Alexander Albon’s whirlwind 18 months in which he’s both a begged for a seat and turned his back on a manufacturer drive, has culminated in a promotion to one of Formula 1’s elite teams just 12 races into his F1 career.
Peter Fox (Getty)
Albon will replace the struggling Pierre Gasly at Red Bull from the Belgian Grand Prix onwards. Gasly, who has failed to score a podium in his 12 races since being promoted to Red Bull, will return to Toro Rosso in a straight seat swap.
The circumstances by which Albon has found himself in this position are remarkable. Hollywood take note, depending on how the next few months and years go, you could have a blockbuster retelling on your hands.
Filling Fernando Alonso’s shoes is no mean feat and a challenge that now poetically falls upon Carlos Sainz Jr, who has made no secret of the fact that he was an Alonso fan growing up.
The baton has been transferred from one Spaniard to another and the hopes of a nation along with it, at a McLaren team currently in strife and with a long road to recovery ahead. Does Sainz have what it takes to live up to that challenge?
When watching Formula 1 races, I steer clear of Twitter. It’s for the same reason as for why it’s best to avoid reviews of a film before watching it for the first time – it’s better not to have someone else’s opinion impeding on your own impressions.
My first reaction when the chequered flag fell on Sunday afternoon – ‘what a brilliant race.’ Safe to say, it was rather surprising to see that the Twitter machine had fired into a frenzy to the contrary, with fans lamenting what they believed to have been a boring race.
Even Fernando Alonso powerfully described it as “the most boring F1 race ever.”
While the top six may have finished in the same positions that they started and overtaking was at a premium, the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix was far better than the critics would lead you to believe.
There is something magical about Monaco. The most densely populated country on the planet invites the Formula 1 circus to put on a showpiece event every year – a 78 lap blast around a location entirely unsuitable for hosting a grand prix.
Nelson Piquet Jr famously described the challenge as like riding a bicycle around your living room. Simply lapping the circuit at the limit of adhesion alone is enough of a trial – overtaking on Monaco’s impossibly narrow streets is the work of a moment of magic.
It may be a procession on Sunday. It may be a winner from pole position and a one-stop strategy. Regardless, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about F1’s blue ribbon event.
With Formula 1’s Strategy Group having recently approved an increase of next year’s fuel limit from 105kg to 110kg per race, the category is obviously moving away from being a fuel efficiency formula.
That’s ultimately a good thing. F1 is no longer able to compete against the likes of Formula E for being pioneers of the technological future. Having lost the high ground in that fight, it has to instead focus on becoming the most entertaining racing series on the planet instead of necessarily being the most technologically advanced one. Providing enough fuel to allow “drivers to use the engine at full power at all times” fits this mandate perfectly.
However, the news has reignited a debate on whether F1 should cut the half-measures and return to in-race refuelling. That would be a bad thing.
The 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was a modern classic. It had elements of soap opera, late-braking bravery, inter and intra-team anguish and plenty of unexpected heroes. The ’18 edition of the race was, as a result, in danger of being over-hyped.
In the end, the race lived up to the blockbuster billing with a finale that would have earned a ‘fresh’ rating from Rotten Tomatoes.
The eve of a brand-new Formula 1 season is one of the year’s most exciting times. The anticipation of discovering which teams have done the best job at scaling the pecking order over the winter, and conversely, which teams have the most work to do?
Predicting the final constructors’ championship results pre-Melbourne is never more than the art of guesswork but in the name of fun, I’ve had a go anyway.
Here is my predicted pecking order for F1’s 2018 season;