The second Williams seat (or is it the first one?)

Lance Stroll will be staying at Williams next year. He has not had a bad first season with team, but neither has he blown away Felipe Massa. There have been 16 races so far and Massa has outqualified Stroll 12-3, the remaining race was when Massa was unwell and handed over the car to Paul di Resta, who started from the back. Massa has scored points 10 times, Stroll six times, but when both cars have finished (only eight times) Massa has been ahead on five occasions and Stroll on three.

In terms of World Championship points the score is 34 – 32, with Stroll having benefited from his somewhat fortunate podium in Baku, when both Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton hit trouble (Vettel’s self-inflicted, Hamilton’s caused by a loose headrest). In addition, Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen retired and so it was a rather unusual event.  Without that, Stroll’s numbers would be less impressive. Having said that, overall the Williams team has been underperforming significantly, given the fact that it has Mercedes engines. The team has scored only 66 points, while direct rival and fellow Mercedes customer Force India has collected 147. That is a massacre. What is required, therefore, above all else, is a better technical package for 2018 because (these days) there is no driver in the world who can take an uncompetitive car and beat competitive machinery on a regular basis. So, the pressure is on Paddy Lowe and his crew to deliver a better bolide. When it comes to the drivers, it all really depends on how one rates Felipe Massa. The 36-year-old Brazilian has won 11 Grands Prix in his 14 and a half seasons in F1. His last victory was his most famous one, in Brazil 2008 when he seemed to be World Champion for a few seconds before Lewis Hamilton snatched it from him.

In 2009 Felipe suffered significant head injuries when he was hit by a flying part that had come off another car. He returned to Ferrari in 2010 but has never won since. He joined Williams in 2014 and is popular with the team and with the sponsors, but was not going to be retained this year (the score in qualifying was 17-4 in favour of Valtteri Bottas) and he retired (the only other option was to be dumped). Nico Rosberg’s shock decision to quit handed Massa a second chance as Bottas went to Mercedes, leaving Williams with a seat to fill.

It is always difficult to put drivers into a pecking order, particularly as they develop over the time, but on paper Bottas was better than Massa and he is better than Stroll, and thus in F1 terms Stroll is no match for Bottas, who has not been as competitive as Lewis Hamilton. In other words, Stroll is not another Hamilton. And what Williams needs is a driver who will not only score well, but also motivate the workforce and drive the team forward. Keeping Massa is unlikely to do that. Paul di Resta, the team’s reserve driver, who has been out of F1 races since 2013 (except for his own race as stand-in for Massa). Prior to that he had a largely-unsuccessful three-year stint with Force India being in the shadow of Adrian Sutil in 2011 and Nico Hulkenberg in 2012 but then beating Sutil in 2013. He then returned to his career in DTM. In his favour are the facts that he is British and over 25, which is important to the team’s title sponsor Martini.

Robert Kubica, who has been testing for Williams this week, has not raced an F1 car since 2010, at which point he was very much a rising star and had a deal to drive for Ferrari. He lost it all when he hurt himself very badly in an accident while competing on a minor rally in Italy. His right arm was significantly damaged and it is only after a string of operations that he has got to a point where he can drive an F1 car again. He has to convince the team that he still has all the necessary elements to be an F1 star despite, in effect, driving with one arm. It would be a great fairytale if it were to come true, but Robert needs to be convince Williams that he is the man it needs. The downside for Robert is that Renault had the chance to take him in 2018 and did not do so. The final option appears to be Pascal Wehrlein, who has driven well this year with Sauber. He’s young and he’s strong, but there seems to be little interest at Sauber to keep him because it has thrown its lot in with Maranello and is expected to take Ferrari youngsters Charles Lecclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi next year. Wehrlein is a quality driver, which is why he is a Mercedes protégé but his shyness sometimes comes across as arrogance and he lost out to Esteban Ocon for the Force India drive this year. He is probably the best best for Williams, if Mercedes is willing to provide practical support. The question Mercedes has to answer is whether it has too many young drivers. There are Ocon and the young George Russell, and it is no secret that the team’s first choice as a replacement for Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas is Max Verstappen. One can envisage a future line-up of Verstappen/Ocon in the mid-term.

