The heartwarming story behind Albon’s redhead craze

When former Red Bull and Toro Rosso driver Albon was signed by Williams, it seemed like a coup for both sides. A way back into a racing seat for Albon after spending 2021 on the sidelines. And for Williams it was a chance to fill the void left by the Mercedes-bound George Russell with a quick and experienced replacement.

But a twist of fate surrounding Albon’s Williams drive also presented him with a chance to make a name for himself outside of the cockpit.

Since rising through the ranks to become Max Verstappen’s teammate at Red Bull in mid-2019, Anglo-Thai driver Albon has become a celebrity in Thailand, the country he represents on his racing license.

But when he joined Williams, he learned from team boss Jost Capito that he now had another connection to his mother’s home country.

Capito’s younger brother Volker has lived in Bangkok for over two decades. In the 80’s he was part of the crew when his brother Jost and father won the 1985 Paris-Dakar for trucks.

Whilst Jost continued a successful motorsport career which included stints at BMW, Sauber and Volkswagen, the Dakar sparked Volker’s spirit of adventure when he moved to Thailand to run an events planning consultancy. With his logistical know-how, he is a mainstay of major events such as the annual Race of Champions, but otherwise he is not involved in racing like his brother.

Since 2004, Volker has made it his personal task to help around 2,500 disadvantaged children in the Wat Sakaeo orphanage, about 100 km north of the sprawling Thai capital.

After visiting the orphanage in April, Alex Albon supported the Iceman charity run by Volker Capito (left), brother of Williams team boss Jost Capito

Photo by: Iceman Charity

In the Buddhist country, New Year’s Eve is not celebrated in the same way as abroad, but many people take the opportunity to do a good deed. In early 2004, Capito and a friend decided to donate 25 kg of rice to the Wat Sakaeo orphanage. The next time, Capito donated 2500 ice cream instead, earning him the nickname Iceman from the kids.

“I saw immense need in the orphanage,” recalls Capito. “I figured these kids probably never had ice cream before, so next time I organized to bring ice cream instead. Let me tell you, getting 2500 ice creams without melting was a big challenge!

“People asked if I should have done something better instead of buying all the ice cream, but when you see the kids start crying then bringing all the ice cream was definitely not a waste of money, it’s something every kid does.” would like to have. “

A tradition was born and through the inevitably named Iceman Charity, Capito continued to expand his involvement with the orphanage, from ensuring enough food came in to feed 2500 mouths to improving the orphanage’s facilities after the devastating tsunami of Southeast Asia was growing rapidly in 2004, leaving many children both homeless and parentless.

While the school is funded by the government, the orphanage relies on outside donors to raise living standards beyond the bare minimum. Over the years, Capito’s Iceman charity has raised around 80 million baht, approximately £1.86 million.

When Albon joined Williams, Capito was quick to point out the coincidence that linked his new driver to his brother’s extraordinary story, and when Albon was due to drive across the country ahead of the Australian Grand Prix in April, a visit to Wat Sakaeo was scheduled high.

Alex Albon plays soccer with the children at Thailand's Wat Sakaeo orphanage

Alex Albon plays soccer with the children at Thailand’s Wat Sakaeo orphanage

Photo by: Iceman Charity

Images emerged of Albon playing football with the children and taking the time to help distribute lunch – with the inevitable ice cream for dessert – and he was overwhelmed by the orphans’ positive attitude and self-discipline.

“Jost spoke to me about his brother’s charity. He showed me the things they were doing and it’s huge. It really is a huge village. And I had to see it, so we took a day trip to visit the orphanage,” Albon told Autosport inside the Spanish GP paddock.

“What struck me the most was how grateful they were for everything despite where they came from, some had horrible childhoods, whatever it may be.

“The images were really impressive as I saw these young children expressing gratitude and smiling. I will really remember that.

“It hit me pretty hard. How can they be so positive? And that’s a testament to what they’re doing in this orphanage.

“I’m not sure if it just pertains to Buddhism in general, but you have to consider that for every at least 50 children there might be one adult. The children must behave well. And they do their jobs, they make their beds, the place is immaculate, it’s really impressive and they’ve done a great job of making it sustainable.”

Photo by: Iceman Charity

Wat Sakaeo aims to prepare children for adult life outside by teaching all sorts of life skills alongside more conventional language and math classes, and as Albon has learned firsthand, hair coloring for special occasions is part of the curriculum.

“Those kids were Liverpool fans, in Thailand Liverpool and Manchester United are like the biggest teams out there. Red is also a lucky color in most parts of Asia, so the kids wanted to dye my hair. And of course I just had to say yes.

“I spent the rest of the trip back to Bangkok with my hair still dyed. We went straight to the Thai Tourism Board. They’re pretty tall people… and my hair was glowing red! So that was kind of the start and then we had a great race in Melbourne. So yeah, the tradition goes on.”

It’s clear that Albon isn’t just doing a one-off PR exercise, he’s really putting his heart into it. When he played football with the barefoot children, he would take off his shoes so that he and the children were at eye level. That’s why he immediately agreed to having his hair dyed to match the Liverpool boys’ hairstyles. A powerful gesture that was greatly appreciated in Thailand.

Photo by: Iceman Charity

Whether it was positive karma or harmless superstition, the red-headed Albon clinched Williams’ first point in Melbourne and then added two more in Miami.

The results caused a lot of excitement at the orphanage, not least because since early 2021 team boss Capito has agreed to make a personal donation to his brother’s charity for every point his Williams team scores.

“I spoke to Volker quite often because we are very close,” Jost Capito told Autosport. “And I said look I want to be successful and we do a certain amount per point that I donate to the orphanage. So you were very happy after Spa!

“When you go there and you see there are 150 boys living in one room and that’s all they have, it’s not easy to see and I really appreciate what Volker is doing there.”

At both the orphanage and the Barcelona F1 paddock, red hair has since become a craze, as Williams set up a booth in front of his motorhome offering a free “albono” haircut, an offer that several Williams team members – including Capito – and other paddock residents took on Thursday.

But Albon’s contribution to the cause doesn’t just end with a can of hair dye. Both he and Jost have become patrons of the Iceman charity and have thrown their support behind the charity’s recent fundraiser to refurbish the orphanage’s barebones gymnasium, which will be renamed Alex Albon Hall upon completion.

The introverted 26-year-old may have been initially hesitant to embrace his celebrity status in Thailand, but the visit to the orphanage has enlightened how he can use his elevated profile to make a difference.

Inspired by how his colleagues Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have championed issues such as diversity and climate change, Albon is now fully involved.

“I’m not a very extroverted person. I’m quite shy and public things are not my favorite things to do. But I feel like there’s an element of responsibility in being able to do good,” he explained.

“And there are many good examples. If I just look over at my colleagues, people like Lewis or Sebastian, they do amazing things for people outside of sport.

“When the kids asked to dye my hair, the first thing that was ok was I’m definitely going to Melbourne with bright reds. But it was a great way to focus on the actual charity and giving side.

Alex Albon, Williams Racing

Alex Albon, Williams Racing

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

“I feel very Thai and I want to do more and more projects that can give opportunities to people, children and everyone who is in Thailand.

“Obviously I feel like I’m in a great position to try and help. It’s an opportunity for me to do the right thing. We’ve been able to donate quite a bit of money and we’re not stopping, we want to keep going.”

Albon’s team principal said he is proud that his driver is using his status to make a difference and hopes other drivers will follow suit.

“I think it’s important and they should do that,” Capito added. “The impact it has on children when someone like him is associated with them is tremendous.

“It’s not just the money that’s coming in, it’s the feeling that someone is on their side.”

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