🇨🇦 F1'23: R8 - Views from the six (pointer)

Montreal might be the cause of huge celebration from Williams, with Alex Albon showing how to keep a position and how to create hope

The Canadian Grand Prix might be a bit of a turning point for the Thai driver. Now representing Williams, Albon secured his 30th points finish in Formula 1 with a superb display of defensive driving, being the head of a DRS train with several rivals waiting to pounce on an error.

That error never came, as Albon coolly collected his best result for Williams, and the team’s best result since the heavily-asterisked second place for George Russell at Spa 2021. 

These performances don’t happen overnight though. Albon, suddenly 27 somehow, showed a level of maturity that the back of the pack teams crave. It would have been easy for him to touch his brakes just a little too late or place the car slightly off line and be swallowed up and spat outside of the points.

But throughout the weekend, he never seemed overwhelmed. In theory, the final sector in Montreal should suit the aerodynamically poor Williams, with high straight line speed keeping its nose ahead of their rivals, but it should have been outshined on the technical aspects of the track. That didn’t happen and while the clutch of cars behind him did get the benefits of DRS, Albon still finished the race at the front of that battle.

He had a great weekend overall, timing his Q2 run perfectly on slick tyres, finishing the session on top. It didn’t quite translate into a good Q3 result, where he didn’t get a banker lap set before a red flag and bad weather.

This must have been a fantastic boost of confidence, bolstered by grid penalties elsewhere meaning he started the race in ninth, and some illustrious names looking at his as a potential easy target early on, especially as he was the only driver to start the race on used mediums.

But he shed those at a perfect time, and drove 59 laps on hard tyres - more than anyone else - as he one-stopped his way to seventh.

Something Albon has always managed to do well is make his tyres last. In Melbourne 2022, he started dead last after being disqualified from qualifying (this is the most fun phrase I’ve ever written), and battled his way to tenth, taking the final point by getting his stop done on the final lap, a very rarely-attempted strategy, surprising even the race officials, who already had some VIPs walking down the Melbourne pitlane.

To me, Albon and Pierre Gasly will always be linked. Part of the Red Bull shuffle to be in the car next to Max Verstappen, eventually, neither driver came out on top, with Sergio Perez making the position his own.

Gasly eventually moved over to Alpine, Albon took a year out in 2021 and then returned as a maybe surprise move back onto the grid - there aren’t many success stories where people leave F1 and return, but Albon could well set the blueprint for drivers like Mick Schumacher and Danny Ricciardo, who have stayed in the system and are already being mentioned as part of 2024’s rumour mill.

Albon will also be linked with Lando Norris and George Russell. All three drivers came into F1 in the same year, with Albon maybe given the short straw in terms of hype. Russell won the junior F2 championship, Norris was runner up and Albon third (Nyck de Vries was fourth that year!)

Albon arguably had the best landing spot, moving into Toro Rosso and a clear shot at progression. He eventually got his chance, but was eventually dropped. While his friendship with his F2 rivals is well documented, it must have been somewhat satisfying that he was able to keep an albeit hobbled Russell behind him.

So what can Albon improve? It’s difficult, but he has been unable to score points in bunches while at Williams. This result broke a streak of six consecutive non-points finishes and could be that the Williams is a circuit-dependant car, but it’s difficult to tell, as Williams have had limited data from Logan Sargeant, who is one of two drivers yet to score a point.

But maybe he won’t need to. Albon’s six points in Canada puts his team a few clear of Alpha Tauri, and within striking distance of Haas, Alfa Romeo, and why not McLaren? They share a Mercedes engine and Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, while confident, competent drivers, had their second consecutive non-points finish. There is no reason why Williams should not be aiming for sixth as a goal this season, something that not even the most optimistic fan would have predicted at the start of 2023. With that said, there is a long way to go. We’re only a third of the way through the season and there is a very intense month to come.

If other racing series put a big emphasis on May, then July is the equivalent of that for Formula 1. With no Premier League Sunday afternoons, or the NFL or another sports behemoth competing for the same eyeballs at the same time, there are four big events to take us into the summer break. 

We’ll start off July in Austria, and what promises to be a Red Bull celebration at their true home track. They became the fifth team to reach the magic century mark, and the track they share a sponsor with promises to be the biggest party of the summer. 

It’ll also be a good marker for Albon. He has scored points in Styria just once, and suddenly seventh place in the Constructors is properly up for grabs. If Williams are to secure their best finish since 2017, they will be doing it through Alex Albon’s defensive instincts, calmness and ability to pick the right spot.

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