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Red Bull rookie Alexander Albon shines on his debut

British-born Thai driver goes from 17th to 5th in his first race after joining from sister team Toro Rosso

Starting near the back of the grid at 17th, nothing was expected of Red Bull's new driver Alexander Albon at the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday.

After all, the British-born Thai was taking part in his first race for the former champions, having been promoted from their sister team Toro Rosso only last month.

But the 23-year-old surprised at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit by surpassing many drivers to finish fifth - the best result of his short career.

Albon was in esteemed company. Ferrari's four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel was just ahead of him in fourth.

The race was won by Vettel's teammate Charles Leclerc, who pipped Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton (second) and Valtteri Bottas (third) to claim his first F1 win.

The only other driver to deny Mercedes victory this season was Albon's teammate Max Verstappen, but the 21-year-old Dutchman crashed out on the opening lap on Sunday.

Hence, Red Bull's hopes rested on the Thai rookie's shoulders, and he responded with a creditable showing.

"I've been very impressed with Alex's performance all weekend and he put in a great recovery drive from 17th on the grid to finish fifth in his first race with us," said Horner.

"He was pretty cautious during the first half of the race as he felt his way into the Grand Prix, but things started to come alive for him on the softer compound tyre and he put in some great overtakes."

Red Bull opted to take a grid penalty on Albon by fitting an upgraded power unit, although it was not used eventually.

Admitting that he felt "stranded" at the start of the race, Albon told the F1 website: "I struggled to get past any cars. And on the medium tyre, it felt a little bit stranded, I was a bit in no man's land."

But after pitting for soft tyres on lap 23, he felt his car "come alive".

"We pitted a little bit earlier than I'd like, then the car came alive and felt really good," he recalled.

"Straightaway it felt like 'okay, we can make some moves' and of course, overtaking is easier when you have a fast car under your seat."

Emerging 14th after pitting, Albon made a series of brilliant overtakes, the most memorable of which was his duel with Racing Point's Sergio Perez, whom he overtook on the grass.

Their battle drew the attention of the stewards who decided against taking any action. Perez finished sixth, three seconds behind Albon.

"I had some good fun out there and I enjoyed this race a lot," Albon said.

"I started off the weekend very nervous and, if you had told me I'd finish the race fifth, I'd be very happy, but I'm a bit more relaxed now."

Albon had joined Red Bull from Toro Rosso in a swop with Pierre Gasly.

Some had questioned if Albon was moved up too early, especially with Gasly, 23, struggling under the pressure of competing with Verstappen and the demands of scoring big points for a team fighting Ferrari for third in the constructors standings.

But on Sunday, Albon proved that he was up to the task.

"I didn't really feel too much pressure coming into the weekend," said Albon, whose fifth place matched Gasly's best result this season.

"I think the media thought I was going to, but I've enjoyed my week with the team. It's been a good experience and a different way of working."

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