What hope is there for current young, up and coming drivers with the F1 fraternity?
The allocated seats within F1 are always limited by the number of teams, frontline drivers and the reserve or testing seats. From season to season, drivers either retire or aren’t retained and this inevitably clears up spaces for these new drivers to take a seat on the ride that is an F1 season to prove their worth.
Following the Force India team having been previously placed into administration and the subsequent bail out by Lawrence Stroll and a consortium of silent backers, it seems as obvious as the sun rising tomorrow morning that Lance Stroll will park himself in a seat at the former Vijay Mallya owned outfit for 2019. Stroll has completed two seasons with the Grove based Williams squad with little to effect on his chapter in the F1 history books. There has been the odd moment and glimmer of hope, like flicking a Bic lighter as you see the sparks flying off the wheel, hoping that the flame will be lit. For Stroll, a podium at the 2018 Azerbaijanian Grand Prix, whether by default, skill or just sheer good luck made people notice the name Stroll just a little more. Since then either Stroll himself as a driver or the Williams chassis, being pushed around by the best customer engine available has failed to deliver.
If Stroll were to swap his white overalls for a pair of pink ones, it is evident that Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez will more than likely retain his seat with the Racing Point Force India crew as his team mate. He, was instrumental in the Force India team folding as he was himself a person owed money, despite being a pay for his seat driver whom has found some comfort in the outfit and delivered podiums for them. A move to Racing Point Force India would be made easier for Stroll, knowing that they are also a customer of the Mercedes engines as well. One less thing he would have to learn would be the engine mapping or terminology used by the Mercedes engineers.
COULD STROLL WALK AWAY FROM WILLIAMS AND TRY A NEW VENTURE
With Stroll moving to Racing Point Force India, a seat would be left vacant at Williams. This now leaves us pondering as to what are Williams going to do. They will for 2019 be left without a major backer as ‘Martini’ leave and their funding dries up. Here lies the question? Mercedes have their best opportunity to buy into the Williams garage and a self-funded seating arrangement for their future and bright stars.
Toto Wolff as the face of the Mercedes F1 outfit knows Williams well. He was a part owner, is married to one of their ex-development drivers and of course, Williams are a customer as part of their engine program. It has been revealed that the payout figure and entitlement for the former Force India team, being the business and assets as it stood was £90M which was a bargain price. It is interesting to compare this to the £310M that Mercedes spent as their budget for the 2017 to ensure that Hamilton was awarded the drivers title. What price would Williams hand over the keys to the factory for? What is the value of the Williams outfit to Mercedes? They have an experienced crew of mechanics, Paddy Lowe as their current Chief Technical Officer (ex-Mercedes) and an F1 heritage for winning races and championships. It would make the perfect fit for a junior development team, as Ferrari has done with Sauber and Red Bull did by turning Minardi into the Scuderia Toro Rosso.
TOTO WOLFF HAS HIT A WALL, WHAT TO DO WITH HIS JUNIOR DRIVERS
One of the other deciding factor is that Williams currently has a Russian driver in their line up with Sergey Sirotkin. He brings with him a bank cheque to cover his expenses courtesy of SMP Racing, itself a Russian Bank who is heavily involved in just about every other category of motorsport ever thought of. With Toro Rosso unlocking the launch codes for Daniil ‘The Torpedo’ Kvyat enabling his return to the Faenza based team, could Sirotkin also up and leave for Toro Rosso, creating a potential all Russian driver line up F1 team. It is no secret that Red Bull Racing would off load the junior team if the right buyer came along looking to take the package as it stands. This could also hinge on the current seat warmer Hartley who is certainly no guarantee of being called back for another season. If he isn’t retained, another seat will be freed up.
So, I ponder this scenario. Ocon is the better driver than Stroll by a long way, without any doubt in my mind. Lawrence Stroll wants a return on his investment and would not want to be seen as simply buying an F1 team to simply keep his little boy happy. Ocon could stay at Racing Point Force India and deliver more results and points than Stroll potentially could, so long as his team mate in ‘Checo’ doesn’t punt him into the wall again. Stroll could stay at Williams and be partnered by George Russell who will take out the F2 championship and be without a drive in the junior series. He is a Mercedes protégé and would fit in with Williams as being the British young driver fall of hope and promise to bring them back to winning glory for old Blighty. Without a sponsor, Williams could be a cheap option to buy for the Mercedes team as their junior program. Of course, if Stroll was to fit into Dad’s new investment, Ocon could slide across and make the Williams or new Mercedes junior team a strong French-Anglo outfit.
OCON HAS BEEN A GREAT ASSET FOR FORCE INDIA, GIVING THE TEAM A REAL LIFT WITH HIS PURE AND RAW SKILL AS A DRIVER
Mercedes are in the best position to protect and continue promoting their brand as a leading manufacturer of road cars and as a winning F1 team. For me the time is right to invest in Williams, to build a base for the junior squad. That big bad Wolff knocking on the door is just looking for a spare seat. As the little girl said, “My, what a big team and budget you have!”