New Williams signing George Russell believes 2018 Formula 2 title rival Alexander Albon has earned his Formula 1 graduation to Toro Rosso.

The British-Thai driver started the year on a race-by-race deal with French squad DAMS but quickly sealed a full-season contract after emerging as Russell’s nearest challenger in the championship fight.

Albon claimed four victories across the season and ended up finishing third in the standings behind Lando Norris and champion Russell.

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His impressive campaign prompted Toro Rosso to offer him a drive alongside the returning Daniil Kvyat for 2019, having been released from his already-agreed Nissan Formula E deal.

“I’m really happy for him. He’s a really great driver,” Russell said.

“He’s had probably not the easiest junior career, but he is no doubt a great driver and deserves this opportunity.

“I think after a few races, as obviously he doesn’t have any Formula 1 experience at the moment, but I really think come the end of the year, he’ll be able to put in some really good performances.”

In the past a number of F1-feeder series champions - including Stoffel Vandoorne and Pierre Gasly - have struggled to find an instant route into F1, but the recent rapid rise of talents such as Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc appears to have broken the mould.

Albon’s promotion means the top three drivers from the 2018 F2 season have earned F1 seats for 2019 and Russell feels the strength of the current wave of young drivers progressing through the single-seater ranks is reflected in the increased opportunities handed out by F1 teams.

“I think Formula 1 teams are starting to recognise the level in junior motorsport,” Russell explained.

“I think we’ve all been very lucky, especially myself and Lando, to be around a Formula 1 team for a couple of years now, and going to the races, and we learn a huge amount.

“Of course you always get quicker and when you gain experience, you just become more knowledgeable. I think this generation of drivers is a very, very good one.

“When you’re aiming for Formula 1, you don’t expect that you’re going to be racing the exact same guys you were racing all those years ago.

“I think I’ve raced six or seven drivers in previous years, so it’s quite a strange feeling to be honest that you always progress with the same drivers.

“I think this group of drivers are extremely talented and really quick bunch of drivers, so I think hopefully we’ll be here for a number of years to come.”

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