Williams exclusive: “We’re not in a position to play fantasy F1 driver”

2018 F1 season preview: Williams

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Williams began the V6 hybrid turbo era in brilliant shape. A perfectly-timed move to Mercedes saw them end 2014 as F1’s third-best team – the only occasion in the last 20 years they out-scored Ferrari.

They have since been eclipsed as top Mercedes customer team by Force India, who beat them to fourth place for the last two years in a row. Last year Williams scored less than half the points of their less well-funded rivals.

Paddy LLowe, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018
Lowe: “We picked the very best drivers available”
In 2018 the threats from the midfield will be even greater: Renault is pouring money into its F1 operation and McLaren are using their engines. Haas posted surprising times during pre-season testing and Sauber now has current-specification Ferrari hardware.

The time was right, therefore, for Williams to reappraise its F1 operation. Last year the team scored a coup by luring back Paddy Lowe from Mercedes. Lowe began his career at Williams in 1987 and helped hone the active suspension systems which Williams devastated the competition with in the early nineties.

Now Lowe’s job is steering them to the front of what looks like being an especially fierce midfield fight in 2018. They may have ended last year sixth on points but in terms of outright pace there was often little to choose between them, Renault and Toro Rosso. The Ferrari customers appear to have made big gains in the off-season and with McLaren now packing Renault power Williams can ill-afford a continuation of their post-2014 slump.

Is their 2018 driver line-up of Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin up to it? The pairing has been a focus of criticism and named the least-competitive of the grid by RaceFans readers. Lowe, who was a strong advocate of selecting rookie Sirotkin to partner Stroll, is adamant the team made the best possible call.

“I can say with complete confidence we picked the very best drivers to drive our cars that were available,” he tells RaceFans in an exclusive interview.

“We’re not in a position to play fantasy Formula One driver and pick from anywhere. We picked the very best drivers that were available to us from quite a wide range because we were the last seat so we weren’t competing with anyone.

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“There were a lot of articles criticising our choice that didn’t actually name the guy they would have picked, which I found interesting,” he adds.

Lowe describes the process which led to Sirotkin’s selection as being exhaustive and scientific and not dictated by commercial considerations. “I’ve been in many teams in the past where drivers were picked by a team principal on a whim, certainly very subjectively, and that often led to quite disappointing results,” he said.

Sergey Sirotkin, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018
Sirotkin starts his first F1 season with Williams
Sirotkin is the first driver backed by SMP Racing to reach F1, which Lowe calls a “tremendous story”.

“The fact they are able to support that with some extra funding which allows us to make a quicker car in a scenario in Formula One that is particularly difficult at the moment commercially for independent teams, should be a point of celebration.”

The economic reality of running a Formula One team is widely understood yet many still find the idea of drivers paying for seats unpalatable. Lowe admits this is a cause for concern.

“All drivers have the potential to come with some financial contribution these days,” he says. “That’s the nature of the market, interestingly, and perhaps even worryingly, to be honest.”

“The way the sport has been driven is to cause it to be almost necessary for drivers to bring money, it would seem, and that’s something the sport should be looking at I would say.”

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The fuss around Sirotkin’s arrival has been amplified by the fact it appears to have come at the expense of Robert Kubica. Twice last year Kubica seemed close to returning to F1, seven years after his career was cut short by vicious injuries suffered in a rally crash. But race seats at first Renault and then Williams passed him by.

Williams, however, has kept him on to help develop a car which is much-changed from its predecessor. While most teams have evolved their 2017 designs this season, Lowe knew Williams needed to take more drastic steps.

Williams FW41, 2018
Williams FW41: Technical analysis
“I think we’ve started on a journey which has only started and there’s an awful lot further to go,” he says. “It’ll be a very exciting process and I feel that excitement in the team.”

He is quick to point out the FW41 is “not ‘my’ car – it absolutely isn’t – it’s the outcome of an incredible collaboration within the engineering team.”

“We need to leverage the ability, the experience and the innovation of every individual to work together to produce the one car. That culture needs to be created, built, reinforced, developed as the years go on.

“Because I think what we’ve had in the past, there’s some great engineers, fantastic engineers within Williams in all areas. I think the biggest miss has been the manner in which they work together to produce the best collective outcome.”

If Williams continues at its current trajectory they risk slipping back to the lows of 2011 and 2013. The decisions they’ve taken has provoked a lot of complaint, but they can’t be accused of being complacent about their situation.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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18 comments on “Williams exclusive: “We’re not in a position to play fantasy F1 driver””

  1. One thing is for sure: The mid-filed appears to turn out to be very tight, indeed.

  2. Really fancy way of saying “we needed the money”

    Doesn’t look like the extra money from pay drivers is helping build a better car at all.

    1. @ppzzus To be fair I don’t see how it’s supposed to “look” like it in testing

    2. They should really jut stop talking about it and stop defending their choices, the more they go on about it the more it looks as though they picked him for the money.

      What´s done is done, move on and let the poor guy do his best on the track and then we will ruthlessly judge him based on his driving performance.

      1. If they are questioned about it, I think it is normal that they have to answer them.

        Also this interview might be a couple weeks old

  3. More nonsense. The number one option for williams was massa and he is not in the car. He was faster than both sirotkin and stroll combined but williams did not even look at him because they just wanted money. They don’t even themselves believe they have the strongest lineup so they have kubica sitting there. Or what is more likely they get little bit of money from kubica as well. Would not surprise if williams has 7 drivers in 2019. All paying more or less to do some practise sessions.

