Alexander Albon

The changing faces of Formula 1

Next year will have a lot of changes and new faces, also one older face, in Formula 1.

Latest news is Alexander Albon will partner Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso next year, replacing Kiwi Brendon Hartley.

Alexander who?

Largely unheard of, except in Formula 2, where he’s a front-runner, Albon is the third 2018 Formula 2 driver to make the climb up to F1 next year.

The other two are McLaren-bound Lando Norris and George Russell, who joins Williams.

Albon went into the F2 season-ending Abu Dhabi weekend as one of only two drivers who could have claimed the title, although he ultimately lost out to George Russell.

The 22-year-old London-born Thai driver had one season with the Red Bull Junior Program in 2012, and looked set to race in Formula E next season, but has now been confirmed as an F1 driver.

He will be the first Thai on the grid since the legendary Prince Birabongse — usually known just as ‘Bira’ — in the 1935 to 1954 era.

However, Albon’s move was complicated by the fact he had already committed to joining the Nissan Formula E Championship team.

Getting out of that contract caused consternation at Nissan,  particularly as the FE pre-season testing was beginning.

Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost said Albon’s performance in Formula 2 this year — when he was third behind fellow F1-bound drivers George Russell and Lando Norris — led to his chance.

“Alexander had an impressive Formula 2 season in 2018,” he said.

“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.

“With Daniil and Alex we have two young, very strong and competitive drivers.”

Kvyat is a surprising recall to the team, given his tempestuous history.

The Russian was champion in 2012 Formula Renault 2.0 Alps Series and 2013 GP3 Series before making his debut in Formula 1 with Toro Rosso in 2014, and broke  Sebastian Vettel’s record as the youngest points-scorer in F1 after finishing 9th in the Australian Grand Prix.

He was promoted to Red Bull in 2015, sent back to Toro Rosso in 2016 after some erratic performances and was dropped in 2017 to make way for Pierre Gasly who moves to Red Bull next year, filling the void left by Daniel Ricciardo.

Mercedes will continue with its successful duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, but has guaranteed French ace Esteban Ocon a seat for 2020.

The impressive Ocon, who will have to leave Force India in the wake of its takeover by the Stroll consortium, will be a reserve and test driver for Merc next year.

Ferrari has retained Sebastien Vettel and given Kimi Raikkonen’s seat to Charles Leclerc.

The Iceman Raikkonen never says much but made it clear it was not his decision to make the move.

He joins the Alfa-Sauber outfit, where his co-driver will be Antonio Giovinazzi, a highly experienced young Italian racer, but also new to F1.  

Red Bull Racing is probably ruing the loss of Daniel Ricciardo to Renault, but is replacing the 29-year-old Australian with French youngblood Pierre Gasly to be teammate to Max Verstappen.

Red Bull is also dropping ties with Renault as its engine supplier, in favour of Honda, which powers the Toro Rossos.

Both Toro Rossos failed to finish in Abu Dhabi, which should be of concern to Red Bull.

At Renault, Ricciardo joins top German driver Nico Hulkenberg, who is also his regular tennis partner on the Monte Carlo social scene.

Haas has confirmed it will field its current team of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen

Force India will keep Mexican star Sergio Perez, and almost certainly have former Williams driver Lance Stroll in the other car — but has not yet conformed it.

Stroll’s dad and a few business associates recently bought the Force India team, which is a more potent outfit than Williams.

But the latter is well overdue for better fortune and might find it with its surprise, but welcome signing, of Robert Kubica.

The Pole, now aged 33, was regarded as one of the best drivers in F1 until he smashed his arm in a freak rally accident.

He has worked hard on physical recovery and says he’s ready to get back into the highest level of car racing.

His teammate is young British rookie, George Russell.

Fernando Alonso’s retirement from F1 resulted in Renault ace Carlos Sainz becoming lead driver, with rookie Lando Norris.

Sainz was seen as the favoured replacement for Ricciardo at Red Bull, but talk is that Max Verstappen did not want the Spaniard as a teammate.

The two were fierce rivals in F3, with little love lost. Esteban Ocon, too, had several run-ins with Verstappen in past years and word is the Dutchman wanted a ‘non-confrontational’ teammate for 2019. Enter Pierre Gasly.

However, the quiet Frenchman turns into a tiger on the track, so there could be some red flags waving at the Red Bull camp next year. We’ll see.

Missing from the 2019 line-up will be Brendon Hartley, who partnered Mark Webber in Porsche’s successful endurance racing last year, and Russia’s Sergey Sirotkin.

Both did pretty well in 2018, Sirotkin usually having the edge on Williams teammate Lance Stroll and Hartley put in some good performances for Toro Rosso.

But such is life. Some odd recruitments, as as odd rejections.

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