Massa, Di Resta and Kubica: The Williams Dilemma.
With Paddy Lowe now on board as the new Chief Technical Officer, as well as near total engine parity with the works Mercedes team, Williams are tipped to have a rather capable car for the 2018 season. With Lance Stroll signed on for next season, who will be partnering him?
Firstly, let's start with the obvious choice for Williams: the ever-present and ever-reliable veteran Felipe Massa. He, to many people is the best driver for next year, as the team know exactly what he is going to deliver, mainly thanks to his many years experience in the sport, and let's not forget he is an ever-so-close-to-being-world-champion.
It is clear to see that he is trusted and highly regarded by the team, as he was dragged out of his very short retirement and the end of last year in order to fill the space left by the Mercedes-bound Valtteri Bottas, and he has performed well enough this year to be considered for an even longer than expected stay in Formula One.
Massa, over the years, has a very good record in Formula One, with a total of 11 Grand Prix wins, 16 poles and 41 podiums to his name. Due to this experience, he is seen as a good mentor to young rookie teammate Lance Stroll, and he has a very good relationship with both Lance and his father, Lawrence. However, after some of Stroll's frankly brilliant performances of the year so far, one could argue that he has served his purpose and Stroll is no longer in need of his help.
Massa has had his own say on matters, telling Autosport that "The team knows 100% my points to stay another year," he said.
"I was always a professional driver, and I stay and I will finish as a professional driver, like I started my career. "
"That's the most important thing for me. The team knows what I can give. "
"I would say definitely I have all the people that understand about motor racing on my side inside the team - engineers and everything. That's what counts for me. "
"Then you have some other decisions which are not depending on the talent of the driver, or what you can give to the team on the driving point of view."
When he was asked if he meant that parts of the team management did not want to keep him, Massa replied: "To be honest I'm just saying what I know, what I believe, and definitely it's not the engineers who decide. "
"The people in the management have their own way to decide, which hopefully is in the right direction as a top team."
However, a disadvantage to retaining Massa for another season would be that he has failed to outscore a teammate since 2009, and with himself and Stroll separated by only one point, we will see if he can end that particular statistic. On the other hand, he does comply with Williams' title sponsor's rules that at least one of the drivers has to be over the age of 25 (for marketing purposes)...
Paul Di Resta
Paul Di Resta didn't think that he'd get another chance in Formula One after he was dropped by Force India at the end of the 2013 season, and it was a surprise to many to see him sign a deal to be the Williams Reserve Driver in early 2016. Although he was always a consistent points scorer in his time in the sport, his best finish was a fourth place at the Singapore Grand Prix in 2012, and other than a couple of sixth places over the three years, he was only ever present in the bottom end of the top ten, and was outscored by Nico Hulkenberg in their only season together.
However, in the final race before the summer break, the Hungarian Grand Prix, he was called up to replace the unwell Felipe Massa just hours before qualifying. He wasn't expected to perform well against Lance Stroll as he had never driven the 2017-spec car previously, only in the simulator. However, Di Resta started slowly, but his lap times improved rapidly, averaging about one second improvement per lap, and he was eventually only 0.766s off the time set by Stroll. During the race, he never made up much ground as the Williams car was really not suited to the twisty Hungaroring, and eventually had to retire due to a mechanical issue after 60 laps. His performance at such short notice was described as an 'unbelievable job' by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, so not a bad weekend overall.
The race in Hungary definitely put him in contention for the race seat, and this is amplified by the fact that he is highly regarded by the Williams management and engineers, as not only did he provide a good performance, but he attends all of the briefings that the team holds, as well as logging more hours in the simulator than both current drivers, Stroll and Massa.
Just a few short weeks ago, many thought that Robert Kubica's dreams of an incredible Formula One return since his near-fatal rallying incident in 2011 had been ended prematurely by Renault when they signed Red Bull junior Carlos Sainz. However, in the last week or so, he has been heavily linked to Felipe Massa's Williams seat, with some saying that it is a direct contest between Di Resta and Kubica for the seat. However, how likely is this to happen?
