lunedì, Maggio 20, 2024

Albon to Williams: a great decision or is there a massive risk?

Every year we hear this phrase during summer- “the F1 silly season has begun”. A tad late, but this week had it all – moves which surprised no one, and then the confirmation of Alex Albon at Williams Racing for the 2022 season, which was surprising. Alex Albon’s rookie season in 2019 saw his promotion from Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing mid-season, finishing 8th in the championship. However, after a year away, he’s back on the grid partnering up with his 2018 F2 DAMS teammate Nicholas Latifi.

Who doesn’t love win-win situations but is this one of them? Albon – clear winner, but is there a chance that some of the other players in the paddock may have drawn the short end of the stick? Williams Racing is a non-works team that means they buy their engine, in this case from Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team – a collaboration that requires a bit of information back and forth between the teams, as they’re working on the car throughout a season.

Engine development in F1 is about to freeze from next year until 2025, which means Williams is stuck with their engine supplier relationship for the next three years. Interestingly, Albon is the test and development driver for Red Bull Racing in 2021 – ‘test’ being the keyword. The 2022 engine at RBR is already being developed, and Alex has undoubtedly spent considerable time providing input to the team. “Alex is a Red Bull spy” is a theory that Twitter seems to love.

Alex’s post on twitter about his new adventure in Williams for the 2022 season

However, questioning Albon’s integrity as he gets to live the dream he’s worked incredibly hard for is incredulous, to say the least. He is also a person who is committed to showing watchful eyes what he is capable of, which means contributing to fine-tuning the car he’s driving in. A driver’s role in helping develop the car is a massive contributor to a team’s success. To ask a human to forget all of their past knowledge as they go into a new job would be crazy.

Contractual obligation be damned, pardon the language; a F1 driver who’s grown in the Red Bull camp will not forget tricks from his last job as he goes into his following. Does that mean a team that frequently works with Mercedes will have unintentional access to critical intellectual property from Red Bull? The risk here is real – the reason most jobs have a non-compete clause with competitor firms for a year or two post an employment period.

Can one be entirely sure that the Austrian team can protect everything in Albon’s head and ensure that no Red Bull tricks will unintentionally pass on to Williams and Mercedes? Unfortunately, nobody can be. There has to be a moment where a critical engine setting and driving style-related data point will be sure to pass on eventually. Yes, one could argue that other drivers from Red Bull have successfully transitioned to other teams in the past, but none in a championship fight that is closest it’s ever been between Red Bull and Mercedes and will be in the near future.

Alexander Albon from Thailand, third Red Bull Racing Honda rider, strolls through the paddock during the 2021 season

Additionally, Red Bull has not fully released Albon from their contract either. Alexander has temporarily been let go, with the option to work on ‘future opportunities.’ Hypothetically, Williams decides that 2021 Formula E winner Nyck De Vries is a better option for the 2023 seat, and one of the Red Bull or Alpha Tauri seats opens back up, and Albon returns to either of those teams – the risk of reverse intellectual property leakage after a year of driving for a Mercedes customer team in terms of engine information equally exists, probably more significant than the risk to Red Bull.

The move clearly shows Williams is unwilling to settle for as a B-team and be known on its own merits after a tough few years on the grid. Could it also be a sign of goodwill that the Red Bull camp is extending to the Oxfordshire-based outfit, as Red Bull transitions into being a works team in 2022 and is making a play to find a customer for the new engines they are manufacturing?

Did Horner draw the short end of the stick here, or was it Toto Wolff, who clearly stated his intent to have De Vries drive for Williams instead? No one knows yet, and only time will tell. However, Albon and his management seem to be convinced that all parties involved will come out with a good outcome. Until then, the F1 community will have to wait and watch.

F1-Author: Abby Rakshit – @AbbyRakshit

Photo: William F1 Red Bull Racing Honda

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