This Formula One season has been a busy one. Exploding tires, an imploding calendar, and the most important bit: a renewed Red Bull Racing straight-up fighting a regulation-hobbled Mercedes. And then there’s the silly season, which has been overexcitable this year Kimi Raikkonen retiring, Valtteri Bottas heading to Alfa Romeo, and George Russell taking his place at Mercedes. Today, Williams announced that Russell’s old seat being filled by Alex Albon.
That’s right, the same Alex Albon that Red Bull had lapping Silverstone to come up with tangible proof that Lewis Hamilton deserved to be punished after the infamous British GP crash. Albon remains Red Bull-backed and the car he’ll be driving in 2022 has a Mercedes power unit (and technical partnership), making it a possible conflict of interest between F1’s two top teams.
In the increasingly cringe battle of who can talk the biggest game between Toto Wolff and Christian Horner, there seemed to be a conflict last weekend about whether Albon could go to Williams. Horner indicated really strongly that he preferred Williams, not Alfa Romeo (where Giovinazzi’s seat is being contested for next year). Wolff, however, said Albon could not be connected to Red Bull anymore if he was to drive a Mercedes-powered car next year.
Williams doesn’t just buy engines from Mercedes, but it has a deeper technical partnership that results in extensive parts-sharing including gearboxes and “other transferrable components.” Williams pays Mercedes for the privilege (or at least, has had some deal with them) and it’s not a subsidiary or B-team to the factory outfit. But nonetheless, there’s a lot of Mercedes’ own stuff in the Williams. So you can see why Wolff would have an issue with a Red Bull-backed driver there, soaking all of that information in.
If Albon’s Williams announcement meant he was out of the caffeine giant’s program then that’d be ok and all, but weirdly enough, it’s not. He’s actually wearing an AlphaTauri (Red Bull’s fashion brand) shirt, not a Williams team shirt like Nicholas Latifi. Albon even publicly thanked Red Bull for brokering the contract.
“The most sincere thank you to Jost and everyone at Williams for trusting me with this opportunity and of course Red Bull Racing, especially Christian and Dr. Marko for making this possible,” Albon tweeted.
Essentially, Red Bull has funded a seat at its rival’s technical partner. It’s either the most blatant F1 espionage since Spygate or just a great way to piss off Mercedes in the turf war over the final seats for 2022.
Prior to Albon, the other option for the Williams seat was factory Mercedes Formula E driver and first world champion Nyck de Vries, who is also in the frame for a seat at Alfa Romeo.
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