The last pieces of the driver 2018 puzzle reveal themselves…

The Singapore GP answered a lot of questions as to the make-up of F1 in 2018, but not all.

The Honda / McLaren split was officially announced, with the Woking team swopping engines with Toro Rosso. Renault were able to extract Carlos Sainz from Toro Rosso as part of deal, though officially the move is being characterised by Red Bull as a loan, Sainz will be at Renault for the next three years. That move officially ended Jolyon Palmer’s tenure at the team. The Honda / McLaren / Renault / Toro Rosso announcements and the first lap of the race overshadowed Force India’s announcement that Sergio Perez had signed a new one year contract with the team. With McLaren now officially being supplied by Renault for the next three years, it’s almost a certainty that Alonso extends his contract with the team. Toro Rosso will move Gasly into Sainz’s seat. With the exception of Sauber and Williams, 2018 is set for both drivers and engines.

The only questions concerning Sauber are whether Ferrari get their way and put both their junior drivers, Leclerc and Giovinazzi, into the team, or the teams owners hang tough with Ericsson. Regardless of what happens it’s almost a certainty that Pascal Wehrlein is out. And that leaves us with Williams.

Williams, a team that has won nine constructors F1 world championships and sits second overall behind Ferrari, and who at one time had the pick of the best drivers available in F1, now find itself in the unenviable position of trawling for low ranking pay drivers for both of their seats. While the team currently sits fifth in the constructors world championship, that fact masks how bad they really are, they have only scored half the points of their natural rival – Force India and are only a handful of points ahead of Renault and Toro Rosso, teams burdened with an underpowered and unreliable power unit. Williams, who looked marginally competitive at the beginning of the season, now find getting into Q2 a struggle. A Lowe point for the team? We now look at the choices the team has for its second seat

The team always has the option of doing nothing. Massa can be re-signed. Though it’s abundantly clear that Massa is well past his best before date. He should be thumping Stroll – yet he sits just three points ahead of his rookie teammate. But he is Brazilian and that brings us to Felipe Nasr, a driver lurking in the weeds.

Nasr has been touted by some simply because he is Brazilian and 25. Both Liberty Media and Ecclestone worry about the viability of the Brazilian GP without a local driver. He does meet Martini’s age requirement, but unless Liberty Media or Ecclestone or some unknown sponsor is willing to cough up millions to save the Brazilian GP his chances are effectively zero.

Williams as a Mercedes customer, could have some pressure exerted on them by Toto to sign Pascal Wehrlein, but that would likely cost the team its Martini sponsorship, valued at around $10M- $15M, as Wehrlein is under 25 years old. That cost, plus the other benefits that Williams would demand, are likely to high for Mercedes to bear, especially for a driver that they appear to have given up on in F1 and seem to be positioning for Formula E.

Williams seem to have only three real choices. Palmer, Di Resta and Kubica. And none of them will have Williams jumping for joy. I’ll rank them from most to least likely in my opinion.

Jolyon Palmer. Widely regarded as one of the worst drivers currently in F1, Palmer has had to bear driving an unreliable car and being on a team where the focus is his teammate. It could easily be argued that had Renault not been in a turf war between Abiteboul and Vasseur for control of the team, Palmer would have been dumped at the end of 2016. Palmer’s main problem stems from his bad qualifying where he is on average six places behind Hulkenberg. His race results are better, being on average three places behind, which is comparable to where Kyvat and VanDoorne are behind their teammates. Maybe he isn’t as bad as he appears. Palmer also brings, it has been reported, around $10M is sponsorship. And to a cash hungry team like Williams, that looks juicy. He also has two seasons driving a (or a season and ¾’s) turbo car.

Paul di Resta. Williams reserve driver. di Resta did a commendable job in Hungary after being called in at the last minute after Massa took ill. His connections to Mercedes are long. He also knows the team. No one would call di Resta “Mr. Excitement”, but he does get the job done and has always been a solid if unspectacular driver capable of scoring points. His downsides are being out of F1 since 2013 and not having much if any sponsorship behind him.

Robert Kubica. The wild card. I didn’t rank Kubica as the least likely because I don’t think he still has the potential to return to F1 – but because he carries, in my opinion, way too much risk. There are still far too many questions surrounding him. Essentially a one-armed driver who has been out of F1 for six years, where the steering wheel has to have all the controls on the left-hand side. The Renault test after Hungary showed he could did a race distance – but his best time was slightly slower than Palmer’s best time in the actual race. And a test isn’t a race week-end where there are three practice and potentially three more qualification sessions, then the race, and sometimes you’ll have to do it all over again a week later. You just don’t know if he physically can do it. He has enlisted Nico Rosberg to manage him and apparently a simulator test is in the works. Another issue for Kubica is the lack of sponsorship he has.

F1 is at its core a conservative business. In the end I think Williams play it safe and go with what they know. Kubica for all the hype of how he has progressed is still too risky. He could be a star again or he could after a couple or three races show he doesn’t have it, then Williams are in a real bind.

Playing it safe means going with Palmer and his $10M on a one-year deal. His performance would be assessed after half the season and if he has done okay, you continue. If he is failing you still have the option of replacing him with di Resta.

Anyone have Claire Williams email?

