Williams’ chief Claire Williams insists that George Russell was hired purely on his talent for 2019 Formula 1 season which has nothing to do with him being a Mercedes junior.
At one stage it seemingly looked like that the to be FIA Formula 2 Championship champion will not be able to secure a F1 drive considering the competition he had from fellow Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon and a grand prix winner Robert Kubica.
However, Williams still went ahead and signed Russell for 2019 to replace Lance Stroll – who is all but confirmed with Racing Point Force India. Speculations are afloat that Russell came with a discount with his ties with Mercedes.
But team boss Claire has refuted those claims, maintaining that the talent of Russell was enough to hand him a seat irrespective of his connections with Mercedes. For the second seat though, she admits that all factors will be weighed but talent will be the top priority.
She hasn’t ruled either Ocon or Kubica out yet with Sergey Sirotkin also feeling confident of being retained. The one-time report of Artem Markelov joining has a died down but the current Renault development driver could still be a part of the team as a reserve.
“George has obviously come up through the Mercedes young driver programme but that was not a factor in our decision-making,” she said to the media in Austin. “We purely saw a young talent coming up through the junior championships, as I think we all have.
“We’ve all recognised the talent that George has, and are probably all pretty excited about the talent that he has coming into this sport. So no, the Mercedes relationship wasn’t a factor.
“George has a multi-year arrangement with us moving forward and he will be a Williams driver during that period and will focus on being a Williams driver. There were no factors around financial considerations with Mercedes on making that decision.
“It was purely a decision made on the talent that George has. When it comes to the second seat, clearly as an independent team, and clearly, as everybody knows, independent teams in this sport haven’t had an easy ride over the past few years, the sponsorship landscape is pretty tough out there.
“The way that the prize fund distribution is at the moment in Formula One doesn’t make it easy, and not least coming tenth in the championship this year puts the squeeze on things a little bit – but we’re managing our finances pretty well.
“We’ll have a good budget going into 2019, it will be on par with the one that we have raced with this year – but there are a lot of considerations when it comes to choosing the driver for the second seat – but predominantly the main one has to be on talent.”
While Ocon has all the time to wait for the decision from Williams, Kubica doesn’t wants to do the same for long. Effectively, it is only the one seat at Williams which is needed to be filled up with the Toro Rosso seat potentially going to Alexander Albon.
Claire sounds positive with the second driver as she hopes the team can announce him by the end of the 2018 season. “Unfortunately we haven’t made that decision yet, we’re taking our time with it,” she said. We’re not in any mad rush.
“We have a few drivers on the list; clearly I wouldn’t confirm who they are. But we are excited about that decision too, we have some exciting prospects that we are evaluating now. We’ve got a number of considerations to factor into that decision.
“We’ll make an announcement in due course; I’m hoping by the end of the season.” Williams will lose Martini and also the sponsorship money from Lawrence Stroll which means, they will have to secure significant funding via a driver or fresh sponsors.