Olympics, including Tokyo 1964, between 1956 and 1972.

Abandoning plans to become a sculptor, he used his considerable wealth to go racing in cars bearing a white mouse emblem and painted in what became the Thai racing colours of pale blue and yellow.

"He seemed a proper sportsman, from what I understood. I'm not sure I could replicate that. I could give it a go," Albon, 22, told Reuters.

"Motor sport is where I excel... but I'm okay at drawing, hopefully."

Albon, British-born and educated with a Thai mother and English father, comes from a rather different background. A Buddhist who frequents a Thai temple in Wimbledon and has lucky charms tied around his wrist, he has come up through karting and junior series.

His father Nigel competed in the British Touring Car Championship and sportscar races, while mother Kankamol made headlines in Britain when she was sentenced in 2012 to six years in jail for a multi-million-pound fraud involving luxury cars.

Albon is a good fit for Toro Rosso owners Red Bull, whose energy drink brand has its origins in Thailand, but that is largely incidental.

He did enough in pre-season testing to support the suspicion that he could be a surprise package.

Albon set the second-fastest lap, of the 20 drivers, at the first four-day test and was then sixth in the final week in Barcelona.

"I am more than optimistic that he will do a good job," said team boss Franz Tost.

Albon, who won four races in Formula 2 last year and finished third after missing out on the runner-up spot at the end, hopes so.

"I don't see why I can't try and surprise a few people. People who don't really know me and don't know what I can do. Of course it gives me a bit of motivation to prove what I can do," he said.

A world champion in the KF3 karting class in 2010, he was also runner-up in the GP3 series in 2016 to Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc.

"That was my very first year where I thought 'this is where I'm going to see what I'm really like', because Charles back then was also this up-and-coming superstar," he said. "And to be able to mix with him gave me a lot of confidence."

Albon, dropped by Red Bull following a difficult 2012 season, returned when he was given the race seat last November after he had extricated himself from a deal to race for Nissan in the all-electric Formula E series.

"I had no feeling that when I did get dropped in 2012 there was never a chance to come back," he said. "I think that's actually the drive, to prove to everyone that I do deserve it and that I can try and prove myself for another chance in Formula 1."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 17, 2019, with the headline 'Thai driver Albon wants to surprise a few people'. Subscribe