F1\u2019s Silly Season Nears Conclusion as Williams Makes Decision

It’s only September, and there’s still nine races remaining in 2021, but Formula 1’s silly season is hurtling towards its conclusion.

In a busy few days of off-track 2022 movements, Valtteri Bottas has decamped from Mercedes to Alfa Romeo, George Russell has taken his place, while Red Bull’s sister team AlphaTauri has retained Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda.

Williams has now swiftly moved to replace Russell with his long-time friend and Red Bull refugee Alexander Albon. The 25-year-old Briton, who competes under a Thai license, will partner with current driver Nicholas Latifi. They were previously teammates in Formula 1’s feeder championship Formula 2 in 2018. That year Albon finished third, behind only Russell and McLaren’s Lando Norris.

Albon started 38 grands prix across 2019 and 2020, the bulk with Red Bull Racing, but was overshadowed by Max Verstappen and replaced for 2021 by Sergio Perez. However, the previous struggles of Gasly—now thriving at AlphaTauri—and current difficulties faced by veteran Perez have put some of Albon’s setbacks into perspective. Red Bull rated Albon highly and retained him as its tester for 2021, valuing his simulator input, but he was keen to race in 2022. Williams emerged as an option and the deal has now been done.

Intriguingly, Red Bull retains “future options” on Albon despite releasing him to compete for Williams. Red Bull officially becomes a power unit supplier in 2022 when it takes over the IP of the current Honda technology in order to supply its two Formula 1 teams. Williams, meanwhile, has been supplied by Mercedes since 2014 and holds a deal through 2025. Albon’s predecessor, Russell, has been a long-term Mercedes junior driver. Mercedes’ Formula E champion, Nyck de Vries, had been linked to a Williams seat but missed out. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff suggested Albon needed to sever all Red Bull ties before joining Williams, but this has not happened. Williams chief Jost Capito has not ruled out Red Bull logos appearing on Williams’ Formula 1 car next year; Capito previously worked at Sauber and Volkswagen’s World Rally team, when Red Bull was its sponsor. Nonetheless, he outlined that determining Russell’s replacement was by no means straightforward.

“It was a highly difficult decision because there are a couple of really good and promising drivers out there,” said Capito. “For us, we finally got what is a combination of youth and F1 experience and also having a really good fit in the team, that Alex and Nicholas have been teammates in Formula 2, so they have a very good relationship. Where Williams is right now, we have to make sure that we have a good relationship and communication between both sides of the garage. As they worked with each other in the past, they know each other, this was also something that was taken into consideration.”

Speaking to media on Wednesday Capito ruminated that de Vries “would deserve a Formula 1 seat” but that “when we have to balance between youth and experience then Alex has an advantage over Nyck. It doesn’t mean that Nyck would have been worse in the seat next year, it doesn’t mean that at all, and I think Toto at the end understands. We are not a ‘B-team’, we are not a satellite team, we have to take the decisions that are right for us and he fully respects that.”

Capito has indicated that he would like Albon to stay long-term and the youngster is eager to grab the olive branch that has come his way.

“When you take a year out of F1, it’s never certain you will make a return,” Albon admitted. “I’m extremely thankful to Red Bull and Williams for believing in me and helping me on my journey back to the grid. It’s also been great to see all the progress Williams have been making as a team this year and I look forward to helping them continue that journey in 2022.”

Williams holds eighth in this year’s standings after making gains under a revised structure. It previously finished last in 2018, 2019, and 2020 and faced long-term financial concerns. The Williams family, who founded the team in the 1970s, departed mid-2020 when a buyer was found. Capito joined in early 2021 and has made widespread changes at its factory. It sees Formula 1’s new-for-2022 regulations as a chance to continue its upward trajectory. Latifi joined in 2020 and scored points in Hungary and Belgium; while he has lacked one-lap pace versus Russell, he has fared comparatively well in race trim.

“I think Williams really has all the ingredients in place to make further progress up the grid and I’m determined to keep playing my part during that journey,” Latifi said. “I’ve felt at home at Williams since the day I arrived, and this has been a big factor in my development as a driver. Race results are moving in the right direction, especially in the last few months when I’ve been able to get my first F1 points in the bag.”

This week’s announcements have formally locked in another six of the 20 seats for 2022. At Aston Martin and Haas their drivers are on multi-year deals and will stay for 2022, pending final communication. That realistically leaves only the second seat at Alfa Romeo up for grabs. That has been occupied since 2019 by Ferrari-affiliated Antonio Giovinazzi. It puts Alfa Romeo in a strong negotiating position as prospective candidates try and stake their claim for 2022.

So, how do you rate this year’s F1 silly season moves so far? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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