How Alexander Albon (and Williams) pulled a strategy game-changer
It’s been two weeks since the Australian Grand Prix, held in the revised Albert Park Circuit, in Melbourne, but a brave strategy gamble still has everyone hooked and raised expectations for what that means in the future. I’m talking about the strategy move that Williams and Alexander Albon made during the return of the Australian Grand Prix, and here is the whole story.
Alex Albon took his Williams FW44 to 10th Place in Australia, the first points for Williams in the season.
Williams had somewhat struggled to get pace off their car before the Australian Grand Prix’s awaited return, as two rounds, held in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia respectively, had Williams getting a better result of 13th, achieved by Albon at Bahrain.Mercedes-powered cars were noted for struggling (Mercedes, McLaren, Aston Martin and Williams as well) during Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, with a bitter race result for the Grove team in Arabic territory, as neither car finished and both crashed. Although Albon was classified for completing 90% of the race's distance It’s hard to deny that morale was low for Williams heading towards Melbourne.
The struggles for Williams didn’t take a turn for the better during practice and qualifying sessions, as the training part didn’t give Williams the best results, and qualifying was even more woeful for them. Albon’s teammate, Canadian driver Nicholas Latifi (infamously known for changing the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix’s result and the title contenders’ fates last season) crashed with fellow Canadian driver Lance Stroll, aboard of his Aston Martin, but was able to set a lap time before the crash. Albon was able to qualify 16th, although was disqualified for not being able to give a 1 litre fuel sample from his car (he ran out of fuel), and it seemed Williams weren’t lucky at all.
Williams had a… tricky qualifying session in Australia, putting it nicely.
Because of their woes in qualifying, Latifi started 18th and Albon started last, sparing Lance Stroll the shame. Morale seemed to be at its absolute lowest for the race, but the strategy that Williams would pull off alongside Albon would be something that caught everyone’s eyes and brought the first points of the season for Williams, in eye-boggling fashion. For the start of the race, Williams fitted Albon’s car with the hard C2 tyre compound, with the idea of running these tyres longer than other cars and taking advantage of any safety cars throughout the race. On the grid, Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and Haas’s Kevin Magnussen took the same gamble as Albon, while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and the Aston Martins of Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll went for used hards.
At the race’s first few laps, Sainz spun his Ferrari into the gravel and triggered the Virtual Safety Car, where Aston Martin’s Stroll pitted for mediums, so he could complete a lap in the tyres and then get back to using the hard tyres. It was definitely a clever move, which made staying until the end a possibility for the other hard tyre runners. As the three drivers that started on new hard tyres stayed out (Albon, Alonso and Magnussen), while the medium-tyre entrants came in for their stops, as Albon, who was running 10th (on the hard tyres he had started with), was relying on a crash (that would cause a safety car deployment) or a Virtual Safety Car, which happened when the Red Bull of Max Verstappen stopped due to a fuel leak on his RBPT-Powered RB18 car. As both Alonso and Magnussen came in for their stops, Albon oddly didn’t.
Albon, Fernando Alonso and Kevin Magnussen all started with a new set of hard tyres.
Albon took his car to the 57th and penultimate lap without pitting at all, still with his hard compound tyre, until he finally pitted on the final lap. He was running 7th and pitting could potentially cost him valuable points. But he was able to get out of the pit lane before 11th Place, Alfa Romeo’s Guanyu Zhou could catch him. This out of the box strategy and a hint of luck helped Albon finish 10th, scoring a point, ending the weekend well for Williams. The Williams Team Boss, Jost Capito said: "And before the race, we said we just have to learn the tyres. So if we are 18th and 20th on the grid, there's no way to push too hard, but learn the tyres, and then see what happens when we moved up the field. So then we developed it. It was great cooperation of the pit wall."
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