Williams driver line-up for 2018 was recently announced by the Grove-based team. The announcement has caused much consternation among fans and observers alike. Though most of this may be coming from fans having a soft corner for Robert Kubica, it is also about the Williams team that the fans maybe worried about. An untested and inexperienced driver pairing for a team on the backfoot does not bode well for the future.
The romance for the Williams team has been a long enduring one among F1 fans. After all, it is the third-most successful F1 team of all time, after Ferrari and McLaren. It has had legendary drivers like Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet in their team. Williams has been one of the flag-bearers of the privateer teams, with a lot of history – both highs & lows – associated with it.
Williams Driver Line-Up: A Gamble or Safe Play?
So much for the fan talk above…Let’s look at the perspective from a neutral observer as well. To the uninitiated, the Williams team has recently announced that the erstwhile reserve driver of the Renault team – Sergey Sirotkin – would partner their current driver – Lance Stoll – for the 2018 Formula 1 season. Sirotkin will be filling in the shoes of Felipe Massa who retired from the sport at the end of last season. Sirotkin has been chosen from a handful of shortlisted drivers like Robert Kubica, Paul di Resta, Daniil Kvyat and Pascal Wehrlein.
While Paul di Resta seems to be a spent force, Kvyat has the unfortunate tag of a Red Bull reject. Pascal Wehrlein has good potential, but none of them evoke as much passion as the phenomenon that was Kubica.
Kubica’s side of the argument
Robert Kubica is not “just another driver” in the market, but was (and is) a force to be reckoned with. The F1 paddock and fans would agree on this. At his prime, Kubica was considered a talent on par with Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso or Sebastian Vettel.
As destiny would have it at the start of 2011, Kubica had a horrific accident in a rally car during the off-season, which left his right arm partially severed. To think of coming back from such a situation and be in the reckoning for a race seat is in itself an incredible achievement. But knowing the character that is Robert Kubica, he will not stop short of his ultimate goal of racing in Formula 1 once again.
On the positive side, Kubica has been announced as a reserve and development driver for Williams for 2018. This role in a Paddy Lowe designed machinery is a significant step, but fans and Kubica himself will be wanting much more in the future.
Sirotkin’s side of the argument
To be fair to Sergey Sirotkin, he has shown good pace in tests vis a vis Kubica. Sirotkin could potentially challenge Lance Stroll for supremacy in 2018. According to Paddy Lowe and Claire Williams, the Russian has given quite impressive technical feedback to the team during the tests and has an engineering degree himself.
Even though Kubica was generally faster than him during the tests, the team had analysed the data taking into account all the variables and once they could compare apple to apple, Sirotkin was that tad bit faster to Kubica. Sirotkin also brings with him considerably more funding than Kubica could muster. This might have swayed the decision in his favour, as no one can deny the significance of added money to a privateer team.
The final decision
Would Williams have taken too big a gamble by drafting in Kubica for a full race seat? Or have they taken a bigger gamble by going with the most inexperienced line up on the grid? Have they played it safe by going for a talented but inexperienced driver instead of a highly talented but still recovering driver? The marquee team should have given Robert Kubica a shot at the full race seat, as he would have surely improved over the season. The Pole has more charisma and star power and could have brought in more sponsors.
Williams could have used Sirotkin in a reserve role, with the option to switch back to the Russian mid-season, if the Kubica gamble did not pay off. Another thing to note is that the staid off-season tests can let you know the underlying place, but racecraft is a thing that can be seen only when the driver is in the heat of the battle in a race. In this aspect, Kubica is head and shoulders above a majority of the current drivers.
Lance Stroll (19) and Sregey Sirotkin (22) will be the most untested and raw driver pairing on the grid. The 2018 season will tell us if Williams made the right decision. For the sake of the future of this team, one hopes this is the case.
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