Following the seismic announcement of the McLaren/Renault/Honda/Toro Rosso/Carlos Sainz deal at the Singapore Grand Prix, and Sergio Perez’s contract extension with Force India, the next major piece of Formula 1’s driver market puzzle lies with Williams. Neither Lance Stroll or Felipe Massa are confirmed to be driving there next year, and there are options available. Just who will be the Williams 2018 drivers?
Who should the Williams 2018 drivers be?
Realistically, eight drivers (including the two current race drivers) are in with a shout of the two seats. Each come with their own strengths and weaknesses, which makes this choice difficult.
For: young, has had an impressive rookie season, brings massive funding
Against: young, unlikely to be able to lead the team, occasionally erratic
It seems very likely that young Stroll will be retained by the team for 2018 at the very least. His start to like in F1 has been somewhat shaky, but he has shown flashes of absolutely supreme talent – notably in the wet. He does, however, lack a lot of experience, which is why Williams will want an experienced driver alongside.
For: popular within the team, masses of experience, over-25, still capable of the odd strong result
Against: past his best
Massa was brought out of retirement to replace Valtteri Bottas, who in turn replaced the retiring Nico Rosberg at Mercedes. He has shown some strong form at times, but it’s tough to think about how different the championship table might look had it been Bottas in that car as opposed to Massa. The popular Brazilian does appear to have options outside of F1, notably in Formula E.
Paul di Resta
For: current reserve driver, over-25, drove admirably at the last minute in Hungary in Massa’s place
Against: one F1 start in four years, done little in DTM in that time, tough to judge Hungary drive
The future of di Resta is unclear – be it in F1 or in DTM. Mercedes is pulling out of the category at the end of 2018, which is set to leave him without a drive. Therefore, an attempt at an F1 comeback would make sense. However, he achieved very little in F1 in three years with Force India, and has arguably had his chance. His performance in Hungary – where he replaced Massa as late as qualifying, is impossible to read. Is that the best di Resta is capable of? Or is there much more to come? It is very unclear.
For: Mercedes junior, delivered points in uncompetitive cars, highly-rated
Against: under-25, hasn’t convincingly beat team-mates except for Rio Haryanto
Wehrlein would be a good option for Williams, if the fact that he is young was not an issue. Williams’ title sponsor Martini requests one driver to be of at least a certain age, and unfortunately Wehrlein would not fill that bill. Otherwise, it would make absolute sense for Williams to take him on. It would help strengthen the relationship between Williams and Mercedes, and he has shown flashes of absolute brilliance in just under two years in F1. Unfortunately, it just seems unlikely to happen.
For: over-25, brings funding, done well against Wehrlein and Felipe Nasr
Against: yet to beat a team-mate in F1 in terms of points
Wehrlein’s Sauber team-mate also appears to be an option. With Sauber looking to sign one or even two Ferrari-associated drivers in junior driver Charles Leclerc and reserve driver Antonio Giovinazzi, Ericsson could be forced out despite having close links to the teams’ owners. His on-track performances have been incredibly unspectacular in almost four years at this level, and would be a very uninspiring choice for Williams.
For: over-25, brings funding, performed strongly since summer break
Against: being hammered in team-mate battle by Nico Hulkenberg
Registering a best-ever finish at the Singapore race could not have come at a better time for Palmer. He learned through Autosport that he was being forced out of Renault for Sainz, therefore must look elsewhere for a drive and Williams is probably the only realistic option. Despite those points – primarily through attrition, Palmer’s season has been abysmal. It’s tough to see how he would be the best possible option for the seat.
For: over-25, still clearly able to drive F1 cars, regarded as one of the greatest in the late-2000s
Against: zero F1 starts since in almost seven years, limited movement in arm
The second driver to be released by Renault is Kubica, who is now being managed by 2016 champion Rosberg. The 2008 Canadian Grand Prix winner was so strong in F1 prior to his life-changing accident. The main issue is that even if he was as good as he was in 2010, that does not necessarily imply that others have not managed to improve. He would also inevitably be race-rusty, having only started a few races at any level (mainly low-level) since his accident. Many are rightly sceptical.
For: former Williams driver, over-25, 2009 world champion
Against: not seeking a F1 return, set to race in Super GT in 2018
Button was rumoured to conclude his F1 career with the team he started it with back in 2000. However, he was instead put on a ‘sabbatical’ by McLaren. He has emphasised that he is not seeking a F1 return at all. It would be a nice story, but it simply seems unlikely that Button is interested.
Williams’ options are somewhat restricted in terms of top drivers. The top two teams all have very strong line-ups, and each of the three Renault-powered teams (assuming Fernando Alonso re-signs with McLaren) will also have massive strength in their respective pairings. Force India also will retain its feisty-yet-talented duo. Kubica, Palmer and di Resta are all risky options. Williams would be best to stick with what it knows, and it certainly knows Massa. Therefore, Williams should retain its current pairing for 2018, ahead of a highly-anticipated driver market for 2019.
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