AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost says that he spotted the potential of Alexander Albon even before the start of the 2019 season.
Albon was the last driver signed up for last season's campaign, after it took protracted negotiations to free him from an existing Formula E contract. He started his rookie season with the least F1 experience of anyone on the grid.
But Tost says that the London-born Thai driver's talent was immediately apparent to him, from the moment he took to the track in pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
“When he started testing it was his first time in a Formula 1 car and he did a really good test in Barcelona, where he showed his potential,” Tost told RACER magazine.
“I said in Barcelona that he could become the surprise of the year of the young drivers," he added. "I said from the beginning onwards during the testing in Barcelona that he really showed a good performance.
"Alex performed fantastically from the very beginning onwards," Tost continued. “He came to Australia - which is not an easy race - and didn’t score points. But in the second race in Bahrain he finished in ninth position and scored two points.
"This showed his potential," Tost said, explaining that from this point the 23-year-old was firmly on the radar of the Red Bull squad.
He added that he had been part of the discussion throughout with team principal Christian Horner and motorsport consultant Dr Helmut Marko about Albon's future.
“We are always talking together – Helmut, Christian and myself – discussing different drivers," he confirmed.
Albon was subsequently promoted to the senior squad over the summer break, with Gasly being swapped back to the junior team. It proved to be the best call for both drivers, with Gasly quickly rediscovering his form at Toro Rosso and Albon acquitting himself well enough at Red Bull to retain his plum race seat for 2020.
Tost said he hoped that Albon would now be given the time to improve himself against his highly rated team mate Max Verstappen, who expects to be contending for the world championship in 2020.
“If you then have a driver alongside you like Max Verstappen, it’s on one hand very positive," commented Tost. "You can see where you gain time and where you lose time.
"But on the other hand, if he’s so fast it could be quite frustrating sometimes if you cannot match him.
"Alex should just concentrate on himself," Tost advised. "He should learn, and then he will do it his way.
“He’s in his second season, and I always say that it takes three seasons minimum until a driver understands Formula 1,."