Alexander Albon would have to start thinking about competing in next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games to truly follow in the footsteps of the only other Thai to race in the Formula One (F1) world championship.
The 22-year-old Toro Rosso rookie, who makes his race debut in Australia next week as his country’s first F1 driver of the modern era, moves in a very different world to his late predecessor.
Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh, known simply as B. Bira, started 18 championship grands prix, including the first at Silverstone in 1950, and retired at the age of 40 in 1954 as one of the sport’s more colorful characters.
A British-educated member of the Siamese royal family, he also, from 1956 to 1972, competed in sailing at four Olympic Games — including Tokyo in 1964.
Abandoning plans to become a sculptor, he used his considerable wealth to race cars bearing a white mouse emblem and painted pale blue and yellow, which became the Thai racing colors.
He flew his own plane from London to Bangkok, had a string of marriages and affairs, and died in 1985 of a heart attack at Barons Court underground station in central London — a prosaic end to a remarkable life.
“He seemed a proper sportsman from what I understood. I’m not sure I could replicate that. I could give it a go,” Albon told reporters with a smile when asked what he knew about his illustrious predecessor.
“Motorsport is where I excel ... but I’m okay at drawing,” he added, hopefully.
Albon, British-born and educated with a Thai mother and English father, comes from a rather different background.
A Buddhist who attends a Thai temple in Wimbledon and has lucky charms tied around his wrist, he has come up through karting and junior series.
Father Nigel competed in the British Touring Car Championship and sports car races, while mother Kankamol made headlines in Britain when she was sentenced in 2012 to six years in jail for a multimillion-pound fraud involving luxury cars.
Albon is a good fit for Toro Rosso owners Red Bull, whose energy drink brand has its origins in Thailand, but that is largely incidental.
He did enough in pre-season testing to support the suspicion that he could be a surprise package.
Among the 20 drivers, Albon set the second-fastest lap in the first four-day test and was then sixth in the final week at Barcelona.
“I am more than optimistic that he will do a good job,” team boss Franz Tost said.
Albon, who won four races in Formula Two last year and finished third overall after missing out on the runner-up spot at the end, hoped so.
“I don’t see why I can’t try and surprise a few people. I think I do have that. People who don’t really know me and don’t know what I can do. Of course it gives me a bit of motivation to prove what I can do,” he said.
A world champion in the KF3 karting class in 2010, the Thai was also runner-up in the GP3 series to current Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc in 2016.
“That was kind of my very first year where I thought this is where I’m going to see what I’m really like, because Charles back then was also this up-and-coming superstar,” he said.
“To be able to mix with him gave me a lot of confidence,” he added.
Dropped by Red Bull following a difficult 2012 season, Albon returned to the fold when he was given the race seat in November last year after he had extricated himself from a deal to race for Nissan in the all-electric Formula E series.
“I had no feeling that when I did get dropped in 2012 that there was never a chance to come back,” Albon said. “I think that’s actually the drive, to prove to everyone that I do deserve it, and that I can try and prove myself for another chance in F1.”
KEY GOAL: Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei is now free to focus on taking her fourth doubles title of the year with Barbora Strycova; they are due to face Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya Taiwanese No. 1 Hsieh Su-wei on Monday returned to the court for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the WTA Tour, falling to a 6-3, 6-1 defeat to US Open quarter-finalist Elise Mertens, who made a solid transition from the hard courts in New York to the clay at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. “I’m not sure how well I adapted, to be honest,” Mertens told the WTA Web site. “I just feel like I might still be struggling a little. It was also [Hsieh’s] first match of the week, so that was a bit of an
‘GREAT EVENING‘: In the women’s singles in Rome, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova advanced, while Rafael Nadal swept into the quarters in the men’s singles Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Friday had to dig deep to advance to the semi-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. The top seeds, who did not drop a game in their opening match on the clay courts at the Foro Italico, battled to a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 victory over sixth seeds Veronika Kudermetova and Katerina Siniakova in 1 hour, 39 minutes. The reigning Wimbledon champions saved nine of 11 break points and converted three of eight, winning 56 percent of points on their second serve and sending down two aces
‘FUN TIME’: Denver’s Nikola Jokic said that his team would not accept that anyone else is better than them and the opposition need to play much better than they do Just about everyone had LA versus LA written in for the NBA’s Western Conference finals, but the resilient Denver Nuggets have crashed the party. Behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2009 to face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Game 1 is scheduled to be played tomorrow. This was no ordinary road. The Nuggets fell behind 3-1 in their first-round series against the Utah Jazz before bouncing back with three straight victories. Then they went down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round before winning in Game 7
Neymar on Sunday claimed that he had been the victim of racism as he was one of five players sent off in a mass brawl at the end of Olympique de Marseille’s 1-0 win over Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain. PSG’s Brazilian star appeared to accuse Alvaro Gonzalez of calling him a “monkey” in a series of furious tweets after he was sent off in stoppage-time for slapping the Marseille defender on the back of the head. “Look at the racism. That’s why I hit him,” Neymar, who was returning from COVID-19 quarantine, said as he left the pitch. “The only regret I