The Musical Chairs at Williams F1

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It appears that the Musical Chairs at Williams F1 is still continuing. The Grove-based team has announced that they’ll reveal their lineup in January. Ever since midseason, speculation has been getting rife as to who’ll replace Felipe Massa. Despite Massa driving the best he could given the car, Williams F1 had made up their mind to replace him.

But deciding is one thing and doing it another. The grid apparently lacked a robust alternative to the Brazilian. And hence the Musical Chair went on at Williams F1.

This is crazy:

The whole Musical Chairs began in August at the Belgian Grand Prix. In the previous grand prix at Hungary, Paul di Resta subbed in for a sick Felipe Massa. Di Resta got into the car only minutes before the qualifying. He lined up the car only 7 tenths slower than Lance Stroll and staked his claim.

As the circus reconvened for the second half of the season, a new gossip emerged. The gossip that Williams F1 is trying to sign Fernando Alonso. McLaren in their 3rd year of Fernando Alonso to Williams F1?partnership with Honda and its failures started looking to get out. But Mercedes and Ferrari declined to supply engines to the Woking based team. Renault being open to the idea did not want to supply a 4th team. McLaren had no other option but to stick to Honda. In June, however, Alonso allegedly gave his team an ultimatum to either stick with Honda or him. Williams F1 sensed an opportunity in Fernando’s anxiousness. The move to sign Fernando Alonso failed however.

The rumor disappeared in the same way it had appeared.

Do you want to know the best part?

Massa and Di Resta continued playing the Musical Chairs for the Williams F1 seat among themselves. A new player, however, was ready to enter the game. Kubica’s comeback story with Renault failed when the French team instead opted for Carlos Sainz Jr. Renault evaluated the Pole in private tests and then ran him in Hungary test. Before definitive answers could make their way to the public, Sainz Jr became available for Renault. Using its position as a leverage, Renault asked Sainz in lieu of releasing Toro Rosso from its engine contract.

Shortly though rumours emerged that Kubica is in contention for a seat at Williams F1.

During the Singapore Grand Prix weekend, Kubica entered what was a two-horse race. Williams evaluated him in 2014 spec car and then decided to evaluate him Abu Dhabi test.

Robert Kubica testing for Williams F1

You might be wondering about Pascal Wehrlein:

During the same time, Mercedes Junior driver Pascal Wehrlein joined this Musical Chair game. Despite impressing at Sauber, Pascal’s seat at Sauber continued to be in danger. The Hinwil based team started contacting Ferrari for a closer tie between the two. Ferrari too wanted the Alfa Romeo brand to return to F1 and place its Junior drivers into a team. Ericsson’s backers practically owned the team. Hence if anyone was going to lose the seat, it was going to be Pascal.

Pascal joined the musical chairs as well.

So Pascal Wehrlein became a contender for the Williams seat but only as an outsider. Williams’s title sponsor Martini put in a clause that the driver has to be above 25 years of age. Pascal’s age became a factor and it all hinged on whether Williams could convince Martini to relax that requirement.

It gets worse:

The list of contenders only got bigger. The Japanese Grand Prix became Jolyon Palmer’s last with Renault. Out of a drive, Palmer too joined the list. Palmer’s father confirmed Jolyon eyeing the Williams seat for 2018.

Daniil Kvyat: the backup option.While Hamilton arrived in Mexico with both hands on the title, Kvyat joined the Musical Chairs at Williams F1. The Russian raced his last race with the Red Bull family in Austin. For the following race, Gasly and Hartley occupied the seats at Toro Rosso for the remainder of the year. Paddy Lowe of Williams threw a bone for the Russian’s career. He revealed to the media that indeed Kvyat was in contention.

So by the Mexican Grand Prix, for the 1 Williams seat, there were 6 drivers playing the Musical Chairs. The six drivers being Massa, Di Resta, Kubica, Kvyat, Wehrlein and Palmer.

But there’s a catch:

In October though Williams had shortened the list to Massa, Di Resta, Kubica with Wehrlein still in the frame. Williams continued testing Di Resta and Kubica in 2014 spec car.

However, saddened by Williams dilly dallying the decision and giving Di Resta and Kubica preference over him, Massa ruled himself out of the game. He announced his retirement, conclusively this time, before the Brazilian Grand Prix. The veteran Brazilian after completing 15 years in the sport, bowed out following a great performance in his home race.

Here’s the kicker:

Sergey Sirotkin the new favourite

The season got over in Abu Dhabi and a tire test was up next. Kubica already set to take part in the test for Williams F1, a twist awaited however. Renault lent their reserve driver, the Russian, Sergey Sirotkin to Williams for the test. Over the course of the two days, Sirotkin gelled well with the team. Sirotkin impressed the team so much so that he emerged as a contender for the seat. By this point, Di Resta and Pascal Wehrlein both were out of contention. Sirtokin posted a time only 4 tents slower than Kubica. However, he did it on a set of tires 2 compounds harder than the tires Kubica posted his time on.

This coupled with various questions on Kubica’s extent of injuries seriously derailed his chances. The Russian is also bringing £15 million in sponsorship in the form of Russia’s SMP Racing.

What’s the real story?

The fact is Williams F1 team today is merely a shadow of what it once was. The last title it won was in 1997. The last race in 2013. Williams glorious years ended with Renault pulling out of engine supply role in 1997. The Grove-based team did manage to bring BMW on board but those 6 years yielded little. BMW acquired Sauber and moved on while Williams shuffled through various engine suppliers over the years. Gradually due to lack of results on track and key personnel retiring, Williams fell down the order. Hitting the worst patch around Red Bull dominance era, Williams F1 did get back on its feet.

Operating on a meagre budget of £105million, it’s not difficult to see why the team would welcome any sort of monetary injection. It does not justify resorting to such low measures as well. Force India operating on a similar budget has moved from strength to strength. Despite facing more acute financial constraints, Force India never compromised on the drivers it employed. A move that made sure that on track results continue to flourish and with it the finances.

This year Williams finished P5, same as 2016, which means it’ll receive only $80 million. The cash-strapped Williams F1 hence is naturally gravitating towards Sirotkin. If that’s the case then Williams’s line up for next year is going to be the worst in my opinion.

What’s the bottom line?

Like I said in the beginning, Williams is going to wait until January to make an announcement. The Musical Chairs is far from being over. Alessandro Alunni Bravi and Nico Rosberg, the Polish driver’s managers, are attempting to sway Williams’ decision in favour of Kubica by offering $7 million to the British team for the first seven races of 2018.

So the tussle is between Kubica and Sirotkin while Kvyat is the backup option.

We have to wait until January to see who’ll sit on the chair when the Music finally stops.

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