Williams have been slowly on the decline over the past couple of seasons and are currently 10th in the constructors standings but their latest signing George Russell is a statement from the team as to where it wants to head.
Over the past decade Williams have had a tendency to sign drivers with financial backing as the ever growing costs of running an F1 team rise starting with Pastor Maldonado in 2011. PDVSA brought serious backing to the team but an inconsistent Maldonado coupled with a poor car saw Williams finish the 2011 season with just 5 points to their name. Williams then opted to replace the most experienced driver in F1 history with Bruno Senna who also brought backing but a much more competitive car and a win courtesy of Maldonado meant the team did not repeat it’s misfortune from 2011.
Williams then replaced Senna with the highly rated Valtteri Bottas who had won the GP3 title in 2011, another poor car saw them match their 2011 tally but there was much optimism for 2014; they signed Felipe Massa a winner of multiple Grand Prix, secured Mercedes power which was already tipped to be the best engine and already had one of F1’s rising talents Valtteri Bottas. All of this attracted Martini sponsorship and there was a buzz around the team. The team would be regularly on the podium in the coming seasons and Williams were looking closer to the top then they had done since their partnership with BMW.
Nico Rosberg’s shock announcement to retire at the end of the 2016 season prompted Mercedes to sign Williams’ star driver Valtteri Bottas and they had to recall Massa who was due to retire last minute to partner rookie Lance Stroll. Stroll had received a lot of criticism due to his lack of experience in single seaters and backing from Billionaire father.
The team would slip to 5th in the constructors after a far from convincing season and after Massa’s second retirement Williams would sign SMP backed Sergey Sirotkin. Williams were criticised for signing two “pay-drivers” but those making the criticism would forget the achievements of both drivers in the junior ranks, Stroll was a F3 champion and Sirotkin finished 3rd in his first GP2 season. Williams were particularly impressed with Sirotkin in winter testing who competed for the drive with Robert Kubica who ultimately became the teams test and reserve driver.
Williams are having their worst season in their history, they are last in the constructors and their drivers have been fighting their cars more than other drivers. There are fundamental issues in the Williams team which Paddy Lowe and Claire Williams are changing in the background but with two drivers that don’t set the right headlines and loss of sponsorship things looked bleak for the team until their most recent announcement.
Williams have signed current F2 championship leader George Russell who is also the current GP3 Champion whose career almost mirrors that of Charles Leclerc. Russell comes with no financial backing and has all the hallmarks of a potential great in the sport which is why William’s signing of him is so significant. Russell hasn’t tested for Williams at all which says a lot about the teams faith that he will deliver, whats also impressive is that it was Russell who proactively approached Paddy Lowe about the drive prior to the German Grand Prix.
Signing a rising star is great for team morale and will help motivate the team, Russell also has a reputation for being very demanding which will help focus the team. There is still a question around the second seat at the team with Kubica, Sirotkin and Esteban Ocon favourite for the drives, the latter is expected to take up a testing role with Mercedes in a bid to race for them in 2020.
Sirotkin has been praised by the team for his work ethic, he also has a great understanding at an engineering level which is very valuable to a team with a car which is fundamentally flawed not to mention his financial backing which the team needs after losing Martini sponsorship and Stroll’s backing. Kubica also is touted to bring financial backing and has also impressed in his time testing in the car this season.
George Russell’s signing is the team first sign that they still have the ambition to enable them to push themselves towards the front, the decisions they make in the coming months will help define their next phase in Williams’ history but one thing is certain, they have a superstar in the making driving for them in 2019.
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