It isn’t easy to go under the radar in Formula 2, the highest level of junior formula before Formula 1. Most of the time, F2 is a support series to F1 and runs across most of the European leg of the F1 season.
But Alex Albon has managed to go under the radar – until Nissan picked him up to contest Season 5 of Formula E alongside Sébastien Buemi.
Nissan e.dams’ 2018/19 driver line-up could easily have been Toro Rosso-Honda’s 2019 line-up in Formula 1. Buemi is a Red Bull Racing test and reserve driver who was out in Singapore for the night race. It fuelled rumours that Buemi was heading back to Toro Rosso, where he was a driver for 55 Grands Prix.
Albon was also a member of the Red Bull junior programme in 2012 but this lasted for just the 2012 season when he was dropped at the end of the year.
Now in his second season of F2, Albon drives for the DAMS outfit and currently lies third in the drivers’ championship – behind 2019 McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris and highly-rated Mercedes-backed George Russell.
He is also ahead of Renault-backed Artem Markelov, who has been in GP2/F2 since 2014.
Perhaps what makes Albon’s championship in 2018 more remarkable is at the start of the season, he was running on a race-by-race deal with DAMS.
In the end DAMS, confirmed him for the season – after Albon took a feature race win on the streets of Baku.
Albon also fought for the 2016 GP3 title alongside Ferrari-bound Charles Leclerc, challenging the Monegasque driver throughout the season. Leclerc would eventually prevail and win F2 in 2017 before moving to F1 for 2017, and a seat at Maranello for 2019.
Albon, who is half-Brit, half-Thai but races under the Thai flag, has had to fight his way up the junior ladder. From being picked up and then dropped by Red Bull to being picked up by Lotus and then dropped when Lotus F1 became Renault, and to only racing on a round-by-round basis at the start of 2018.
His rise since he joined GP3 has been massive, but it wasn’t enough to secure an F1 seat – or an F1 role for 2019.
Formula 1’s loss is Formula E’s gain.
From today, I’ll be starting a new chapter in my career! Extremely excited to be competing in @FIAFormulaE with Nissan e.dams. A big thank you to @damsracing and of course @nissan for their trust in me. A lot of things to learn but I can’t wait to get on with it!#NissanFormulaE pic.twitter.com/wm0UeKqWTW
— Alex Albon (@alex_albon) September 20, 2018
Nissan picked up Albon for Season 5 of FE. It is a statement of intent from the Japanese marque as they look to continue the work started by Renault – the e.dams squad won three consecutive teams’ titles in a from 2014/15 to 2016/17.
Stepping from a combustion car to an all-electric car will be difficult as has been proven by numerous experienced drivers coming into the series.
But with the help of his team-mate Buemi, an experienced FE outfit in e.dams, and a ‘reset’ on performance given by the new Gen 2 cars coming for Season 5, there is no reason why Albon can’t be a success in FE.
He can qualify well – for feature races in F2 in 2018 he has qualified an average of fourth on the grid. For comparison, championship leader Russell’s average qualifying position is 3.6 on the grid. Norris’s average qualifying is just behind with 5.7.
While FE races do tend to feature overtaking, racing on a street circuit requires a good qualifying to be in a good position for when the lights go out. But racing matters too, and Albon can do that and be quick: he has taken three F2 wins in 2018, including on the streets of Baku and at his home event at Silverstone.
He’s also claimed eight podiums in total in F2, the most recent coming in the Monza feature race.
His street circuit record in F2 is also impressive. He claimed pole in Monaco (and would likely have won if not for a collision with Nyck de Vries) on top of his pole and win in Azerbaijan. He has entered three street circuit rounds in F2 (Monaco in 2017 and 2018 and Azerbaijan in 2018) and has finished on the podium in each round.
Everything points to Albon being a success in Formula E. It is too early to say how Albon will fair with any certainty, but the evidence suggests Nissan may have picked up a young talent who can be a real success in FE.
Image courtesy Nissan Newsroom.