Williams Racing’s 2018 driver line-up

After a lot of tests to evaluate drivers and even more rumours it was finally announced by Williams Racing that Russian, Sergey Sirotkin, would partner Lance Stroll at Williams for the 2018 season. While the other contender for the seat, Robert Kubica, has been signed as the reserve and development driver for the team for the upcoming season.

Like anything, there are plenty of ways of looking at Williams Racing’s recent driver announcement.

You can look at it as quite a strong line up with Lance Stroll entering the season having achieved a second row start in Italy and a podium finish in Azerbaijan in a tough debut year in 2017. You also have a driver in Sergey Sirotkin that has impressed the team immensely in the post season Abu Dhabi test, and has shown some incredible drives in GP2 (now Formula 2). Also not to forget Renault endorsing Sirotkin’s speed and technical feedback. Lastly you have Robert Kubica in a valuable role able to look at data and provide help and insight in the development of the car as well as providing advice and guidance to the two main drivers. This includes being given opportunities in the car during pre and in-season testing as well as some practice session running during 2018.

Stroll
Lance Stroll” by Jake Archibald is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Or you can look at it as Williams on the edge of another decline, having taken another young pay driver to partner the other who was inconsistent in their debut season for the team in 2017, and have wasted an opportunity in bringing back one of the stars of the mid to late 2000s. All of which looks like a lack of ambition for a team that states its desire to be challenging at the very front of the grid again.

I prefer to look at the former as despite what many will say about the two lead drivers being pay drivers, they are talented enough to be in Formula One. Stroll had a phenomenal Formula 3 campaign in 2016 and was formerly part of the Ferrari Driver Academy. Not to forget he did achieve a podium finish and a second row start in his debut Formula 1 season as well as a further six points scoring finishes. With a season now under his belt, there is plenty for Stroll to build upon for 2018.

Sirotkin in turn has been floating around Formula One for a while having been attached to Sauber and then Renault. He has also had solid GP2 (now Formula 2) campaigns in the past and has put in some fantastic drives which always have the potential to be translated to Formula One. He also impressed the Williams team during the post season Abu Dhabi test in 2017 and is also supported by former employer’s, Renault, whose opinion is that he is a fast driver who gives strong technical feedback. It’s also important to remember that Williams felt Sirotkin was more consistent than Kubica during the post Abu Dhabi test.

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As for Kubica, it was probably best he was signed in a reserve and development role. As he himself has stated, it puts him in a good position to get a 2019 drive, when drives with some big teams are available. Part of me feels his attempt at securing a drive for 2018 was a bit ‘late in the day’, especially with the limited amount of in-season testing that Formula One does. If Kubica had done his Hungary test with Williams, perhaps he would have got a race seat with them. However, having done his Hungary test with Renault who then had an opportunity to get Carlos Sainz in the car, Kubica almost effectively had to start from scratch in convincing a team to give him a race seat for 2018. The reserve and development role is perfect for both Kubica and Williams to work together to further help prepare the Pole for a 2019 drive and for Williams to tap into a vast amount of technical knowledge in how to develop the car during the season.

It’s very easy to point to the money that Sirotkin’s sponsor, SMP Racing, has brought to Williams. But it has been reported that even Kubica was required to bring some form of money in order to help secure the drive. Ultimately Sirotkin was more consistent in the post season test and SMP Racing upped their financial support to get the deal over the line as despite Williams Racing’s history, they aren’t in the same financial position as Mercedes, Red Bull Racing or Ferrari who can pour gargantuan amounts of money into developing their car and hiring the most talented drivers.

It’s a big season for Williams in 2018 but with Paddy Lowe having had a season to influence the design of the car, two young and talented drivers, not to mention a very experienced and knowledgeable reserve and development driver, for all the doubters, the Grove based team could be one of the surprise packages of the 2018 season. Even if they do have a difficult 2018 season, with Kubica within the team it could be short term pain and long term gain as the team, and potentially Kubica himself, could ultimately lay strong foundations for 2019.

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