It was announced today that Williams Martini F1 Racing team has brought their shortlist of drivers to partner Lance Stroll next season down to three names. The Grove-based team are looking at Felipe Massa, who is currently Stroll’s teammate, Robert Kubica, looking for his Formula One comeback, and Paul di Resta, current Williams reserve driver.
As the racing seats are filled in the top teams for next year, Williams has one of the most coverted seats still available for the 2018 season. There have been many drivers contact Williams with interest in driving for them next year, as well as Williams making contact with a few drivers themselves. With the Martini sponsorship, the second driver has to be over 25 years old so that they can be used in alchol advertisement. As Stroll is under this age, his teammate must be over to meet the requirements of the Martini sponsorship deal.
With ‘silly-season’ coming to an end, Williams has narrowed it choice of teammate for Stroll next year down to Massa, Kubica and di Resta.
It was announced at the Singapore Grand Prix last weekend that Kubica would be climbing aboard a 2014 Williams F1 car for a test to judge his abilities in the new Formula One machinary. As Kubica has done all of his previous tests for Renault, Williams will be using their own test to gauge if they will be the team for Kubica to make his comback after his tragic accident in 2011 where he seriously damaged his arm.
Renault had looked to be the team for Kubica as they completed two tests with the Polish driver; one private and one public test in the post-Hungarian Grand Prix young driver’s test. The consideration had been for Kubica to race alongside Nico Hulkenberg next season, but the time on that deal ran out when Renault opted to take Carlos Sainz Jr on a one year loan from Toro Rosso as part of the McLaren-Renault/Toro Rosso-Honda engine swap.
With no rush to fill the second Williams seat, they have enough time and a provisional seat to be the potential comeback team for Kubica.
Massa is not out of contention yet. The team was very grateful to Massa when the Brazilian came out of retirement to take Valtteri Bottas’ seat when the Finn took up the chance to go to Mercedes following then-champion Nico Rosberg’s departure. However, whether or not Massa will be as willing to stay on for another year remains to be seen. The Brazilian has been very vocal about wanting the team to prove they want him there and not just as a last minute decision or stand in to fill a void.
After his impressive performance whilst standing in for an ill Massa in Hungary, di Resta has been hovering around the Williams F1 scene a little more, hoping that there may be a chance for him to step up and replaced Massa full time. Di Resta has not been in a Formula One car for a competitive season since 2013 when he race alongside Adrian Sutil in Force India. He is hoping that his one-off performance in Hungary was enough to show the team he is capable of being competitive in their car for next year’s season.
With the Williams seat being the only sought after drive not already filled, the team are taking their time with the decision process. The lack of other vacancies in potentially competitive cars and mid field cars puts Williams in a very strong position. This is made clear by the amount of drivers who are fighting over the signel seat left at the team.
It is believed that Williams were suiting Fernando Alonso for the second seat in their team, but now McLaren had made the switch to Renault power units next year it looks like the Spaniard is set to re-sign with McLaren. Sergio Perez was also on the Williams radar, but he too has re-signed with his current team, believing Williams was too much of a risk for his career. Williams may be in a position of power with a good seat, but the good drivers that they want to sign are also highly sought over. The team may get stuck with whomever is left if they wait too much longer to make a decision.
Marcus Ericsson and Jolyon Palmer have been said to be hopeful for the Williams seat, but the move to that team for either of those drivers is unlikely. Pascal Wehrlein’s name has also been thrown into the mix as a Williams hopeful, but as he is 22 years old he does not fulfil the contract requirements from Martini so he will not be signed by the team.
As ‘silly season’ moves into its final stages the last few drivers will fill the seats. It is highly likely that a few names will fall off the grid for next year, but this does mean some fresh talent gets the chance to step up to the pinnicle of single-seater motor racing.