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Sirotkin Emerges as Favorite for Williams F1 Seat

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F1 Cars at 2017 Brazil GP

Sergey Sirotkin, the reserve racing driver for the Renault Sport Formula One Team, has emerged as the new favorite for the coveted Williams Martini Racing seat.

Now that Sauber F1 has announced its lineup for 2018, Williams owns the last unclaimed seat in Formula One, following the retirement of Felipe Massa.

Both Sirotkin and Robert Kubica, who had been strongly tipped to make a sensational return to the sport, tested for Williams in Abu Dhabi after the final Grand Prix of the season. Sirotkin was slower than Kubica but, crucially, on the soft tire rather than the hypersoft.

When compensating for the differences in compounds, Kubica would have been expected to be significantly faster and was supposedly so angry with himself that he did not participate in the post-session meeting with the engineers.

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Sirotkin is also believed to bring substantial backing with him via Russia’s SMP Racing—somewhere in the region of £15 million, which Kubica cannot match. This should technically be irrelevant, as Williams has insisted it would decide who to partner with Lance Stroll based on performance—likely because Stroll himself is showing no signs of belonging in the sport (it should also be noted that billionaire Lawrence Stroll already spent $80 million to secure his son’s seat). But Williams’ struggles over the last three years suggest they either need more funds or are not wisely spending what they do have.

One issue with the potential Stroll-Sirotkin pairing—besides its overall inexperience—is Martini, the team’s title sponsor, which is believed to require at least one driver aged 25 or over for marketing purposes.  Stroll and Sirtokin are aged 18 and 22, respectively. Technical head Paddy Lowe, however, says the age limit may not necessarily be of great importance.

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“There are some issues around advertising and Martini but if it came to it, I’m sure Martini would understand the importance—if that’s what we were to choose—to have the best lineup for racing rather than for advertising,” he said. “We will cross that bridge if we need to. Age is not a factor in our primary objective which is to pick the best lineup.”

Williams signed a five-year deal with Martini in 2014 worth $15 million a year. In other words, even if fielding two underage drivers compromises that sponsorship, Sirotkin’s backing can more than make up the difference. The questions remain whether the Russian truly shows better performance potential than Kubica and whether Williams is happy to sell its second seat to the highest bidder.