As the rumours regarding driver line-ups for 2017 begin to surface, the Williams Martini Racing team are ready to ensure that they have all options open to them.
The contracts of both the Oxfordshire based teams current drivers, Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, are up for review at the end of this season, which leaves two spaces up for grabs at the family run team. Williams have not ruled out re-signing both Bottas and Massa for next year, but if they did fancy shaking things up there are plenty of options on the radar.
Nico Rosberg’s contract with the Mercedes AMG Petronas squad ends in 2016, and the German has not yet signed a deal to remain with the Brackley based squad. McLaren Honda driver, Jenson Button is another potential candidate, as it is likely that the Woking based squad will want to move young protégé Stoffel Vandoorne up to a full-time seat next year, and the Brit is the most likely choice to be moved a side for the Belgian.
Both Rosberg and Button have driven for Williams before, with the 2009 world champion having started his time in F1 with the squad. Could Button’s career be about to come full circle with a return to the Oxfordshire based team’s doors?
Kimi Raikkonen is another experienced racer that will be a free agent come the end of 2016, though of the available candidates the Finn is possibly the most likely driver to call it a day on his time in F1, and then there is also Williams own development driver Alex Lynn, who is surely looking to get his foot in the door for a seat in F1 next year?
That leaves the driver market looking rampant, and with Williams well placed as one of the top teams in the sport, they are likely to receive plenty of enquiries at their door. Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal of Williams confirmed the team’s stance when speaking to Motorsport.com recently.
“We want to own our driver line-up decision this year. Waiting around for dominoes to fall in other teams is not on our agenda.
“That is not how we want to play the 2017 line-up. We want to make our own decisions.”
Having toyed with ‘best of the rest’ spot for moments during last season’s campaign, as well as showing their potential this year, the team are looking to recruit a driver line-up that matches up to their now high level expectations.
“That is what we set about as our target for our driver line-up when we made our transition a few years ago. We wanted to make sure that we had drivers in the car who bought everything that we believe a driver needs to bring a team – and of course experience is one of those elements.
“So having a name in your car is something that works really well for you commercially. But having a name clearly means they have had a successful time in F1 because they have been in the sport a long time.
“But there are so many different elements to it and the decision-making process. It is a process that we are going through at the moment and evaluating.”
Williams could of course stick with what they already know, with Bottas and Massa both highly rated drivers and having gotten the team to where they are today, is it worth shaking up the strong team ethic now in place?
“We have to wait and see. What we need at the moment is both drivers focusing on the 2016 campaign, and to make sure they maximise points potential in every race because it is such a tough fight out there this year – and we don’t want to lose our third place to Red Bull or another team.”
Despite the fact the Brazilian has more or less matched his Finnish team-mate across the seasons they have driven together, Bottas is the more highly rated of the two and is still considered an upcoming talent. Massa however is coming to the end part of his career, and in today’s market age and experience does not guarantee you a place at the top. Many teams these days are looking to bring through young talent, mould the team around them, and build for the future, an ethos which could go against the likes of Massa, Button and Raikkonen, no matter how skilful they still remain.
One of those young hopefuls is Williams development driver Alex Lynn, who after one round of the GP2 series so far is sitting third in the championship following his win in the second race at Barcelona. If he continues in that vein for the rest of the season then Claire Williams has advised he will not be counted out of the running.
“It was his rookie year in GP2 last year, and I think he had some challenges but he also proved that he does have talent.
“He has remained in our team this year as a development driver and we are continuing with him. Really Alex needs to prove to everybody that he has the talent to deserve a race seat in F1 – but his season has only just started so we will wait and see.”
The possibilities are seemingly endless for 2017, and at a time when the rules are to be shaken up on a large scale once again, will experience rule out over age, or will youthful exuberance persevere?