Races both finished: 13-1
On first look at the standings, the most basic form guide for a season, it was close between Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi this season – four points to two. But that’s where close starts, and where it finishes.
As George Russell stepped up to a coveted Mercedes race seat, Latifi was given a new team-mate in Albon, a man who’d been standing on F1’s sidelines for a year after being demoted by Red Bull.
The debate was on, would Latifi with his three years of Williams experience get the better of Albon, a driver short on confidence as well as F1 track time? Or would Albon with something to prove to F1 be that ah-ha moment for the Williams bosses that ended Latifi’s struggling career?
Turned out it was Nyck de Vries who did that, but more on that to come…
Albon was Williams’ lead man from the word ‘go’, scoring twice in the first five races to give the team, who had hoped to better last year’s 23 points, a confidence boost.
But while it’s safe to say this year’s FW44 was not the car Williams’ envisaged, Albon pushed on and dragged more out of the car than it was worth – at least that’s how it looked compared to Latifi’s qualifying performances.
The Canadian racked up back row start after back row start, after second from last row after back row, and so it went. He only once made it out of Q1, P10 in the rain at Silverstone, that Saturday marking the one time he would out-qualify Albon all season. But perhaps more damaging was that even though just 14 drivers finished on the Sunday, he was still outside the points in 12th.
Albon progressed eight times in qualifying, showing his one-lap pace. He secured his best result of the campaign, a P9, from 18th on the grid at the Miami GP, demonstrating his ability to race, and in total brought in three top-ten results.
Latifi finally broke his duck in Japan, the fifth last race of the season, with even reserve driver De Vries on a one-off appearance making his F1 debut in Italy scoring before him. That weekend he beat Latifi in both qualifying and the grand prix.
That was the beginning of the end for the Canadian, pundits saying surely Williams have to see he’s not the driver they’d hoped he’d be. Less than two weeks later the team made the announcement.
In sharp contrast the team had already confirmed Albon almost two months prior on a multi-year deal, team boss Jost Capito saying he wanted to keep the Thai-British racer’s name out of the ignited driver market drama. They didn’t need to worry about Latifi being drawn into the mix.
It would be unfair on Latifi to say his two points this season were entirely his own fault, just as it wouldn’t be right to say Albon should have scored more points too. Williams did not get it right with the all-new regulations and took a step backwards.
As Latifi exited stage left, his career undone by a demoted driver and a debutant, there are some who would say he should be thankful he had three seasons with Williams, having not shown much in the first two years to warrant a third.
As for Albon, the 26-year-old can look forward to at least two more years on the grid, the first time he’s ever had job security in Formula 1.
Williams will be hoping it brings out the best of the driver going forward. Albon will be hoping Williams’ FW45 joins him for the ride.
His new rookie team-mate Logan Sargeant will be hoping he turns out to be more of an Albon than a Latifi, a driver who made it into F1 based on talent and not other reasons such as finances or nationality.