Williams would be “crazy” not to consider Esteban Ocon to fill their final seat in 2019, says team boss Claire Williams.
George Russell will form one half of the team’s driver line-up next year after signing a multi-year deal. But Williams have not named their second driver for next season as they consider to evaluate their options with Sergey Sirotkin and Robert Kubica thought to be frontrunners.
Sirotkin and Lance Stroll currently drive for the team, but Stroll is expected to join Force India after his father led a buy-out.
“We are still doing a lot of evaluation work,” Williams told Sky Sports. “It’s a short short-list. We’re very happy with the drivers we are evaluating and it will not take us a long time to make that final decision. Of course Esteban is in the mix. We would be crazy not to be looking at him.”
Sirotkin has struggled to shine this year in a car critically short of pace while Kubica was appointed Williams’ reserve driver when he missed out on a 2018 race seat to Sirotkin.
Along with Ocon, Russell remains tied to Mercedes, and Williams are thought unlikely to appoint two drivers associated with a rival outfit. Two months ago, McLaren admitted Ocon’s relationship with Mercedes was a factor in their decision to appoint Lando Norris as Stoffel Vandoorne’s replacement.
But the young Frenchman is hugely regarded in F1 and considered to be one the sport’s future stars.
As Mercedes are Williams’ engine providers, it has been speculated Russell’s appointment signals a strengthening of ties between the two teams. But Williams are adamant Russell’s appointment was driven purely by the 20-year-old’s shining talent.
“This doesn’t enhance our racing budget, this was a decision purely based on the talent we know George has,” Williams insisted. “This is what this team needs – and this is a message of our intent.”
Williams have endured a horrible 2018 season and are set to finish bottom of the Constructors’ Championship.
As both Sirotkin and Stroll are believed to bring budgetary benefits to the team, Russell’s talent-driven appointment marks a shift in approach by the team, with his long-term commitment to the Grove outfit pivotal in his selection.
“We need someone who we can build this team around,” said Williams. “We need a galvanising force and George is going to be that for us.
“We wanted someone who would be with us for a number of years and who the team could get behind. That was a big factor in our decision-making.
“It’s really exciting for us to bring in another new talent into Williams. We’re a team renowned for that and this is our first British driver since Jenson. His racing pedigree speaks for itself. It’s exciting for F1 to have another young talent on board and George is tipped to be a superstar of our sport in years to come.”