Kurt Verlin
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Who Will Drive for Williams Next Season?

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Williams FW40

The driver lineup for the 2018 Formula One championship is starting to solidify and options are beginning to run out for the drivers seeking to move out of their teams or to enter the sport.

Of particular interest is who will drive for Williams Martini Racing in 2018 alongside Lance Stroll, who made his debut this year. It would have been Valtteri Bottas this year had the Finn not gone to Mercedes after 2016 champion Nico Rosberg retired, forcing Williams to call on Felipe Massa, who had also retired at the end of that season but was quite happy to come back.

Massa, however, was kept only on a one-year contract and Williams must now be exploring its options, which are somewhat limited because of its Martini sponsorship that dictates one of the drivers must be of a certain age for them to use in promotional materials (and Lance Stroll, at age 18, certainly doesn’t meet that requirement).

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That leaves only a few options: Massa again, Fernando Alonso, Jolyon Palmer, or Robert Kubica. Each choice comes with a set of upsides and downsides.

Palmer, who is being pushed out of Renault in favor of Carlos Sainz Jr, has not had shown the performance necessary to drive for Williams. Should they put him in the seat next to Stroll, Williams is at risk of losing many championship points even with a worthy car. On the plus side, he’s likely to be affordable.

Alonso is probably the fastest available driver, but also the most expensive and the most difficult to work with. I find it unlikely that Williams would court Alonso, especially as Claire Williams recently and flatly denied even speaking to him.

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Then there is Robert Kubica, who had been looking to make a comeback to Formula One by replacing Palmer before Sainz did it instead. But already he has released himself from his Renault contract and is pushing to return via Williams. Kubica could be a good pick, but it’s risky—there’s no real way to gauge just how competitive he would be regardless of his good form in practice sessions and simulators.

Ultimately, keeping Massa may be the safest bet. He is regularly putting in better results than Stroll, he is still moderately quick on his day, and he is happy enough to still be around not to ask for a huge paycheck. Nonetheless, “moderately quick” has proven not to be good enough in last two years, so Williams has quite a lot of deliberating still to do.