In the end we might end up with a three-driver combination with two actually driving and the third being used as an ambassador (as Mika Hakkinen is used by Johnnie Walker). Martini wants a driver over 25 to help sell its vermouth and Stroll/Wehrlein is too young a combination. If one looks at the use of Martini branding one sees Massa is full kit and Stroll with different shirts and caps, although the cars remain the same. This is because the alcohol industry has a voluntary agreement not to use stars/models under 25 to promote its goods. Thus Massa does the Martini work. Without him, neither driver could do it, but he could stay on (if it suited him) as a Martini salesman.

62 thoughts on “The second Williams seat (or is it the first one?)

  1. Is Williams looking at Sebastien Buemi? I think he would be a suitable option. On the other hand, the car is not up to par. So it would not matter much who is in the car.

    1. That’s an interesting one – if Bottas is dropped at the end of 2018, it seems inconceivable that he would be left without a drive. Given that Williams are in a strong negotiation position with their prospective drivers for next year, it makes sense that they’ll offer a 1 year contract in case Bottas becomes available for 2019.

      I know that Williams have to make the right decision for them, but how awesome would it be if Kubica got the drive. As inspirational stories go, the very thought gives me goose-bumps. That in itself has to have some value for Williams. Fingers crossed 🙂

  2. Using the ‘who beat who’ hypothesis, since Hamilton outperformed Alonso in his very first season; when green behind the gills, why does Alonso rate so highly with motoring journalists. Also, Ricciardo significantly embarrassed Vettel, yet still the writers wax lyrical about Seb.

      1. Except, when Vettel won those, the car was dominant and he only had to beat Webber. When Ricciardo was putting Seb in his place, the Mercedes was all dominant so the titles already won are irrelevant. You can only ever compare a driver to his teammate because of car differences. Incidentally, I’m not saying Vettel isn’t a good driver before the fans berate me but, he has done more to convince me he’s a great driver (flawed, but great) since his move to Ferrari than he ever did when he was just beating Webber to four titles in a dominant Red Bull. Past titles are irrelevant when comparing drivers in modern F1. You usually only have to beat 1 driver to win the title.

    1. It’s fairly well documented that Alonso was adjusting to a car that didn’t suit his driving style, and with a very different front / rear balance than Renault had developed around the Michelins.

      More subjectively, this is the first year it’s looked to me as if Hamilton was clearly a better driver than he was in 2007. Perhaps I’m being unfair; he’s not a driver I’ve warmed to until quite recently. But he seems to me to have had at least *some* quite indifferent seasons considering how fast and consistent he was in 2007. Not saying at all that he isn’t a deserving multiple world champion, he clearly is. But I haven’t seen evidence of as much *development* as I probably expected after 2007. Be interested to hear why I’m being unfair, I probably am being.

      1. Re: Hamilton, I don’t think you’re being unfair, mainly because you began by saying this year is different. I think this year is different. He’s always been very good and often quite excellent. But this is the first year I’ve sometimes found myself feeling that I’m watching true mastery. (The most recent example was when Seb was chasing him down on faster tires… Lewis’ lead shrinking rapidly,.. the way Lewis drove to the win had me thinking “this is a drive to remember”.)

        Lewis can have his temperamental moments. This year he’s got a temperamental car. On a few occasions the car’s nature overrode his, but most times not. Bottas is very good but maybe he’s not temperamental enough to understand this year’s car. 😉

        1. Thank you, it’s good to hear that I’m not alone in feeling subjectively as if Hamilton has really taken a step up this year. And, yes, this is the first year that I’ve felt that I was truly watching in Hamilton one of the all time greats.

          I’ve yet to feel that at all about Vettel, although clearly he had a particular ability to manage the engine-blown diffuser to another level than Webber could manage, for example. But that’s another story (and again, I’m likely being unfair).

          1. For me personally, the only thing about Seb that requires an explanation is how-and-why Ricciardo whupped him in identical cars. I don’t know enough to know what’s required to deal well with blown diffusers vs. not having them, but there’s no question that Dan schooled him during that one season.

            In contrast, AFAIK nobody’s ever schooled Lewis. On a dry track with no combat passing required, Lewis vs Nico was a fair fight. Their ability to go fast was very comparable. It took rain and/or the need for combat passing for Lewis to show superiority. Nico beating him for one season didn’t surprise me the way Dan whupping Seb did.

