Claire Williams says drivers coming into Formula 1 with backing is ‘nothing new’, and that the negative comments surrounding those who come into the sport are unjustified and ‘naïve’.
The Deputy Team Principal of Williams Martini Racing has welcomed Sergey Sirotkin to the team for 2018, with the Russian coming with the backing from SMP Racing, and the twenty-two-year-old former GP2 Series race winner has been labelled as a pay driver as a result.
But Williams believes the fact that a driver comes with money is a benefit to the team, and drivers throughout history have started out in Formula 1 with a financial backer, including Fernando Alonso, who is now considered one of the all-time greats of the sport.
“It’s nothing new in F1 that drivers come with money, and thank goodness that they do,” Williams was quoted of saying at the launch of the FW41 by Motorsport.com. “I think it would be incredibly naïve for anyone to make that statement, saying ‘he’s just a pay driver.’ It’s great if a driver has financial interests from partners, it’s great for the team, it’s great for the driver.
“This is an expensive sport, not just F1 but at grassroots level as well. We’d miss out on so much talent coming into F1 if drivers didn’t have financial backing supporting them through the junior formulae, and bringing them into F1.
“Partners want to partner drivers, because of their nationality or because or their character or gravitas in a certain market. It’s nothing unusual. Fernando Alonso, prime example. Santander followed him around every team that he’s been to. You could suggest that he’s a pay driver – I wouldn’t do such a thing.
“I think the terminology or the vocab used around pay drivers is wrong, it’s inappropriate and it’s unnecessary, and I think it puts negativity round a driver that we just should not be doing in this sport anymore.”
Both Sirotkin and his 2018 team-mate Lance Stroll have financial backing behind them, but Williams insists they would never choose a driver because of their backing, and both are talented enough to warrant their place in the team.
“We would only put talented drivers in our car,” said Williams. “This is a dangerous business, and we are not going to put someone in the car just because they come with money.
“And also our decision-making process is so much more complex than just deciding to put a driver into a race car because they have some cash.
“Yes, we’re an independent team, yes, sponsorship is really hard to come by these days, not just for our team, but every team out there. I don’t think many teams have signed new sponsors over the past few seasons in F1.
“So clearly if a driver has some financial backing, that’s an added bonus, but that’s not the foundation for a decision-making process at Williams when we come to make our driver decisions. It’s not a factor.”