26 responses to “The last pieces of the driver 2018 puzzle reveal themselves…

  1. The Kubica risk can be reduced to 0 if in the contract contains a clause that if Kubica can’t race, his manager will race. Rosberg both knows Williams and Mercedes, so he will be the best broker for a deal.

    • I think Renault gave up on Kubica after the post-Hungary test. And lets not forget Williams have never been sentimental about drivers and being seen as the “good guys” who gave Kubica another chance isn’t the way they operate . And at this point Palmer meets the criteria for knowing what he can do and bringing in a pile of cash – while Kubica doesn’t.

      • Renault didn’t give up on Kubica – they just had better options. Williams don’t have. This site puts Palmer as top option – thus means team, which hired Paddy Lowe and supposedly offered seat to Alonso is going to take second pay driver – what an amazing turnaround. It’s amazing how team can’t get any better sponsor than Martini with a constant hassle of 25 year old driver. 15 million a year for a title sponsor – it’s sad in what state current F1 is, at least some of it’s teams.
        Williams have time and means to choose from Kubica, Palmer, Wehrlein and Massa. For Kubica – Stroll has 2014 Williams available for testing – just somebody has to pay for these tests. Rumors say testing will happen during same weekend as on one of the GPs – so there is less attention. Palmer, Wehlein (if Mercedes want him) and Massa can prove themselves in simulator.

          • Is this an inane remark? It sounds like: “My dad’s bigger than your dad”
            15M from Martini is worse than peanuts… nothing for Williams (or you) to be proud of. As a businessman I’d rather have the 100M from Honda any day. Get with it, Cav.

          • If you only care about word “title” – yes – Martini is so important and McLaren doesn’t have it but if your concern is money then Williams get $15 million from so called title sponsor when McLaren get 30-40 from the ones who are not “title” – which is better for the team?

  2. One thing about Palmer. If he does bring 10 mil, added to the 30 of Stroll, Williams have a nice injection of cash. Bear in mind that up until now Palmer only crashed once thus year. (Hungary) therefore he isn’t the most costly driver, which may add up in the final calculations Claire has make for her team. Plus I’d take Palmer and his money over erricson and his money, if Ferrari succeed in their plan to turn Sauber in to Ferrari Jr. Because then erricson might be included in this list of yours…

    • so you clearly don;t rate Wehrlein then (ie he’s not shown to be much better than Ericsson to be fair).

      Not claiming to be Ericsson’s biggest fan or anything, but I don’t think there’s any merit to picking Palmer above him…remember Marcus did beat Palmer when GP2 team-mates (both had been around a few years at that stage…Ericsson just did’t stay on totally forever until he won it…he bought his way out instead).

      Its a tough choice for Williams..clearly they’ll evaluate Kubica..he won’t get back on sympathy.

      If Kubica is ruled out, given a choice between Nasr and Massa/Palmer/DiResta (or Ericsson)I’d give Nasr another shot at this stage to be honest.

      • No im not Wehrlein’s biggest fan. Seems to mediocre against erricson once he “lost” the potential FI drive.
        But you might be right. If it goes down between Palmer and erricson it will be decided by whom of them has the biggest pile of cash.

      • I didn’t include Ericcson as strictly speaking he isn’t available as of today. If Ferrari do get both their juniors into Sauber and Ericcson is looking for a seat I agree it becomes a case of how much he or Palmer can spend to get the seat.

        • Think you should have considered Wehrlein – he would be a better bet than Palmer, but maybe it depends on his Mercedes support.

          • Cav, is his age such a deal breaker – and would he not come with money or discount from Mercedes, if he is still in the family.
            Although he has not shone as bright as Ocon, I still think he is better than most of the other options; but I did rate Nasr and thought he got a raw deal.

  3. Pingback: The last pieces of the driver 2018 puzzle reveal themselves… | Steve Barby F1·

      • He is in a catch22 situation – no-one will believe he can do it until someone gives him the chance of a full drive and no-one will give him that chance until he proves himself capable!!

      • Cav, he is NOT already back in F1 because the teams are risk averse. He has a permanent injury and brings no sponsership. Therefore he is a risk. Thats the only reason. Im no Kubica fanboy, my earlier comment was somewhat facetious, but i was trying to illustrate the innate talent Kubica has over and above several drivers currently on the grid. The fact that the likes of Perez, Kvyat, Palmer, Stoll, hell even Massa now, all have drives leaves me flabbergasted! Another way to look at it is this, if Perez or Palmer had a permanent arm injury and Kubica had decent sponsership in tow, who would you hire? The fact that Kubica is still even being considered speaks volumes to his own talent and to the general lack of talent on the grid. Of course Kubica wont get a drive, but that doesnt make him less talented than others on the grid. Rant over.

        • I said that Williams would play it safe in the article. I’ll add one additional thing that I might have have put in the article. Michael Schumacher, one of the greatest f1 drivers ever, was out of the sport for three seasons. he returned fit as a fiddle, with both arms, and it was clear after 2 or 3 races he should have stayed retired. Kubica has been out 6 seasons and functionally has one arm.

  4. First nearly 100% reporters say “He never drive F1” after He won WRC2 they said F1 difficult to him and imposible , after test with reno maybe he can, after black PR from REno said no the test wrong and something, now when Kubica have posibility to drive williams some of “im the best reporters in F1” said it could be risk for williams after 3 GP …
    Shame on You

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