In the first GP he attended since his return to the Formula 1 grid was announced, Thai Alex Albon was giving interviews wearing a Red Bull uniform and was surrounded by two Williams press officers. He answered questions precisely about this at least interesting combination between being a driver of the current vice-leaders of the championship and, at the same time, being hired by a team that uses Mercedes engines.
Not by chance, the hiring stirred up the backstage of Formula 1, with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff throwing the name of Dutchman Nyck De Vries onto the market in an attempt to disrupt negotiations, which had been going on for months, between Albon and Williams . Wolff has in the past managed to put Esteban Ocon, a Mercedes driver, on Alpine, but the two teams were never rivals on the track, unlike the Germans and Red Bull.
So much so, that days before Albon was confirmed, Wolff was still telling the press that he would have to leave Red Bull in order to be hired by Williams. But that didn’t happen. When the announcement was made, Albon appeared wearing AlphaTauri clothes, Red Bull’s clothing brand that also names the energy drink company’s second team in F1. And their statement left no doubt: “We have released Alex to become a Williams driver in 2022, but we will maintain a relationship with him, which includes future opportunities.”
It remained for Wolff to say that Albon’s contract is shielded so that the Thai does not take information from Mercedes to rivals, since it will run not only with the German power unit, but also with the gearbox and hydraulic system related to it. , something Williams starts to buy from Mercedes just next year.
“As always, we respect the authority of teams to choose their drivers. When I was at Williams, I didn’t like to see interference in our driver decisions. What’s important for us is that when a driver who comes from another power unit joins one of our teams, there are strict intellectual property confidentiality clauses,” explained Wolff.
Albon, for his part, says he doesn’t know what those clauses are, at least for the time being. “I honestly have no idea,” said the Thai, when asked about Wolff’s statements. “We haven’t talked about it yet. Things are still happening. Let’s wait and see what those clauses are.”
The driver, who debuted for the then Toro Rosso, moved up to Red Bull and was later dismissed by the team, becoming a reserve and test driver at the end of 2020, prefers to think step by step: first, helping Red Bull to win the team championship this year – against Mercedes – and then on making Williams grow. “I feel like I have to do the best job possible now, focus on the short term, and see what happens next,” summed up the rider, who admitted he could have the Red Bull brand on his helmet next year.
This, again, contradicts Wolff, who said Alex “will basically be a Williams driver for the next 12 months, without any connection to Red Bull.”
But how much can Albon serve as a “spy?” The issue of intellectual property of the power unit can be seen in two ways: on the one hand, from 2022 until the end of 2024 or 2025, engine development will be frozen, so there is not much that Red Bull can gain of Albon’s knowledge immediately. On the other hand, there will be much of this current engine in the power unit that will be adopted in 2025 or 2026, and which will be the first that Red Bull will develop independently.
The story also shows a new Williams, who is strengthening the technical partnership with Mercedes, buying more parts from the seven-time world champions, but who is no longer the team of which Wolff remained a partner even after assuming the leadership of Mercedes. Under the command of Jost Capito and receiving an injection of investment from the group that bought the team just over a year ago and that has been closing partnerships, Williams is a team, politically, more independent of Wolff’s influence.
There’s also speculation that Albon’s hiring is a nod towards a partnership with Red Bull in the future, but these are already scenes from the next few chapters.