Alex Albon described his drive to 10th place in the Belgian Grand Prix as a “pure race”, characterising it as one of his best performances in Formula 1.

The Williams driver started sixth after making Q3 for the first time in 2022, assisted by the fact three of those who had outqualified him served back-of-the-grid penalties for power unit changes.

He spent much of the race under intense pressure, but notwithstanding the opening lap only lost places to on-track passes to two drivers – Max Verstappen and Esteban Ocon. He also slipped behind AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly, who undercut him in the second round of pitstops.

But amid constant pressure and the struggle to keep the Pirelli tyres alive, it was a resolute race drive to 10th that depended on him being able to contain those behind him.

That he crossed the line at the head of a six-car train covered by just 5.2 seconds shows exactly what kind of race it was for the UK-born Thai, who felt this performance stood above his previous two points finishes for Williams – 10th in Australia and ninth in Miami.

“This was actually a pure race,” said Albon. “We had a good race in Melbourne, we had a good race in Miami [but] I feel like we were on the same strategy as everyone else today and we couldn’t be as creative because the deg was so high.

“Consider what we had and the pace that we had, to get a point was a really good job and it’s great for the team and for everyone, that’s the positivity that we need to take on with us into the next few races.

“It gives us a good confidence going into circuits like Monza and these low-downforce tracks. I think we can do a good job.”

albon’s ‘pure race’ showed what an asset he now is to williams

Albon’s strong qualifying performance was down to a combination of factors, including good tyre prep – suspected by the team to be down to being more familiar with getting the tyres working with lower downforce levels – and good straightline speed aided by what was described as a “cheap” cut down Spa rear wing.

But with so many drivers out of position, the race was always going to be a rearguard action.

Albon finished the first lap in seventh place thanks to getting past Lance Stroll when the Aston Martin driver was forced onto the gravel while attempting to pass team-mate Sebastian Vettel, then the demise of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.

After the safety car restart at the beginning of lap five, he overtook Daniel Ricciardo, although was himself passed by Verstappen. Albon still held seventh place ahead of Ricciardo and Stroll when Williams, aware of the threat of being undercut, brought him in for his first pitstop at the end of lap 10. This was the first strategic pitstop of the race, with Albon switching from the medium Pirellis he started on to hards.

The proactive strategy from Williams ensured that he didn’t lose positions and as others stopped, Albon cycled back up into de facto eighth place. Then, while struggling for grip on the hards, he locked up into La Source. This allowed the Alpine of Ocon to overtake him, with Albon reporting “I don’t get how there’s so little grip”.

Albon was struggling during this phase of the race, with several lock-ups – including one at Rivage that occurred when Ricciardo and Stroll behind had held each other up battling. But at the end of lap 26 he was called into the pits, ideal timing given McLaren had told Ricciardo to pit in the hope of launching an undercut.

albon’s ‘pure race’ showed what an asset he now is to williams

As Ricciardo didn’t have the straightline speed to overtake on track, he instead stayed out when Albon came in in the futile hope of attacking with a tyre offset later in the race.

However, Stroll, who was behind Ricciardo, did follow Albon in. Williams had a slightly slow stop, losing about one second, which meant Stroll – who took hards with Albon on mediums – wasn’t far off jumping ahead.

However, Albon’s team-mate, Nicholas Latifi, managed to overtake Stroll as the Aston Martin rejoined the track. This gave him some breathing space at the start of the stint as he carefully managed the lateral loads on the tyres – with Albon saying “well done Nicky” over the radio.

Williams had hoped that his four-lap tyre offset would allow him to attack Gasly, who had undercut his way past, in the closing stages but that wasn’t the case. Albon instead had his hands full keeping the queue of cars behind him with Stroll, Lando Norris, Yuki Tsunoda, Zhou Guanyu and Ricciardo in tow as he took the chequered flag.

P10 baby pic.twitter.com/kwFckmgzT0

— Alex Albon (@alex_albon) August 28, 2022

“It was a tricky one out there,” said Albon. “After the start, I was like, ‘this is going to be a long race’. I could already feel it on the laps to the grid, that the degradation was going to be really high.

“It was amazing how the track temperature just made the tyres struggle that much more. Pirelli had a very high minimum pressure limit and it most of all doesn’t suit us with the downforce set-up that we had on the car. Sector one was a lot of management, but at the same time I couldn’t manage much by the end of that race and we were holding on.

“It was, in my opinion, one of the best races I’ve had in Formula 1. It felt like that last stint [was] just holding on, and we couldn’t make any mistakes or else we were going to get passed straight away. But the top speed saved us a little bit and I was glad I saw the chequered flag.”

This was certainly among Albon’s best F1 drives, simply because it hinged on him avoiding too many mistakes. While he had straightline speed, to keep cars behind him for so long at a track where overtaking is possible required precision and extreme concentration.

His Australia drive was superbly executed but more straightforward given the tyres didn’t require such extreme management, while his ninth in Miami was assisted by others hitting trouble and an offset strategy with a long final stint on hards. At Spa, he was on a conventional two-stop strategy.

As for his earlier years in F1, his 2019 German Grand Prix drive for Toro Rosso stands out given it was his first time in an F1 car in the wet. He finished sixth, although he would have been on the podium but for those with less to lose gambling on an earlier switch to slicks.

albon’s ‘pure race’ showed what an asset he now is to williams

But what really mattered about this performance is it underlined the driver Albon has become at Williams. He has become its unquestioned leader and one capable of threading the needle in difficult races to nick a point others would have missed.

That’s a skill that could become even more valuable if, as hoped, Williams becomes more competitive in the future.

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