The rumours of a return to F1 for the Pole started when he was given a test in a 2012-spec Renault F1 car at Jerez in June of this year. The test was relatively secretive, with Renault saying that the test was 'just for Robert'. However, speculation increased when another test was organised a month or so later, and Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul telling the media that 'he was still quick, still consistent and more importantly he still has the enthusiasm he always carried to the team'. Also, he went onto say that there were 'no obvious roadblocks' to a possible F1 return in the coming years.
As speculation was increasing further, Renault organised for Kubica to take part in the two-day test after the Hungarian Grand Prix. He impressed many, completing 142 laps, and setting the fourth fastest time of the day, only eight tenths off the best time set by Jolyon Palmer during the weekend. However, after seeing him walk around the paddock, the scale of his injuries became clearer, with his wrist unable to properly rotate.
His injuries obviously proved too great for Renault to risk promoting him to a full time race seat, which makes people question why he would ever be considered by Williams in the first place. Well, in his earlier years, before the accident, he was regarded as one of the fastest drivers in the sport, and he secured a win for the the BMW-Sauber team as well as numerous podiums. Lewis Hamilton has said that Robert was 'the fastest driver I've ever raced against'.
Due to the scale of his injuries and the doubts on whether Kubica could complete a full race weekend, Williams have scheduled a two day test in a 2014-spec car. This is also widely tipped to be a shootout between himself and Di Resta for the 2018 drive.
In the last couple of days, Mercedes protege Pascal Wehrlein is now thought to be an outside bet for the Williams seat. This would make sense for a number of reasons, with the first being the obvious one: Williams have a close engine relationship with Mercedes, and he is a Mercedes young driver. After the Ferrari-Sauber deal was done, it was rumoured that Sauber would effectively become a Ferrari B-Team, and now it looks all but certain. Considering that they are championship rivals, it would not make sense for Ferrari to nurture and support a Mercedes young driver, so now it has become just a question whether just one or both of the current Sauber drivers will be replaced, with Wehrlein's exit looking all but certain.
The other obvious reason is that Wehrlein has proved himself to be fast in all forms of motorsport that he has taken part in, whether that would be DTM or Formula 1, despite his young age. He was the youngest person to win a DTM race at the age of 19, and also the youngest to take the title the following year, driving for Mercedes. It is also worth noting that he is the only person, besides the late Jules Bianchi, to earn a point for the Manor/Marussia F1 team, and is also the solitary points scorer for Sauber this year.
So, who will get the drive?
The honest answer here is that, well, I don't know. This is because, aside from Felipe Massa, the team have been very quiet on their driver line-up for next year. Today, however, we got confirmation from Paddy Lowe that the proposed test, or 'shootout' as some are calling it, will take place in a 2014 Williams car at the Hungaroring later this month. The drivers that are going to take part will be Paul Di Resta and Robert Kubica. This is what he had to say to Sky Sports on the matter:
"We will test those two drivers."
"We won't give away any information around what we do within those tests, that's a private matter for us and I would stress that doesn't mean that they're the only drivers under consideration."
In my opinion, I think that it will either be that Massa is retained, or Paul Di Resta lands the seat. This is because, as much as I, and the whole Formula 1 community would like to see Robert Kubica back in a race seat, I don't think it will happen. This is because Renault extensively tested his capabilities, and yet they still opted for Carlos Sainz. This tells me that although Robert may be fast, the doubts over his fitness and ability to complete an entire race weekend proved true, which is why Renault didn't sign him there and then.
I also do not think that it will be Pascal Wehrlein that lands the seat, because although he has a close relationship with Mercedes, Williams are a team within their own right and will not be forced into signing a driver just so it will please their engine suppliers. In addition, Wehrlein, although he has scored points, has not proven to be that much better than his teammate Marcus Ericsson, as they are statistically the closest matched drivers on the grid when it comes to race results.
Therefore, it leaves either Paul Di Resta or Felipe Massa. I think that the safe bet would be to sign Massa for another year and look at the options for 2019, as the driver market appears to be wide open at that point, as they know exactly what he is going to deliver. However, Paul Di Resta's performance in Hungary was extraordinary, given his vast lack of experience in the 2017 car. He is also quite a few years younger than Massa, at the age of 31 (still nine years older than Wehrlein though), meaning that he could be more of a long term option for the team.
What do you think?
Who would you like to see in the car next year? Who do you think will get the drive? Vote in the poll below or make your voice heard either in the comments or the discussion feed for this article.