Jenson Button, the 2009 World Champion, believes Alex Albon has become as important to Williams as his predecessor and current Mercedes driver George Russell.
After losing his Red Bull seat at the end of the 2020 season having struggled as Max Verstappen’s team-mate, Albon spent a year as the team’s reserve driver before returning to a full-time seat in 2022.
In the slowest car on the grid, Albon registered three points finish over the course of his comeback campaign and had carried his 2022 form into the new season.
Albon scored Williams’ first points in a season opener for the first time since 2017 by finishing 10th in Bahrain before qualifying eighth in Australia, where he ran as high as sixth before crashing out early in the race.
He came close to another Q3 appearance at the Miami Grand Prix, missing out on a place in the top 10 by less than a tenth of a second to Russell.
Russell made his F1 debut for Williams in 2019 and quickly became the team’s main hope, dominating team-mates Robert Kubica and Nicholas Latifi and qualifying on the front row at the 2021 Belgian GP – his P2 start converted to a podium when the race was unable to get properly underway due to heavy rain.
He was promoted to Mercedes as the team-mate of seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton in 2022 and claimed his maiden victory at last season’s Sao Paulo GP at Interlagos.
Button started his career with Williams in 2000 and returned to the team as an advisor and brand ambassador in 2021.
Speaking in his capacity as a Sky Sports F1 pundit in Miami, the 15-time grand prix winner feels Albon’s impact at Williams is comparable to that of Russell.
“He’s been doing what George did in that car over the previous [three] years,” Button said.
“I think he’s doing a fantastic job: consistent, getting the best out of the car.”
“He was so close [in Miami) to getting into Q3.
“Not that it really makes a big difference anyway, whether he was 10th or 11th.”
Albon finished a disappointing 14th in the race and later stressed the need for Williams to avoid being left behind as rival teams begin to introduce upgrades.
“I think we went into it thinking we were the ninth quickest car and today we probably were,” he said.
“We were managing the front and rear tyres but I didn’t really have grip, so was sliding around.
“The tracks coming up don’t tend to suit our car and there’s a few upgrades coming from other teams, so we just need to get on top of it so they don’t pull away from us.
“There’s some positives to take from the weekend but races like today expose us a little bit and show where we really are.”