            1. For those who think I might have a bias… sure I do!

              I’m not in love with any of them, and I tend to root for the underdog. So, I found myself rooting for both Nico and Daniel…

    2. One could argue that Fernando and Kimi are two of the most talented drivers of their generation in terms of pure driving ability. But they ‘only’ won 3 titles between them because of how they’ve handled themselves outside the car. In Fernando’s case it was being difficult to work with, and in Kimi’s case a perceived lack of focus.

  3. Really cannot see the point of a 3 person combination…Martini may as well put their money into other media if they can’t use the actual race drivers…PdR is the obvious fit (Italian good looks, athletic and the right age with plenty of years in him) and arrived in F1 having beaten Vettel in European F3 and won DTM ( by all accounts needing a very focused adaption)…you say his time at FI was largely unsuccessful but at the time FI was not the force it is today…and he did get the better of Sutil. Personally I’d like to see a bit more support for another Brit from you….I’ll bet the Polish and Brazilian media are all over this in support of their drivers….and yes, I am a Scottish Brit….

    1. Paul di Resta is not the right for WF1 having seen and experienced first hand how he operates within a team – he does not really understanding the meaning of the word ‘team’ and he certainly DOES NOT motivate his mechanics and commercial people…. just saying….

      1. That was what was said about Alonso with McLaren when he left but he came back having learned from the experience. Paul has also learned and grown plus is already well known in the Team so both sides know what they can expect. 2018. Williams is a very different place to Force India in 2013.

  4. I think Williams must look at there car in Qualifying, then knock off half a second to see where they would be with a top driver. I think most of points difference to Force India is down to the drivers, both are doing a superb job.

    Massa was no match for Alonso, Bottas had him covered, and it you look closely at this season Bottas speed wise, is hardly ever match for Lewis. As for stroll, I still think as dad one of the most heart breaking things I heard was “someone please help me, I going to crash”, he just sounded like a scared teenager. He’s come a long way since then and doesn’t look out of his depth, but lets not kid ourselves, he’s not the next big talent.

    I like the Williams team, but when was the last time they took chance with drivers, they’re last really good drivers, were Rosberg, Webber, and previous to that JPM and Ralf, all capable of producing that special race or qually that would motivate the team. I think Williams need that again. And I haven’t seen that wow moment from Pascal yet, quick yes, special probably not.

    I think if Robert can still do it, they should go for it, he’s driven, and this is just free publicity too. I just get the impression you’re not keen on Robert getting the drive, but I guess that’s cause you’re privy to more info than we are.

  5. Regarding Renault not taking up Kubica, respectable others suggest that the engine deals took priority. Who actually has the final say, would it be Cyril or the Renault board room who may be keen to sell more Dacias in Spain?

  6. So looking at the chances of each driver it seems nobody has the inside track.
    A third driver might be able to promotional work but unless he is a world champion or imensly popular he will never have the same value as the racing driver.
    Or am I missing something here?

  7. I reckon that the Strolls are paying Williams rather more than Martini and I suspect that their wishes will be part of the equation. The Strolls may be happy to keep Massa – assuming that the drivers get on which I don’t know – and in any case Martini might not want a non-driving drink salesman even though one should not drink and drive! My money is on Massa staying for one more year before Bottas is parachuted back to Williams under the deal that was cooked up to make him the Mercedes stop-gap until they can get Vettel/Verstappen/Ricciardo. This also makes one wonder what happened to the mantra that F1 needs to have a Brazillian driver or was that just one of Bernie’s ideas to keep the Brazillian GP organisers onside?

    1. Agreed. Assuming Kubica is relatively on the pace, I can’t see the Stroll’s wanting him in the sister car to Lance. I can’t really see them being that keen on Di Resta either as if he is better than Lance it’s not a great endorsement for him either.

      Personally I think Massa has had his day and that (and had by early to mid season 2016, lovely bloke though he is), but the Stroll’s can always point to his 2008 form and that he might still be great.

    2. “throwawayculture
      I reckon that the Strolls are paying Williams rather more than Martini”

      That’s a very interesting point.

      How much is each deal worth? Or do I need to subscribe to JSBM for that one? 🙂

      Thanks for another great blog!

  8. Thank you for good read. Being pole I’m obviously biased but what public seems to forget is that Kubica is one of few drivers with extensive knowledge of being testing driver when testing ment driving the car around for months. Because of that he seems to “understand” f1 machinery that bit better and he can actually pass that info to engineers. That is I believe something which Williams needs badly as clearly they not using the package best they can with Massa/Stroll and none of others mentioned has any experience in developing.

