Toro Rosso-Honda announced Monday that it has contracted 22-year-old Thai-British driver Alexander Albon to race for the team in the 2019 Formula 1 season.
Albon was born in London, but races under the flag of Thailand, and will become the first Thai driver to compete in Formula 1 since Prince Birabongse Bhanudej. Bira, as he was known, scored multiple points between 1950 and 1954, and concluded his Grand Prix racing career with a podium at a non-championship race in 1955.
"It's such an amazing feeling to know that I'm in Formula 1 next year," commented Albon, who was initially on the hook to drive for Nissan E.DAMS in Formula E in 2019.
"Throughout my single-seater career, I went through a few ups and downs. I was dropped by Red Bull in 2012, so from then, I knew my road to Formula 1 was going to be a lot harder. I worked really hard and tried to impress every time I got in the car, and I have to say a big thank you to Red Bull and Dr. Marko for believing in me and giving me a second chance. I've always been motorsport mad and since I first got in a car it's been my dream to be in Formula 1. To be given this opportunity is just incredible."
Albon will partner Daniil Kvyat, who will make a comeback after being displaced from Red Bull Racing in 2016 by Max Verstappen. The demotion back to STR was believed to have "broken" the Russian' spirit, but he has rekindled the fire and will again try to earn a seat at Red Bull Racing, as will Albon.
STR-Honda's 2018 drivers Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley are moving upward and outward, respectively. Gasly earned promotion to Red Bull with the exodus of Daniel Ricciardo to Renault Sport F1, and Hartley has been dropped from the program. If one of Red Bull's drivers consistently underperforms, the stronger of the two STR drivers will be in line for the seat. Gasly will have to prove himself a challenger to Verstappen if he wants to defend his varsity team spot.
Albon's signing also means that the three top finishers in the 2018 Formula 2 championship—himself, George Russell, and Lando Norris—have found drives in F1. This volume of promotions will serve to reinforce Formula 2's image as the pipeline to Formula 1 and may increase both audience interest and sponsors' involvement in the series.