Assessing Williams’ driver gambit

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    Lance has Strolled his way in to Formula One contention, thanks in part to his father's wallet. (David Davies/PA via AP)

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    The final pieces of Formula One’s silly season for the 2018 season are slowly falling into place, with the announcement that Felipe Massa would be (again) hanging up the helmet at year’s end.

    With the Brazilian at last pulling the curtains on a career that has spanned 267 grand prix starts, his Williams team are at last in a position to employ a new name alongside their ‘star of the future’ in Lance Stroll.

    Four drivers still are ostensibly in the race to fill the position, despite Massa pulling out of the race for retention. Robert Kubica, incumbent Williams reserve driver Paul di Resta and Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein are in the definitive mix, while Daniil Kvyat’s unceremonious departure from the Red Bull family has also put him in frame for the berth at Grove.

    There is a case for each driver to the land the drive, with it being debatable who deserves it more than the other. A Kubica return would be seen a fairy-tale, following the Pole’s horrific rallying crash in 2011 which has seen him away from Formula One since.

    Scotsman Di Resta would relish another opportunity in the sport, having been on the sidelines since his departure from Force India at the end of 2013 – while a Wehrlein or Kvyat signing would represent another investment in the future.

    Of the quartet, 32-year-old Kubica appears the most favourable for the seat. Despite the risk of the grand prix winner not being competitive, due to the physical restrictions he faces with his hand injuries – it seems Williams have nothing to lose by employing the Pole.

    Having come into the hybrid era so strongly, with the switch to Mercedes-Benz power in 2014, Williams have once again declined into the midst of the mid-field and face another season in 2018, where fifth or sixth in the constructor’s championship will be their target.

    Points and the odd podium could be possible, as seen in the inconsistent 2017 season where rookie Stroll has enjoyed a ‘feast or famine’ induction to Formula One, while Massa has been anonymous.

    Adding Kubica to the line-up it appears on paper, could essentially yield the same outcome as with Massa this year and that would be the worst-case scenario. Why else would Williams have afforded two private tests to evaluate him?

    The same two tests were conducted by Di Resta as well, which highlights the team’s intention to potentially field him in 2018. It may not be the most popular choice, though it could be a safe and reliable decision.

    Though as much as it would be a feelgood story in Formula One to see a driver in Kubica that was regarded as one of the best of his generation, which included the likes of Lewis Hamilton, return to the sport – there is the thought that Williams should invest in another young driver.

    In this case, Wehrlein would be the more desirable choice, with the German facing an unfortunate departure from Sauber at the end of the season, despite the fact he has scored all their points in 2017.

    With the young German, Williams may also be afforded some remuneration for the Mercedes-Benz power-units, with Wehrlein’s ties to the Silver Arrows.

    What’ll torpedo both he and Kvyat’s chances though, is the unfortunate commercial clause that Williams have with their title sponsor in Martini, where at least one of their drivers must be over the age of 25. The duo won’t reach that age until 2019.

    Kvyat regardless represents a risk, with no guarantee that he’d find the same form again that saw him finish ahead of Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo in his standout 2015 season. Though would a change of scenery and the freedom from the Red Bull empire be a change he needs?

    It mayn’t be the best seat on the Formula One grid, but it is currently the most sought after. Who’d be your pick for who will partner Lance Stroll at Williams in 2018?