By Adam Tate, Associate Editor
Williams Martini Racing has narrowed down its driver search for Lance Stroll’s 2018 partner to three, according to Motorsport Magazine.
Current pilot Felipe Massa, who has been with the team since 2014 despite an initial planned retirement prior to the team losing Valtteri Bottas to Mercedes, is said to still be a possibility for the Grove-based outfit. However, the plan is to test out Paul di Resta and Robert Kubica before settling on the 2018 seat.
For di Resta, who serves as the team’s reserve driver, the possibilities increased after he subbed for an ill-stricken Massa at the Hungaroring and displayed a solid outing that warrants a further look. Kubica is also on their radar after he performed well for Renault in an in-season test at Barcelona and was rumored to be a possibility before the French squad got Carlos Sainz from Toro Rosso.
Kubica will use the same 2014 spec car that Stroll has used on numerous occasions for the team in a test at Silverstone on October 11th. He will also test the car at the Hungaroring on October 18th, which is where he last tested for Renault over the summer break. Kubica was an elite driver of the sport before his injury and is hungry for a comeback. These two tests with Williams will likely determine if he will ever find his way to the grid of a Formula One race again.
Paul di Resta has been the team’s reserve driver for several seasons, has spent little time in an F1 car since he left Force India in 2013. He will share the 2014 spec car with Kubica at the Hungaroring test.
Massa is still in strong contention to keep his seat as his history of success with the team; five podiums and one pole position shows that he can maximize the potential of their car. It is likely that the true competition for the seat will be between Massa and Kubica and that di Resta will be at the test just to serve as a reference point for Kubica’s feedback and lap times.
Mercedes could complicate matters further by pushing for Pascal Wehrlein to join the team, as he is set to likely lose his Sauber seat for 2018 when Ferrari calls to put either or both Charles LeClerc and Antonio Giovinazzi on the team. This, however, is complicated by Williams’ title sponsor Martini that requires one of the drivers of the team to be over 25-years-old in order to promote an alcoholic product.
The team states that it is in no hurry to make a decision, but with the 2018 cars well underway, the sooner it can decide on its lineup, the better. Continuity in the form of Stroll and Massa will be preferred, unless Kubica or di Resta can seriously impress at the upcoming test.
With the top teams all full, the Williams seat is currently the most coveted on the 2018 grid for drivers who have not yet found a spot, and all eyes will soon be on the Hungaroring to see if Kubica or di Resta can truly make a play for prying Massa from his ride.