    For the sake of argument I’ll leave behind whether he is fit physically to do this. The man himself said he can and as far as I’m concerned it is enough!

    BTW – put RK in Haas Ferrari and you will have a great PR in USA from the start, while he can get ready to fulfill his previous commitments with prancing horses would be my dream…. 🙂

  9. With regards to Kubica (and speaking as someone who rated him highly back in the day) if we put aside his injuries for a moment, surely the same argument made against the many former F1 drivers suggested here (by posters not Joe) and haven’t raced in F1 for the last few years – i.e. that they are ‘out of date’ – can also be made against him? It would be great to see him back in F1 but as Joe always says, F1 is nothing if not pragmatic and I’m sure Williams will make the decision accordingly.

  10. Is the Stroll Martini thing a one off for Suzuka, or constant from now on? Looking at Malaysia and Singapore Stroll had the proper colours on him.

    I guess Austin in a week is potentially a tricky market as whilst it’s the land of the free, you’re not free enough to be 18-20 and drink.

    1. I was gonna say – not disupting it Joe but I was intrigued by the lack of branding so had a look (as I hadn’t noticed) – a quick google image search for “Lance Stroll” and “Lance Stroll 2017” shows him in full Martini Gear all the time, there’s only a couple of Williams photos where he isn’t – so they’re obviously not doing a good job of getting that message across.

  11. It is sad to see Williams reduced to this. They once were a powerhouse employing the likes of Prost, Senna, Mansell, Jones and Reutemann. Now they have the a drinks company and the wealthy father of a journeyman talent calling the shots. With Phillippe Massa as ‘lead’ driver it is hard to take Team Willie seriously any more. They survive as makeweights.

    1. I’ve thought for a long time now that Williams are going the same way as former great Tyrrell… I suppose Tyrrell morphed through BAR/Honda/Brawn to end up as Mercedes GP. So will Williams eventually end up in the electric age as Tesla GP!!

      1. Joe do you know if Jenson has the contractual ability to go to Williams as a driver – or are Mc keeping him on ice in case of a Fernando shock move to another formula

  12. Is Felipe Nasr fully out of the picture? He’s now reached 25 and I’d have thought it might allow some continuity from Massa with any Brazilian sponsors.

  13. It’s great for F1 that a new golden age of talent is approaching. And just as it does, the age of the pay driver is now ebbing away. Bye to the drivers who brought the cash bags. They’ve had a pretty good run for their money.

    I fear for those stars who are neither among the current elite, nor can they be counted among the new wave of young drivers now cresting on the horizon.

    I’m talking Hulk, Perez, Grosjean, and maybe one or two others. The “once great hopefuls” for whom it seems the opportunity has passed even as they reach out. Wrong place wrong time! F1 is cruel.

  14. I guess the main question is Stroll the real deal or not, and from what you have said, I don;t think so. As with Massa, who turns up on the day. A racer or just a driver? On his day he is very quick, but we appear to be seeing a lot less of that, maybe age has something to do with it.

    Apart from the overall package, yes Williams is very much behind in the design and development, given the power unit they have. I also think they need an experienced driver to help them sort out the car, and Stroll hasn’t got the knowledge and experience to do it.

    If Stroll wants to stay around in F1, on merit and not Dad’s pennies, then he has to step up and start delivering results, week in and week out.I would give him one more year on Dad;s money and then he is out if he hasn’t delivered, but these days, you do need a good car – package, and given the knowledge at Williams, one does wonder what is happening there. Maybe they need a complete clear out of all the back office staff and start again – just an idea.

  15. Not the real deal: Stroll, Massa, Ocon, Perez, Raikonnen, Vettel, Ricciardo, Wehlein, Ericcson, Vandoorne, Bottas, Sainz, Hulkenberg, Gasly, Kviat, Grosjean, Magnussen,

    The real deal: Hamilton, Verstappen and (fading) Alonso.

    We then look to those coming through the ranks, Le Clerc.

    It really is that simple (and will be proved over the next decade of Formula 1.

  16. I agree that Wehrlein would be the best option for Williams. Kubica’s return would be emotionally wonderful, but might turn just a fairytale indeed, and I cannot believe Di Resta is a serious consideration, really.

  17. Di Resta, Kubica or Massa. Doesn’t matter really. Williams has put its eggs in the Stroll basket and need to deliver a car to him first. It’s going to be a miracle if that happens next year.

