There was a murmur about the Formula E paddock on Tuesday when recently signed Nissan e.dams driver Alex Albon was suddenly linked to a Formula 1 Toro Rosso seat.
Even by the standards of this year’s F1 driver market, which has been more ferocious than ever, it would seem out of the question that someone who had just been announced as a works driver in a completely different series would then drop it for something else. But that appears to be the case unfolding with Albon and Nissan/Toro Rosso.
Let’s look at how this all came out. Albon is linked with Jean-Paul Driot’s FE team through it being run by DAMS, the team he races for in Formula 2. In return for taking the seat in FE, he had a considerable portion of his F2 budget paid for.
Once upon a time, Albon was also sponsored by Red Bull and, with the likes of Brendon Hartley and Daniil Kvyat making comebacks to Toro Rosso, it now isn’t out of the question that someone off the programme is in contention for a drive in 2019.
It now seems almost certain that Albon will take the Toro Rosso seat, with him abandoning his FE commitments halfway through his first day of pre-season testing. It remains unclear if he will even take part in the remaining two days of the test on Wednesday & Friday.
On the surface it makes sense. When F1 comes knocking, you go running. It goes without saying that F1 is the dream of every racing driver, so why on earth would you turn down the chance to race in it?
Albon has a works drive, in a top series that is only going to grow, already signed and done. With Nissan, he has the potential to win races this season and go for a championship in a year or so. It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that a World Endurance Championship drive could be an option for him to run alongside FE, given the amount of crossover between the two series in its technology and drivers.
Choosing that path is proving to be a good way to stabilise a career and actually start making money, which is much needed after spending so much through junior single seaters.
What Albon has on offer in F1 is a midfield team, which already is going to give him less than what he could do in FE. Throw into the equation that Red Bull is fiercely set on getting Dan Ticktum, who remains its favourite despite not having the required number of superlicense points, into F1.
That means if Albon were to take the place, he hugely risks being cast aside for Ticktum in 2020, depending on how he fairs against Kvyat.
Chances of promotion to Red Bull are also slim. With Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly lined up to be the youngest pairing on the F1 grid next year, and both you would assume handy enough behind the wheel to be retained, there is no room to move forward.
Of course there is every possibility that Albon’s F1 career could continue with another team if he were to be pushed out. But at 22-years-old it’s a significant gamble to make. We’ve seen how quickly a glistening career can be turned around by a poor F1 tenure.
Even with an F1 drive on offer, a stable career with the potential to win races would be the better choice for a young up-and-comer.