The winds of change at Williams


Sirotkin to Williams is a sign of the times – or has Williams found a diamond in the rough?

If, as expected, Sergey Sirotkin, is to join Lance Stroll at Williams this year it will be the first time in eight years that the team is without a Grand Prix winner in its driver line-up. But is it the first time in Williams’ history that they have fielded drivers with zero chance of victory?

I table this not to be cruel, but to shine a light on what Williams is today, where it has come from and why Formula 1 must address the inequalities in income distribution sooner rather than later.  

It’s possible to argue that Williams has, since its second year of full competition in 1979, been able to attract top drivers. And pay them.

Even in leaner years, it has had a knack of identifying winners from non-obvious prospects (Jones, Rosberg (K), Mansell, Hill (D), Montoya, for instance). Nico Rosberg did pretty well for himself too, albeit predominantly for another team.

Today, fans of the team face a year with Lance Stroll, a driver who despite intense preparation under delivered in his rookie year, and Sirotkin, a driver who has won three races in GP2.

Stroll is an easy target. His path to F1, funded by his billionaire father, is for many symptomatic of everything that is wrong with the Grand Prix racing.

It’s easy to see why. He was fast-tracked into the world’s elite motor racing championship but has so far failed to demonstrate a talent that is deserving of the achievement. This season is make or break for Stroll – not necessarily for his career but his reputation.

However, should we be reasonable and place a little more faith in Williams and Paddy Lowe? Maybe they have seen something in the data that is more valuable than his father’s (Canadian) dollars.

Let’s hope so, because surely it matters less about how the mountain is climbed and more about the performance at the top?

Sirotkin’s sherpas have, likewise, assisted his rise to the top. He has association and access to vast Russian backing and finally, having tested for Sauber in 2015 and Renault in 2016 and 2017, can plant his flag in F1.

Grand Prix Editor Mark Hughes tells us that Sirotkin’s last Williams test – where he went head-to-head with Kubica – was indeed very impressive. There’s also an intangible spark about the Russian, a certain ‘something’ that makes you wonder if Williams has identified another non-obvious prospect. Sirotkin certainly put in some old-school charges in GP2 that had echoes of a Jones, Mansell or Montoya.

Either way, it’s an inescapable truth that external money has played a dominant role in Williams 2018 driver choice, and external money, until Liberty sorts out F1’s internal payment structure, will continue to do so.

In my next article (January 19) I’ll tell you who I would’ve picked...

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