    With their current driver lineup williams needs to build a killer car to stay with renault, mclaren, force india. Their driver lineup is really weak.

    1. It’s a real shame that they haven’t put Stroll’s money to good use, because their car looked off pace during pre season testing. I feel that even with 2 good midfield drivers they probably would have managed 6th at best this season. Now they’ve got two garbage drivers who will probably get Williams down to 9th in the WCC.

      I think this will be their worst season since in the new hybrid era. They’ve got a poor car and the poorest of drivers (talent wise)

    2. I bet Van der Garde is on the phone already

      Hello, is this Sauber?
      No no Mr Garde, Williams here
      Well, same thing isn’t it? I’v heard you are interested in a three driver line-up for next season

      1. Talk about nonsense and garbage comments. No sympathy whatsoever for a famous team struggling in BE’s F1 that Todt just admitted 70% of the teams are in the same boat.

        “they just wanted money” No actually their reality and F1’s is that they absolutely need more money than ever to compete in F1 and their best compromise is to take the best drivers they can, who do actually have qualifications to be there, and yes they bring money. To blame Williams for this is ridiculous. Just as it is to think they can just snap their fingers and get more sponsors when most teams struggle to do that these days and have been for a while.

        ‘haven’t put Stoll’s money to good use’ Even Stroll’s money and Sirotkin’s combined is minimal compared to the top 4 teams, the same 4 that BE handed the bulk of the power to a number of years ago. Let’s see if this season the money they have will have seen them improve over last year enough to jump a few teams, but it is still a pretty tight budget to hope for a lot from them.

        The concept that better drivers would do so much better goes against everything we now to be factual about car racing…even the best, ala FA for example, cannot force a bad car to do anything beyond it’s capabilities other than by tiny amounts vs a lesser driver. The car is at least 80% of the game and drivers are constantly coloured by their cars unless we already know like in FA’s case what he is capable of in a good car. We haven’t seen Sirotkin yet, and we’ve seen one rookie season of Stroll in a bad car.

        1. It would be easier to be understanding if williams wasn’t constantly lying about their intentions. They claim they have the two fastest drivers in the car. Massa was the fastest driver they could ever hope for and williams instead chose to put 3 pay drivers in front of massa. Choosing money to develop car (or pay bills) might work but williams has super bad drivers. That kind of big deficit in driver skill is hard to fix with a better car. It is not just raw pace but deficit in all areas. The drivers wreck more, give poor technical feedback (which is why they needed kubica), are inconsistent and not motivated.

          Stroll did more testing last year with his daddy’s money driving old f1 cars than the rest of the field combined and what does he have to show for it? 60 million… I mean 7 tenths slower per lap than massa. Massa who was barely average when he left f1. The same massa who could drive rings around this selection of walking cash stacks.

          It is 100% fact that williams went for the money. All they need to do is to stop lying about it. Just get on with the job. But no, in every interview it is the same lies. Lies nobody except you seems to believe. If I was williams I’d be doing the same thing with stroll. That kid is made of money. Every time you shake his hand millions of dollars fall on the floor.

          But I’d at least be honest about it. It is easy to spin it to make it sound good. “This is a period of growth for williams” or “we now have the financial opportunity to…” or just be blatantly honest and say “f1 is all about the car. This is the way we think can put our team on the highest point in the championship”. We chose the best drivers… hahaha… we did not choose them for money …HAHAHA

  4. This is the closest we’ll get to them admitting the funding was a differentiating factor

  5. Yes we all love Williams but money is very hard to come by. Mr. Stroll Sr. keeps the place afloat. Sirotkin will not disappoint, he is at the level of Bottas when he first came to F1. Lance can only get better.
    Go Williams…!!!

    1. Lance can only get better.

      Yes, it is highly likely his lap times will be better this year than last year, but will they be good enough to get Williams somewhere in the 4th to 7th region in the Constructors’ Championship? As the article states, there’s an expectation of improved performance from Renault, Haas, Sauber, Toro Rosso, and McLaren this season. So I sincerely hope Lance, who is now the senior full time driver, has been working like a galley slave to improve his lap times because if he hasn’t then the burden will fall upon Sergey Sirotkin, the rookie, to get the points Williams needs. I think for him to have the slowest “fastest lap time” at Pre-Season Test 2 was just unacceptable.
      I just cannot see him being retained by Williams until the end of this season if he isn’t producing the results they are expecting.

  6. Williams will perform better than most people expects, wait and see.

    1. Finally some people who think williams might not do that bad. I have been trying to defend their driver choice from the kubica fan club but it is losing battle.

      1. Leave Kubica aside, Stroll has been slower than Massa on average 0.7s yet it was Massa who got fired (kind of).
        And Sirotkin… – Renault were desperate to replace Palmer but they were not interested in promoting him to race driver even with his financial backing so it means he is not fast enough. Yet Paddy Lowe insist Sirotkin was the best driver available.

  7. I do not understand why so meny people are against Stroll and Sirotkin.
    Stroll last year was a rookie and he do a decnet work. And Sirotkin nobody know how can be because this is his first F1 season.
    So…why no wait next 4 o 5 races to see what happen.

    1. @jorge-lardone, You’re right on Sirotkin – we really have to wait and see.

      As for Stroll, I don’t agree at all that he did a decent job last year. In fact I think he was terrible. You’d argue that its increadibly hard, the first year in F1. Look at how it went for Vandoorne. But Vandoorne was up against Alonso.
      Stroll got destroyed by Massa, who in turn got destroyed by Bottas who in turn gets beaten by Hamilton who you could argue is equal to Alonso.

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