Albon: A big thank you to Toro Rosso for believing

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Alexander Albon of Thailand and Scuderia Toro Rosso  poses for a photo during day one of F1 End of Season Testing at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2018 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by James Bearne/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool  // AP-1XN3HBJ911W11 // Usage for editorial use only // Please go to www.redbullcontentpool.com for further information. //

Alexander Albon will become the first Thai to race in Formula 1’s modern era after the Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso team announced on Monday that they had signed the highly-rated youngster for next season.

The 22-year-old, who joins Russian Daniil Kvyat in a new lineup, finished third in this year’s Formula Two championship and had been due to compete for Nissan in the all-electric Formula E series.

The only other Thai to have raced in Formula One was the wealthy Birabongse Bhanuban, better known as Prince Bira, who contested 18 grands prix between 1950 and 1954 with a best result of fourth.

Albon’s arrival means New Zealander Brendon Hartley, a Le Mans 24 Hours winner and world endurance champion, has lost his seat.

Hartley’s French teammate Pierre Gasly has graduated to the main Red Bull Racing team.

Team principal Franz Tost said Albon, who was dropped from Red Bull’s young driver programme in 2012, had showed in Formula Two — the official feeder series to Formula One — that he had what it takes to drive in F1.

“He won four races and finished the championship third. The way he is able to overtake many of his rivals in the races shows that he is ready and matured to race in Formula One,” said the Austrian.

Albon is also a good fit for the Red Bull energy drink brand, which has its origins in Thailand with the late Chaleo Yoovidhya a co-founder of the company with Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz.

Starting out in karting at an early age, with current five times F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton awarding him one of his many prizes along the way, Albon was a world champion in the KF3 class in 2010.

Formula Two winner George Russell and runner-up Lando Norris, both British, are also stepping up to Formula One next year with faded former champions Williams and McLaren respectively.

Albon, who was runner-up in the GP3 series to 2019 Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, said it was an amazing feeling to realise a dream.

“Throughout my single-seater career, I went through a few ups and downs. I was dropped by Red Bull in 2012, so from then I knew my road to Formula One was going to be a lot harder,” he said.

“I worked really hard and tried to impress every time I got in the car, and I have to say a big thank you to Red Bull and (their motorsport consultant) Dr (Helmut) Marko for believing in me and giving me a second chance.”

Honda-powered Toro Rosso finished ninth in the championship that finished in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Toro Rosso Statement:

Scuderia Toro Rosso is pleased to announce that Alexander Albon will drive for the team in the 2019 Formula 1 season, alongside Daniil Kvyat.

The 22-year-old British/Thai driver has had a very impressive season in Formula 2 this year and, up until last weekend in Abu Dhabi, he was one of only two drivers who could have won the title. A start line collision in the feature race ended his hopes, but he still finished third overall in the F1 feeder series with a total of four wins.

Like all his contemporaries, Albon started racing in karts winning various championships. He joined the Red Bull programme in 2012. He had a great season in 2016, when he finished second in GP3 to his team-mate Charles Leclerc. This year was his second season in F2. Although born in London (UK,) Albon races under the Thailand flag. It means that 2019 will be the first time there has been a Thai driver on the Formula 1 grid since Prince Birabongse, who raced in the early Fifties.

Franz Tost, Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda Team Principal, commented: “Alexander had an impressive Formula 2 season in 2018. He won four races and finished the Championship third. The way he is able to overtake many of his rivals in the races shows that he is ready and matured to race in Formula 1. Scuderia Toro Rosso is very much looking forward to 2019, as with Daniil and Alex we have two young, very strong and competitive drivers.”

Alex Albon: “It’s such an amazing feeling to know that I’m in Formula 1 next year. Throughout my single seater career, I went through a few ups and downs. I was dropped by Red Bull in 2012, so from then I knew my road to Formula 1 was going to be a lot harder. I worked really hard and tried to impress every time I got in the car, and I have to say a big thank you to Red Bull and Dr Marko for believing in me and giving me a second chance. I’ve always been motorsport mad and since I first got in a car it’s been my dream to be in Formula 1. To be given this opportunity is just incredible.”