Last week George Russell was confirmed as a Williams driver for 2019 but the second seat with the team is still far from decided. Lance Stroll is expected to make the switch to Racing Point Force India which his father Lawrence Stroll is an owner leaving one seat remaining at Williams for 2019.
The financial situation at Williams will ultimately decide who will partner George Russell next season with two of the three candidates on Williams’ short list are able to provide some financial backing. Williams will lose both it’s Martini sponsorship and money from Lawrence Stroll next season which will make a huge dent in the teams budget so will need to make up the shortfall somewhere else. George Russell was signed purely on talent alone and brings no money to the team.
Williams’ short list seems to be composed of current Williams driver Sergey Sirotkin, reserve driver Robert Kubica and current Force India driver Esteban Ocon. Artem Markelov was originally thought to be an option for the team but talks of this have quietened since the arrest of his father who faces bribery charges.
Siroktin has had a very quiet debut season, the car is underperforming and Sirotkin and Stroll regularly find themselves knocked out in Q1 on a Saturday. This masks the fantastic job that Sirotkin this season, he has the measure of his teammate in qualifying and put in some impressive showings in Monaco and Germany qualifying the car way above where it should be.
Where Sirotkin and the car particularly struggle is the race, over longer distances the handling issues with the car seem ever more apparent and Sergey has struggled more compared to his teammate. Sirotkin did star in Singapore when he wrestled with much faster cars and in-particularly Sergio Perez throughout the race.
SMP backing also helps his cause with Williams needing the funding more than ever. Sirotkin does currently sit last in the drivers championship with 1 point but certainly has done a better job than it shows on paper.
Williams current test and reserve driver Robert Kubica who missed out on a drive this year when the team opted for Sirotkin still has an outside chance of racing with the team. It is reported that he has some financial backing behind him and is already established with the team.
Kubica has already participated in two FP1 sessions in Spain and Austria with a third in Abu Dhabi and has looked on the pace in those sessions. He has also completed a lot of mileage in pre-season and mid-season testing so has more than enough experience with the current generation of F1 cars.
Kubica hasn’t taken part in a Grand Prix since Abu Dhabi in 2010 before his rallying accident in the beginning of 2011, there have been a lot of people who have raised concerns that he cannot stay competitive over a long race distance due to his injury but Kubica has silenced those critics during testing.
Claire Williams has already said that Kubica is in the frame and would work well with young charger Russell:
“Robert has done a great job for the team this year and he would be a fantastic team-mate to George.”
Esteban Ocon has lost his drive at Force India for next season and is looking at risk of being without a drive in F1 next year. His ties to Mercedes seemingly have held him back with Renault, McLaren and Toro Rosso opting not to sign him for this reason.
Ocon has been hailed as a star of the future and one day a Mercedes driver but may have to take a year out as his options dwindle. It is understood that Ocon did have the option to drive for Williams instead of Russell but Ocon did not want to commit long-term as he keeps one eye on a future Mercedes drive.
The only realistic way that Ocon can secure a drive with Williams now for next season is if Williams can secure some extra financial backing, only time will tell if that is possible.
Williams are in no rush to make their decision on the second drive, the decision to sign Sergey Sirotkin came very late and only a short time before winter testing and that seems to be what may happen again following comments from Claire Williams.
“We have to make the right decision based on lots of different factors and there are other considerations that we have to take into account as well.”
“It’s very early as well from a sponsorship perspective, we don’t know where we’re going to be yet exactly from a partnership perspective and any new partners that are going to come on board and obviously if they do then it frees us up to make other decisions potentially.”
If Williams can secure independent financial backing then Esteban Ocon will most certainly partner George Russell but if not then I expect that it would be Robert Kubica who will get the nod and make a fairytale comeback into the sport.
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