Albon grabbed his unexpected shot at Formula 1 with both hands, parlaying it into a career-making drive at Red Bull for the second half of the season. His performances were good enough to keep the seat full-time next year, although by his own admission he must take a step forward.
Albon’s tenacity, determination and underlying ability were all impressive. He’s certainly quick and executed some great race drives, notably coming from the pitlane to ninth in China, finishing sixth at Hockenheim then being a consistent scorer at Red Bull. But if he’s to realise his massive potential, he must cut back on the crashes and close the gap of just over four tenths to Verstappen.
Team-mate Daniil Kvyat bagged all the plaudits for his redemptive third place in the Germany Grand Prix, but he wasn’t even the best Toro Rosso driver that day. In fact, the exceptional circumstances of that race meant Albon arguably turned in the best race performance in a Toro Rosso of the season, despite the fact he was the only one of the three who didn’t stand on the podium.
He had never driven a Formula 1 car in the wet until the quartet of formation laps ahead of the standing start at Hockenheim. Yet in a race where even the best in the business were making costly mistakes, with Charles Leclerc crashing out, Lewis Hamilton hitting the wall under the safety car, Max Verstappen spinning on his way to victory and Valtteri Bottas shunting late on, the least experienced wet-weather F1 driver excelled.
Traffic in the stadium section and encountering Lando Norris on his qualifying lap left Albon down in 16th but after a cautious start, he was called in for intermediates when the safety car was deployed on lap two after Sergio Perez crashed out – along with Sebastian Vettel he was one of only two drivers to do so.
He restarted 14th and, while he didn’t pull off many overtaking moves during the race – and did have a brief off-track moment at Turn 2 – he did follow an orthodox two-stop strategy that meant he spent all but seven laps in the top 10. He might have finished third in the race behind Verstappen and Vettel, but a combination of safety cars and strategic gambles allowed Kvyat, Carlos Sainz Jr – who had a costly off earlier in the race – and Lance Stroll to get ahead.
But the point had been made, underlined by passing Red Bull driver Pierre Gasly – with a little contact as he attempted to hold the position that led to the ‘senior’ driver’s retirement. Sixth was a lesser reward than he deserved but, given he had been holding such a strong position, it made no sense to make a big strategic gamble late on.
“It was maybe the most disappointing sixth that I could have got,” said Albon of the drive later. “I felt like we were running at the front for so long. In a race like that, strategy is always a factor and to be in the position I was in and pitted with Seb at the start. It was just swings and roundabouts really, some people got it right in different situations and we were the most consistent.
“We never really made a mistake in our calls, and there was nothing we could've done really. When we kind of sat with my team and had a look at it, we realised, it would've been very risky to do a call on slicks when you're running in fourth.”