  18. Joe,

    I know you will disagree but I feel Alonso may still end up at Williams. Mercedes engine, Paddy Lowe and a team mate who will not trouble him, especially now that Vandoorne seems to be on Alonso’s pace and is growing in confidence.

    Alonso could get a one year contract put in some fighting performances and be on the market again in 2019 if a better car is available.

    The Williams car is probably a lot better than Stroll or Massa are showing.

  19. But wouldnt it be interesting if they give Kubica a shot? Time to lose the pragmatic mentality that has firmly settled a once champion team into long term mediocrity. We get that independent teams are at a huge disadvantage, but as Joe stated Force India have double the points, that says it all.

    For all those obsessed with youth Kubica was likely top four material – Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Kubica in no particular order, are the other drivers so out of date? If anything, we have come to see Kubica’s resolve and capacity as someone tested to their limits and his mettle is impressive. While Robert may be biased I believe he has the intelligence and discipline of character to not undertake a ‘drive’ without having a chance of delivering.

    Negetives on Kubica include him lacking a sack of cash and not being James Bond to sclock vermouth, but lets face it, if he performs near his previous level he could drag the team up the grid and get the focus back on profitable winning (top 3 or 4 in the short term) instead of driver subsidies, not to mention the morale boost success brings a team.

    I would hope and expect a successful businessman such as Lawrence Stroll would see the advantages of a teammate that betters the car through development and team through results. This environment would be far better for Lance’s development because competition is ultimately what racing is about, and an agressive development environment would aid in Lance’s progression.

    It’s ironic that Kubica’s biggest impairment in returning to the sport may not be his physical state but the political twaddle and overly complicted subsidies that these losing teams have adopted as a business model. Let’s face it, how hard is it to replace a driver mid season? Not very, would Di resta say no four races into 2018? I doubt it, so let’s see a little Humanity from a team with a principal that has conquered his handicap to give Kubica a shot, the status quo has been underwhelming and far too prolonged.

    Where really is the risk in putting Kubica in the car? If he does not perform he’s out, they are not picking him instead of the next prodigy and thereby missing out on a stellar signing, it really is a no brainer.

    1. good point – Kubica would be a fairy story and massive publicity for both Williams and F1 whether or not the return was successful. Robert is doubtless grown-up and realistic enough to accept that if he couldn’t hack it he would be replaced mid-season. Not keen on Di Resta based on previous moans and groans last time he was in F1 regularly

    2. > Where really is the risk in putting Kubica in the car?

      Rumours were that single lap pace was fine but there were question marks about consistency and long run pace. Hope it’s not true.

  20. On Stroll I don’t think he’s been particularly outstanding overall but he has at least improved from where he was at the beginning of the season . That Baku podium has bought him another season of time to improve. Weirdly he seems more confident in the wet than in the dry.

  21. I don’t think Verstappen is the kind of guy who fits Mercedes brand profile personally I think they’d be more likely to go for Ricciardo and Max will either stay where he is or join Ferrari I think.

      1. So is Ricciardo and he’s older . Ricciardo has more the Mercedes image which fits the brand in terms of promotion of it’s road cars particular. Max has ‘boy racer’ image at present which isn’t I believe in line with Mercedes ideas. I also think Mercedes have not entirely forgiven the Verstappens for the fact they rejected Mercedes once already for RB .

          1. Scoring points , being consistent and showing good race craft with good speed is what counts. Max has not always delivered on 3 of the 4 main criteria here where as Ricciardo delivers the goods consistently. Max is starting to improve in these areas the last 2 or 3 races but he needs to sustain it for a longer period.

  22. Why on Earth has Felipe Nasr not been considered? He’s previous experience with Williams, he is fast, and 25 years old.

    I don’t see the point testing Kubica (away from F1 since 2010 and with physical limitations) and di Resta (away since 2013 / has not shown any successful results).

    Another good bet, in my opinion, would be Pascal Wehrlein, but we all know he’s only 23…

  23. I supposed Claire Williams made a statement that Williams couldn´t afford another season like that.

    From Renault sources, German journalist reported that in Budapest, Kubica was faster than Palmer on one lap, but lost a fair second during the long stints.

    What would be at Monaco or Singapur track? And what if power steering would not work?

    So I ask as a Williams fan if it would be a bright idea to take such a trivial pursuit.

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