Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturdays: Albon All-In with Williams

In a bit of a surprise move, Williams announced this week they had signed Alexander Albon to a multiyear extension. This means that Albon, who is 28 years old, has now committed past next year with the long-time constructor.

Ultimately, this move does not mean much in the grand scheme of the current silly season market, with two exceptions. It closes out one option that Red Bull Racing could take if they do not keep Max Verstappen, and it takes Albon off the board for Audi if they can’t land Carlos Sainz.

It does surprise me that this move was made prior to Audi making an announcement on that other seat. It’s clear that whoever gets that seat is going to be groomed as that team’s franchise driver, with Nico Hulkenberg being in his late 30s come 2026 and looking like he will be positioned to be in a mentor role.

Albon could have fit that role and been in a prime seat if Audi nail the 2026 regulations, but he has instead chosen stability. He’s in a really good position at Williams as the team’s lead driver, and James Vowles has largely proven to be successful as team principal.

There’s also the reality that Williams may end up winning the Adrian Newey sweepstakes, which could well be worth staying for that chance instead of relying on a different dice roll at Audi.

There are still too many drivers looking for too few seats in the bottom half of the F1 grid. Haas has two seats open for next year, although it’s pretty clear at this point that the team will use one for Oliver Bearman.

Kevin Magnussen would be the safe option for the team as somebody who has driven for Haas for so long and can produce solid results. But there have also been two other names linked to that seat that provide interesting scenarios.

Many people are high on Zhou Guanyu and believe he could be so much more if he weren’t driving for Sauber in this lame-duck situation. I don’t see that, but he is a solid driver that would bring solid backing and would make Haas the biggest team in China, which would be great for the Haas company itself.

To contrast that, there is the case of Logan Sargeant. Sargeant would probably also provide funding, and his signing would be a great counterpoint to Andretti’s bid to join the series. But the reality is that Sargeant really isn’t a great option here. I don’t think any F1 team really is for him. At this point, he’d be better served going to IndyCar or maybe even going down the path his older brother did once and moving to NASCAR.

Speaking of Sargeant, that leaves the other Williams seat. Williams is obviously in the market for somebody new to drive for them, and it’ll probably ultimately be Andrea Kimi Antonelli.

That move would happen probably a day after Mercedes announces their driver for 2025. If Sainz really isn’t going to go to Audi after all, that leaves him with essentially taking whatever road Verstappen chooses not to take.

Would Mercedes rather Sainz come in, and whoever wins out between Russell and Sainz at the end of 2026 is retained, and whoever loses gets replaced by Antonelli? If they can’t get Verstappen, that would be the best-case scenario for them. Sainz may not like it, but it’s his only real option if he decides against Audi.

Antonelli racing for Williams would also give their two F2 drivers time to develop and potentially be in that seat come 2027. With Vowles insisting at Miami that any new driver would be a two-year commitment, that’s a decent time frame for that to happen.

As wacky as this silly season began, things seem to be coming together relatively quickly. The one big puzzle piece that still needs to find a home once the Verstappen and Sainz shoes drop will be Liam Lawson. What Red Bull does with him will be fascinating to watch, and that’ll be what most of this summer will likely be about.

It’s time to start the European leg of the Formula 1 season; outside of a brief pit stop in Canada, it’s all Europe until round 18 in Singapore right at the start of fall. Lights out on the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix will come at 10 a.m. ET on Sunday, May 19th, with coverage live on ESPN.

About the author

michaelfinley010

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021, and also formerly covered the SRX series from 2021-2023. He now covers the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and road course events in the NASCAR Cup Series.

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