Alexander Albon’s arrival at Williams for the 2022 season was very important for both sides. On the one hand, the Anglo-Thai driver has found a starting wheel on the sidelines (and in the DTM) after 2021. On the other hand, the team saw an opportunity to fill the void left by star switched to Mercedes, George Russell, with a quick and experienced replacement.
Since his rise to Red Bull’s second seat in 2019, Albon has also become a celebrity in Thailand, the country the dual nationality driver hopes to represent in F1. But when he signed for Williams, he learned from team boss Jost Capito that he now had a different connection to that country.
Volker Capito, Jost’s younger brother, has lived in Bangkok for over twenty years. After being part of the family team that won the 1985 Dakar in the truck category, the German moved to Thailand to run an events consultancy. Thanks to his logistical expertise, he is one of the mainstays of major events such as the Race of Champions, but his involvement in motorsport ends here (unlike Jost).
In fact, since 2004, Volker has made it his personal task to help the approximately 2,500 disadvantaged children who live in the Wat Sakaeo orphanage, a hundred kilometers north of the Thai capital.
Albon supports the charity founded by Volker Capito (left), brother of Williams boss Jost
In this Buddhist country, the New Year is not celebrated in the same way as abroad, but many people take this opportunity to do something good. So, in early 2004, Capito and one of his friends decided to donate 25 kg of rice to the Wat Sakaeo orphanage. The following year, Capito donated 2,500 ice cream cones, earning him the nickname Iceman from the children.
“I saw [qu’il y avait] an immense misery in this orphanage”Capito remembered. “I figured these kids had probably never eaten ice cream before, so I made sure to bring some next time. Let me tell you, it was quite a challenge to ‘bring 2500 ice cream without melting it!’
“People were wondering if there was anything I should have done better than buy all that ice cream, but when I saw these kids start crying, [le fait] Bringing you all that ice cream clearly wasn’t wasted money. Every child wants that.”
Through the Iceman Charity, Capito became increasingly involved with the orphanage, making sure the 2,500 mouths were fed and improving the facilities. While the state takes care of financing the education, the orphanage depends on external donors to raise the standard of living beyond what is absolutely necessary. Over the years, Capito’s charity has raised around 80 million baht, or about 2.2 million euros.
Albon plays football with the children at Wat Sakaeo orphanage
Jost Capito, the brother who runs the Williams team, told the Thai driver this story and when Albon visited the country in April ahead of the Australian Grand Prix a visit to the orphanage was arranged. While playing football with the children and handing out lunch – with ice cream for dessert, of course – Albon was overwhelmed by the orphans’ positive attitude and self-discipline.
“Jost told me about his brother’s union”told Albon Motorsport.com at the Spanish GP. “He showed me what they do and it was huge. It’s a really big village. I had to go there, so we spent a day at the orphanage.”
“What impressed me the most was the how [les enfants] were grateful for everything despite their history. Some had disastrous childhoods, whatever that may be. Seeing these little children thankful and smiling was a really powerful image. I will never forget it, it shaped me a lot. How can they be so positive? It’s a testament to what they’re doing with this orphanage.”
“I don’t know if it’s part of Buddhism in general, but you have to consider that there’s maybe one adult for every 50 children. Children have to behave well, they do the housework, they make their beds. This place is immaculate, it’s really impressive and they’ve done a great job of making it sustainable.”
Albon dyed his hair red
Wat Sakaeo aims to prepare children for adult life by teaching them a variety of skills in addition to traditional language and math classes. And Albon discovered that coloring was also on the agenda!
He added : “These kids are Liverpool fans. In Thailand, Liverpool and Manchester United are the biggest clubs [les deux équipes jouent en rouge, ndlr]. Red is also a lucky color in most parts of Asia, so the kids wanted to dye my hair. Of course I had to accept that.”
“I spent the rest of the trip in Bangkok with my hair still dyed. We went straight to the Tourist Office of Thailand, they’re pretty important people… My hair was bright red! That’s how it all started, then we had a great race in Melbourne, so the tradition will continue.”
It’s clear Albon’s gesture isn’t a publicity stunt. When playing football with the children, he would take off his barefoot shoes in order to have equal rights. For this reason, too, he immediately agreed to have his hair dyed. A strong gesture that was greatly appreciated in Thailand.
Albon distributes food
It was therefore a red-headed Albon who scored Williams’ first point of the season in Melbourne before adding two more in Miami. The Thai’s results were met with great enthusiasm at the orphanage, in part because Jost Capito pledged to make a personal donation to his brother’s charity for every point scored.
“I speak to Volker very often because we are very close”said the Williams manager Motorsport.com. “I told him I wanted to be successful [avec Williams] and that for every point I donate a certain amount to the orphanage [inscrit]. They were therefore very happy after Spa! When you go there it’s not easy to see 150 boys living in one room, that’s all they have. I really appreciate what Volker is doing there.”
In the orphanage as well as in the paddock of Barcelona, red hair is the order of the day. Williams even set up a booth next to his RV to offer a free “Albon haircut.” Several members of the team, including Jost Capito, as well as other personalities from the paddock, have been stationed there since the beginning of the weekend.
But the pilot’s contribution to the cause doesn’t stop with coloring. He and Capito became patrons of the charity and supported the recent fundraiser to refurbish the orphanage’s gym, which will be renamed the ‘Alex Albon Room’ once the work is complete.
Possibly reluctant to embrace his celebrity status in Thailand because of his introversion, Albon was able to figure out how to use his notoriety to shake things up with the orphanage visit. Inspired by the battles waged by Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, Albon is now a dedicated driver.
“I’m not a very outgoing person”he assured. “I’m quite shy, I don’t like doing things in public. But I think there is a responsibility in being able to do good. And there are many good examples. Just observing my peers, people like Lewis or Sebastian do amazing things to the outside world [de la F1].”
“When the kids asked to dye my hair, I knew straight away that I would go to Melbourne with them [des cheveux] bright red. But it was a great opportunity to draw attention to the association and the donations. I really feel Thai and I want to do more and more projects that bring opportunities to people, children and everyone in Thailand. I obviously feel like I’m in a good position to try and help. This is an opportunity for me to do the right thing. We were able to give a lot of money and we’re not going to stop, we want to keep going.”
A commitment that makes Jost Capito proud, and the Williams boss hopes other drivers will follow suit: “I think it’s important and they should do it. to have someone like that [Albon] associated with children has a great impact on them. It’s not just about the money, it’s about feeling like someone is on your side.”
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