Red Bull's Alex Albon happy to be the surprise package
After meeting Thai PM, he tells Thai media he hopes to carry the country's flag onto the podium one day
The word that best describes Alexander Albon's ascent in Formula One is "surprise".
After accepting that his Formula One dream was likely over when signing a deal to join Formula E last November, Albon admitted he was "surprised" to get a seat at F1 outfit Toro Rosso for this season.
Then there was the bigger surprise when the 23-year-old - rather than the more experienced 25-year-old Daniil Kvyat - made the step up from the feeder team to Red Bull Racing two races ago at the Belgian Grand Prix earlier this month.
In addition, former F1 driver Johnny Herbert and Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko, who previously dumped Albon from the team's young driver programme after the 2012 season, have called the rookie the "surprise of the F1 season".
After finishing fifth and sixth in his first two races for Red Bull at the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix respectively, Albon will be hoping to pull off another surprise in what he calls "kind of a home race" at the Marina Bay Street Circuit on Sunday.
The Briton races under a Thai licence, owing to his Thai mother. He is the first F1 driver to race here under a South-east Asian flag since Singapore joined the F1 circuit in 2008.
When The New Paper asked Albon how he felt about Herbert and Marko's description of his debut F1 season, he said he is happy to be a surprise package, for now.
KARTING AT KRANJI
Speaking on the sidelines of the Esso Singapore Trackday Throwdown at the KF1 karting circuit in Kranji yesterday, he said: "It's a nice surprise, even for me.
"I can join them in saying the same thing about myself. I went into the year not expecting too much and just didn't know how I was going to perform.
"I kind of have this label as a dark horse; it's been my tag along for a while now.
"Just purely because I haven't really been in the junior team for a long time.
"And because of that, you've obviously got what you can call the young superstars like Max (Verstappen), Charles (Leclerc), George (Russell) or Lando (Norris)- they've had this following from the beginning.
"I didn't really have that, so when I arrived at F1, no one knew what to expect from me.
"It's a nice thing, but obviously at some point you want people to stop thinking of you as a surprise."
Before Albon even made his way to the starting grid of an F1 race, Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost made a prediction that his charge would be a surprise package this year.
Last week, Tost suggested that Albon's Red Bull audition had gone well enough for the Austrian to rule out the possibility of him returning to Toro Rosso for next season.
Albon had swopped places with Pierre Gasly after the Hungarian Grand Prix last month.
The Frenchman was regularly well off the pace of then-teammate Verstappen, who is third in the driver's standings and won the German and Austrian GP.
Gasly's best performance was fourth at Silverstone in July.
Albon, meanwhile, has finished ahead of Verstappen, 21, in both of his races since making the switch to Red Bull.
But Albon, who is ninth in the driver's standings, is reluctant to pressure himself with immediate targets such as his first podium finish.
Like it or not,there will be added scrutiny for him in Singapore, which is the closest GP to Thailand.
The Bangkok Post yesterday reported that Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has assigned the Ministry of Tourism and Sports to drum up support for Albon. Albon met the Thai PM during a stopover in Bangkok on Tuesday.
The driver told Thai media: "I hope that one day I will carry a Thai flag to the podium... on behalf of the Thai people."
Albon told TNP that 10 of the 60-odd contingent that will fly to Singapore to support him have arrived from Thailand, including some of his family members.
He said: "In terms of support, I have got my whole Thai entourage coming over, which is exciting... but you don't have that many passes to give out."