Alex Albon will make his return to the Formula 1 grid in 2022 with Williams, which has signed him to partner incumbent driver Nicholas Latifi.
Albon is replacing George Russell, who Mercedes has drafted into its factory F1 team for next year.
“We are extremely excited by our new line-up, with both drivers bringing a great blend of youth and experience that will not only be a great fit for the team but also help us take the next step in our journey,” said Williams boss Jost Capito.
Albon got his original F1 chance after emerging as a frontrunner in GP3 and F2, getting himself back into Red Bull’s books as a result and soon being promoted from Toro Rosso into its main team midway through his rookie season in 2019.
Though the sole full season at Red Bull last year yielded two podiums, he was well adrift of team-mate Max Verstappen and was replaced by Sergio Perez for this year.
The decision came quite late in 2020 and Albon dropped off the F1 grid entirely, instead spending 2021 as Red Bull’s test and reserve driver, while also competing in the new-look GT3-spec DTM series. There he has become a race winner in an AF Corse-run AlphaTauri-liveried Ferrari, although he has been overshadowed by his team-mate and fellow Red Bull protege Liam Lawson.
“When you take a year out of F1 it’s never certain you will make a return so I’m extremely thankful to Red Bull and Williams for believing in me and helping me on my journey back to the grid,” Albon said.
“It’s also been great to see all the progress Williams have been making as a team this year and I look forward to helping them continue that journey in 2022.”
Provisional 2022 F1 driver line-up
Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton, George Russell
Red Bull: Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez
Ferrari: Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz
McLaren: Lando Norris, Daniel Ricciardo
Alpine: Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon
AlphaTauri: Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda
Aston Martin: Sebastian Vettel, Lance Stroll
Williams: Nicholas Latifi, Alex Albon
Alfa Romeo: Valtteri Bottas, TBC
Haas: Nikita Mazepin, TBC
Albon’s continued Red Bull ties had emerged as a potential hurdle to his deal with Williams, a Mercedes customer, but Red Bull team principal Christian Horner’s confidence that this would not prove a stumbling block appears to have been well founded.
In reuniting Albon and Latifi, Williams has recreated the 2018 F2 DAMS line-up that helped the French squad to third place in the teams’ championship.
Latifi will head into his third year with Williams, having proven a reliable pair of hands and contributing substantially to the significant gap it currently enjoys in the constructors’ standings over nearest rival Alfa Romeo.
However, he is yet to outqualify the Mercedes-bound Russell.
“I’m excited to be continuing with Williams for another year; partly because of F1’s new technical regulations, but also because the team is moving in a more competitive direction with new owners, management and people on the technical side,” Latifi said.
“I’ve felt at home here since the day I arrived, and I think I’m in the right place to continue with my positive trajectory.
“The aim is to continue making little improvements so we can all take advantage of the opportunity we have next year.”
The Williams announcement means the focus of the silly season now switches to the Alfa Romeo seat alongside Valtteri Bottas, which may well represent the sole chance of getting on the 2022 grid for the likes of Mercedes’ Formula E champion Nyck de Vries, F2 points leader Guanyu Zhou and incumbent Antonio Giovinazzi.