Thai flavour for Toro Rosso

Dropped by Red Bull in 2012, British-born Albon gets big break after finishing third in F2

LONDON • It is far from easy to become a Formula One driver.

One needs to start from the bottom and race his way up to the highest class of single-seater motor racing sanctioned by the International Automobile Federation (FIA).

A lot of hard work is required to get through roadblocks along the way, and sometimes even that is not enough - an aspiring F1 driver can only hope for a second chance after failing to impress.

Alexander Albon has gone through all of that, and he is thrilled to become the first Thai to race in F1's modern era after the Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso team announced on Monday that they had signed him for next season.

The British-born 22-year-old, who joins Russian Daniil Kvyat in a new line-up, finished third in this year's Formula Two championship.

The only other Thai to have raced in F1 was the wealthy Birabongse Bhanubandh, better known as Prince Bira, who contested 19 grands prix between 1950 and 1954 with a best result of fourth.

Albon, who was runner-up in GP3 two years ago to 2019 Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, said it was an amazing feeling to realise a dream.

"Throughout my single-seater career, I went through a few ups and downs. I was dropped by Red Bull in 2012, so from then I knew my road to Formula One was going to be a lot harder," he said.

"I have to say a big thank you to Red Bull and (their motor sport consultant) Dr (Helmut) Marko for believing in me and giving me a second chance.

British-born Thai Alexander Albon, 22, finished third in this year's Formula Two championship. He joins Daniil Kyvat in the Toro Rosso line-up for the 2019 season. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ ALEX_ALBON

"I've always been motor sport-mad. Since I first got into a car, it's been my dream to be in F1. To be given this opportunity is incredible."

He is just the fourth South-east Asian F1 driver after Prince Bira, Malaysia's Alex Yoong (2001-02) and Indonesia's Rio Haryanto (2016).

His arrival means New Zealander Brendon Hartley, a Le Mans 24 Hours winner and world endurance champion, has lost his seat.

His French teammate Pierre Gasly has graduated to the main Red Bull team who finished third in the constructors' championship. Toro Rosso were ninth out of 10 teams.

Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost said Albon, who was dropped from Red Bull's young driver programme in 2012, had showed in F2, the official feeder series to F1, that he has what it takes to drive in the top tier.

"He won four races and finished third in the championship. The way he was able to overtake many of his rivals in the races shows that he is ready and matured to race in Formula One," said the Austrian.

Albon is also a good fit for the Red Bull energy drink brand, which has its origins in Thailand with the late Chaleo Yoovidhya a co-founder of the company with Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz.

F2 winner George Russell and runner-up Lando Norris, both British, are also stepping up to F1 next year with faded former champions Williams and McLaren respectively.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2018, with the headline 'Thai flavour for Toro Rosso'. Print Edition | Subscribe