Red Bull has confirmed it released Alexander Albon so he could make a racing return to Formula 1 next year with Williams, but still has a relationship including “future options”.
It will mark a racing comeback for Albon in F1 after he lost his full-time seat with Red Bull at the end of last year, moving into a reserve and test role.
Albon had attracted interest from both Alfa Romeo and Williams for next year, but the path to Williams looked to be complicated by its status as a Mercedes customer team, given the rivalry between Mercedes and Red Bull.
Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff said last week he would have no qualms working with Albon, so long as he was “free from his Red Bull contract”, while Red Bull boss Christian Horner felt it was a “slightly unusual” demand.
Asked about Albon’s status with Red Bull from next year following the announcement, Williams F1 boss Jost Capito said: “What I can tell you is that he is a Williams driver in 2022. Whatever that means is up to you.
“Maybe you have to ask Red Bull, but for us he is a Williams driver and that is it.”
But Red Bull clarified via a spokesperson that while Albon had been released, there were still links in place between the two parties.
“We have released Alex to become a Williams Racing driver in 2022, but retain a relationship with him that includes future options,” the statement reads.
Albon’s signing also shuts off a possible seat for Mercedes Formula E driver Nyck de Vries next year, but Capito said that Wolff understood the decision.
“I think Toto at the end, he understands and we understand that we are not a B-team and we are not a satellite team,” Capito said.
“We have to take the decisions that are right for us, and Toto fully respects that. And he also is fully aware of the capability that Alex has, and is also of the opinion that Alex deserves a seat in Formula 1. So he is supportive.”
Following a brief stint under its umbrella in his early racing career, Albon reunited with Red Bull ahead of the 2019 season when he joined its sister F1 team, Toro Rosso.
An impressive first half of his rookie season prompted Red Bull to promote Albon into its senior squad after just 12 races, replacing the struggling Pierre Gasly.
After scoring just two podiums in all of last year, Albon was replaced by Sergio Perez for 2021, leaving him to take up a support role.
But Red Bull has constantly highlighted Albon’s contribution to the team and worked to secure him a return to the grid for 2022.
When asked by Motorsport.com if Red Bull had an option to call Albon up to its team next year if either of its regular drivers were unavailable, Capito said: “I just can say he is a Williams driver and we decide what he is doing and what he is not doing.”
Albon was pictured in an AlphaTauri shirt for the announcement, but Capito said his signing did not necessarily mean there would be Red Bull branding on the car.
“It doesn’t mean that Red Bull comes on the car or not,” Capito said.
“I’ve worked with Red Bull a long time. I first worked with Red Bull in the late 90s when I was at Sauber, so I’ve got a relationship with Red Bull since then, and I’m friends with the guys from Red Bull.
“But it doesn’t mean they have to be on the car or not, so we’ll see.”