By THE NATION
Alex Albon was satisfied with his weekend’s work in Melbourne yesterday after the first Thai driver in Formula 1’s modern era threatened a huge shock before settling for a respectable 14th place at the Australian Grand Prix.
In Friday’s practice, Albon suffered the dubious honour of becoming the first driver of the season to crash out, sending his Toro Rosso car spinning into the barriers. Further evidence the Thai might be out of his depth at the top level came with a panicked message from his cockpit: “Oh my God … I got my fingers stuck in the headrest and nearly hit the wall.” But then Saturday’s qualifying saw him unexpectedly surge past his more experienced Russian teammate Daniil Kvyat into 13th place on the grid.
Kvyat, with a season of F1 already under his belt, was two grid places behind as the red lights blinked out and the Thai stomped on the accelerator yesterday.
The result was a lightning start for Thailand’s new era at the top of global motorsports.
“The race started off very well, I dropped the clutch and thought ‘great, that was okay!’ I made up two positions straight away and at that time we were in the mix, as I was already one position away from the points,” said Albon, after yesterday’s racing.
“That was pretty much as good as it got for me, though,” he added, complaining that the Toro Rosso tyre strategy failed to pay off.
“We were in a battle with [Alfa Romeo’s Antonio] Giovinazzi, I think he was struggling with his tyres and everyone on that strategy lost out."
Despite losing ground to more experienced rivals as his tyres began to wear, Albon declared himself satisfied with his performance in Melbourne.
“All of the guys who stayed out on the harder compound behind overcut us. That compromised our race but I’m still happy with how my weekend went. I think we could have had points so that stings a little, but it was a good experience and I came away with a clean weekend, relatively speaking!”
His teammate Kvyat had reason to be delighted, though, after finishing 10th to earn a point and prove that the Honda-powered Toro Rosso machine is competitive among the mid-ranked cars.
“It was an excellent race today! I’m happy with the way I drove and it was really enjoyable,” said Kvyat.
“There was a lot of positives to come from the race. … We had good tyre management throughout the race and we definitely had the pace to fight for higher positions but, as we know, it’s difficult to overtake around Albert Park.
“I know we have a good package with the car and the engine, so we need to keep developing it. I’m very optimistic for the next few races and I think it’s possible to achieve good results.”
Team Principal Franz Tost was impressed by Albon’s driving accuracy on Melbourne’s tricky street circuit: “Alex did a great job … because this was his first race in F1 and it’s not an easy circuit around here. Nevertheless, he didn’t make any mistake and learned a lot throughout the weekend. After the first race weekend, we feel we have a strong package, so I’m optimistic for the next races.”