I sense that the Monza weekend will see a number of driver announcements, now that Felipe Massa has announced his retirement. Williams is expected to confirm a new deal for Valtteri Bottas, which will probably run for two seasons, to get him to the end of 2018, when a lot of big drives will be up for grabs. But what will Williams do to replace Massa? One suggestion is that the team might slot in Felipe Nasr, but it is arguable whether this would be a step forward. Nasr is certainly a decent driver, he’s presentable and brings some support from Brazil, but the country’s economy is not great right now and Nasr has yet to show signs that he is a future top-line star. Williams is believed to have been quite keen on the idea of Sergio Perez, who has talent and sponsorship behind him. But the indications are that he will either stay with Force India, or he will gamble on getting into a factory team with a deal with Renault. The Enstone team may not be very competitive at the moment, but there is likely to be an improvement with both chassis and engine as the team builds itself up in the next couple of years. Getting into such a position would be a better long-term move than staying on with Force India, although in the short-term, the Silverstone team might seem a better idea. It is worth noting how important Mexico is to Renault as well. And remember that Enstone was a championship-winning team in two different generations, so it should not be under-estimated. Of course, Williams also used to be a great winning force, but without an engine partner of its own and having to pay for customer engines, the team has not been the force it once was, except for one extraordinary day in 2012 when Pastor Maldonado won an incredible victory. The team has been quite competitive since it took Mercedes engines in 2014, but it seems to have stagnated somewhat since then. In part this may be due to funding. Having Perez aboard would have been a good option for the team, but it does not seem that will happen. And the logic of a romantic swan song for Jenson Button is not really that logical. It is clear that the team would like to have more money, in order to improve performance and as Jenson is not going to bring money, and sponsorship is very hard to find these days, improvement is more likely with another driver, even if they are less talented than Button. The other question is whether Button is interested in such a deal. I sense that he is not that interested. So who then might replace Massa at Williams? Financially-speaking, the best move would probably be to sign up Lance Stroll, the Canadian who is doing very well in European Formula 3 and is already a Williams development driver. Money is really not an issue with Stroll because his father has a ton (or two) of the stuff, and appears to be willing to part with it. The key question is whether Williams considers Stroll to be sufficient a prospect to take that big leap of faith.
Talented youngsters without cash are still coming through the ranks, thanks to companies like Red Bull, Mercedes and Renault and that has to be a good thing for the sport. The sport needs new heroes (and villains) to reinvigorate itself and create new interest. Ultimately, all the teams are bound to look to younger men, if only because they are more feisty and cheaper than the established stars. I sense that McLaren is going to go with Stoffel Vandoorne next year (there really isn’t a choice if the team wants to keep hold of the highly promising youngster). This means that Jenson Button will not be able to stay there as a race driver. The other choices are limited, but perhaps JB will glide gracefully into other work, as befits a World Champion.
If Perez does take off to Renault, Force India would need more support from somewhere, but one can imagine that Mercedes would be willing to help and Pascal Wehrlein would probably be the best fit, as he continues his development as a young Mercedes driver. That would create a place at Manor.