Alex Albon's amazing journey from the wilderness to Red Bull
Alexander Albon will start the Belgian Grand Prix – just his 13th race in Formula 1 – with an outside chance of victory, having landed in one of F1's prime seats with Red Bull midway through his first campaign at the highest level of motorsport.
The Thai driver was selected to replace the demoted Pierre Gasly for the remainder of 2019, taking an enormous step on a journey through the motorsport ranks that is unlike many others.
From Red Bull junior rejection, to facing a potential departure from motorsport a matter of months ago, Albon now has a remarkable, unexpected and golden chance to cement his spot.
Here's the journey the 23-year-old has taken to the top.
Having impressed at national level in karting, Albon quickly rose through the ranks and title successes in the 2010 KF3 World Cup and European Championship paved the way to his promotion to the top tier, KF1.
Albon finished second in the 2011 Karting World Championship to former F2 rival Nyck de Vries, but his performances were enough to attract attention from some serious players…
Single-seater debut, first Red Bull link
Red Bull handed Albon a junior contract and entered him into the 2012 Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup.
However, the karting success did not immediately transfer over to the bigger cars. Albon failed to score a single point in the season, while former karting rival De Vries was the second-best performing junior – behind a certain Daniil Kvyat, himself second place to Stoffel Vandoorne in the overall championship.
Red Bull had seen enough, Albon was turfed out of the programme after just one year and Kvyat was pinpointed as the next star talent.
Albon salvaged a seat in the same competition the following year, racing for KTR and kept his seat for 2014, when he finished third in the standings. De Vries won the competition by a street as the pair's careers continued to be intertwined.
It was enough to secure a seat in ART's four-driver line-up for the next year's GP3 competition, alongside long-time rival De Vries and Leclerc.
The Monegasque was signed to Ferrari's academy ended the year as champion, with Albon in second place, with four race wins to his name – his first since graduating from karts.
ART brought Albon up into F2 for 2017, as Leclerc moved to the Ferrari-backed Prema and dominated the championship en route to another junior title.
Albon scored regular points, but could not secure a race win, something his team-mate Nobuharu Matsushita managed twice.
Dropped by ART, who drafted in Russell, Albon was left with an uncertain future in motorsport once again, with little backing.
DAMS owner JP Driot handed Albon a race-by-race deal to replace Oliver Rowland and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands, winning the Baku feature race and securing three straight pole positions to secure a season-long extension.
Further victories at Silverstone, Budapest and Sochi left Albon as the only driver that could deny Russell the title come the end of the season. He couldn't quite manage it, and ended the season in third but he had done enough to convince Driot that he could lead the Nissan e.dams Formula E team, and a long-term deal was signed.
But the performances had also caught the eye of Dr Marko, who was in something of a bind after losing Daniel Ricciardo to Renault, necessitating the promotion of Gasly and leaving a spot on Toro Rosso open.
After lengthy negotiations with Nissan and DAMS, Albon was released from his Formula E deal and signed for Toro Rosso, driving a Formula 1 car for the first time in his career during pre-season testing in Barcelona.
Points arrived in two of the opening three races, including a spectacular drive from the pit-lane to 10th in China, while a drive to sixth place in Germany came on the back of a performance that perhaps outstripped that of team-mate Kvyat, despite the Russian finishing on the podium.
Toro Rosso gambled on pitting Kvyat as he was outside the points. They couldn't do the same with Albon as he was fighting a certain Lewis Hamilton for a top-five spot at the time…
A few weeks later, with Gasly struggling badly, Albon was selected to replace the Frenchman, giving him a nine-race chance to prove his credentials. Given the ups and downs so far, things might only just be getting interesting!
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