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Formula 1

Irritating Mercedes is key to Albon’s crash rescue plan

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
6 min read

Alex Albon has targeted being a “thorn in the Mercedes strategy” in the Bahrain Grand Prix after completing the first parts of his recovery from a heavy Friday practice crash.

Albon required a new chassis after a huge impact in FP2 when he ran wide exiting the final corner, lost control on the run-off and fishtailed into the wall on the outside.

It was the latest error in a string of mistakes since Albon was told by Red Bull to “justify” his place in the team at the end of an underwhelming first full year as Max Verstappen’s team-mate.

Albon bounced back on Saturday to match his best qualifying performance of the season and line up alongside Verstappen on the second row of the grid, albeit almost six tenths slower than his team-mate.

The first stages of what can be termed his ‘crash rescue plan’ have been complete. But the most important part is yet to come.


Albon has strong mental resilience and has proven before he can respond well to mistakes, even if the jury is still out on whether he has the capability to perform at the highest level in F1.

But such a costly mistake – literally and figuratively – at such a crucial time of the season with his career on the line could derail any driver under pressure.

“Firstly you’ve got to own up to a mistake,” said Albon in explaining how he handled the accident. “Then it’s more just about putting it behind you really.

“Obviously you apologise but at the same time you focus on the next day. OK, we had the crash but you don’t really think about that, you’re thinking about how was the car before then and what areas do we need to work on so we can hit FP3 running.

“That’s kind of the mindset. There’s no point dwelling on it, or regretting or thinking you could have done this or that, because that’s not very helpful.”

Alex Albon, Red Bull, Bahrain GP, F1

Albon had a slight crash hangover in the form of a cautious run through the final corner in FP3 on Saturday but was otherwise back on his normal pace, 0.6s slower than Verstappen but well clear of the midfield.

He settled into his new chassis quickly too, and that meant he went into qualifying with no lingering doubts.

“In a team like Red Bull the quality is really high, and you’re not going to get big things, big differences,” he said of his new chassis.

“It’s more just set-up and feeling. And on top of that confidence. You want to get on it quickly.

“But I was quite happy with it. It was a silly mistake to begin with yesterday so I knew I’d put it behind me pretty quickly and focus.”


Alex Albon Red Bull Bahrain Grand Prix practice 2020There have been plenty of occasions this season where Albon has looked solid through practice then underdelivered when it mattered.

And he did need an insurance appearance at the end of Q2 on softs just in case his solid-but-unspectacular lap on mediums wasn’t good enough to make it through to the top-10 shootout.

But, all in all, Albon did just about enough in qualifying. He battled through low-speed oversteer that had transitioned from understeer since FP3, causing him to have “these little snaps just where you don’t want it, and I had to drop my minimum speed quite a lot”.

Having survived that, he’ll start the race fourth, something he’s only managed for the third time this year. And he’ll be on the medium tyres, having avoided that painful need to complete his final Q2 lap on softs.

Alex Albon, Red Bull, Bahrain GP, F1


The encouraging thing for Albon is despite the crash he has been able to continue some kind of momentum.

True, the gap to Verstappen is too big at 0.6s, and the gap behind to Sergio Perez is too small at less than 0.1s. But in the six races since Red Bull made a clear performance step, Albon has qualified 10th, fifth, sixth, sixth, fourth and now fourth again.

Outright pace remains a concern but the trajectory in qualifying is promising. It is, at the very least, starting in an appropriate position.

But the final part of the plan is what mattes most – putting together a race that’s actually Red Bull-worthy. Speaking of which…


Lewis Hamilton takes Bahrain GP pole 2020Apart from when he opportunistically (and very briefly) launched himself into win contention at the end of the Austrian Grand Prix, Albon has failed to join Verstappen in troubling Mercedes this season.

In fact, the absence of the second Red Bull in the lead fight has left Verstappen powerless to avoid being snookered by Mercedes at times.

So it was not that surprising to hear Verstappen sound less than convinced when asked if he had a rear gunner in Albon for Sunday’s race.

After a brief pause, Verstappen said: “Yeah, well let’s see what happens. I’ll just try to focus on myself and try to stay close to the Mercedes cars and I’ll see if somebody can follow us.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, F1, Bahrain GP

Hardly a ringing endorsement for Albon but this is ultimately his job at Red Bull. Finishing a distant fourth would still be a ‘so what?’. And he knows that because instead of settling for what he has, he’s explicitly targeted influencing the lead battle.

“FP1 was pretty decent, FP3 was pretty decent,” Abon said. “So, fourth didn’t seem unrealistic. It felt like something which was definitely achievable before qualifying.

“But of course it was nice to have it and the car’s been feeling good this weekend, especially [on Saturday] it’s kind of clicked a bit more.

“P4 is nice. Hopefully we can be a thorn in the Mercedes strategy and see what we can do.”

Verstappen couldn’t quite take the fight to Lewis Hamilton when it mattered in qualifying but Red Bull tends to close to the gap on Sundays and the last time Verstappen was close-ish (the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix) he turned that into a proper Mercedes-harrying drive on Sunday.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Day Imola, Italy

If he splits the Mercedes drivers at the start, and he has every chance of doing that from third, Albon must tuck into fourth place and prevent the second Mercedes from undercutting Verstappen.

Otherwise, Red Bull will be forced to react to the second Mercedes and be defensive, rather than attacking the lead car. On the rare occasions Albon has qualified well enough to be a potential rear gunner he has slipped back too often at the start.

There have been few opportunities as good as this for him to prove his worth to Red Bull. Doing so would complete his rescue plan in style – which is surely what he needs to lock down his seat for 2021.

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