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Analysis: Which way will Williams F1 team look to replace Felipe Massa?
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Posted By: James Allen  |  02 Sep 2016   |  8:40 pm GMT  |  45 comments

Not surprisingly the Monza paddock is buzzing with speculation, following yesterday’s announcement that Felipe Massa is set to retire from F1.

Who will replace him at Williams?

Different sources suggest different theories, with Sergio Perez, Felipe Nasr and Lance Stroll the three names getting the most traction. But there is also some subtle messaging at work behind the scenes, especially where Jenson Button is concerned.

It has long been received wisdom that Williams likes Button and that they think their sponsors would like to have him in the team. Although they are offloading a large salary with Massa leaving, they would be reluctant to take on another. But a world champion demands a premium from sponsors in this sport and Martini and others might be prepared to increase the investment if Button were there, the thinking went, as he is excellent at the glad-handing and social events that sponsors demand from drivers.

Button is a year older than Massa, so you’d be replacing a driver who’d retired with one of his seniors, which seems counter intuitive.

Jenson Button

However in the 24 hours since Massa made his statement, Williams has subtly hinted that Button has missed the boat, telling the UK newspapermen that he’s ‘dithered’ and missed his chance. This means that he is now dependent again on Ron Dennis and the McLaren management decision for his F1 future.

Most people feel that Stoffel Vandoorne will be driving the McLaren next year, so another retirement announcement could be on the cards; Button’s interest in the Toyota WEC team is genuine and he made a smash in his appearance on the BBC’s Top Gear TV show, which is badly in need of a star and fresh energy.

Williams would like some additional budget. That leaves Sergio Perez, who is also in demand at Renault, where he would probably race alongside Estaban Ocon. He has hinted that his next move is a dream move, which suggests a works drive. That would leave a gap at Force India which would likely be filled by Pascal Wehrlein.

Another candidate for Williams is their former development driver, Felipe Nasr, who has experience and backing from Banco de Brasil.

And then there is Lance Stroll, the F3 championship leader, who is doing a test programme with Williams this season in preparation for his F1 arrival. Stroll is able to drive a series of tests in a 2014 Williams Mercedes hybrid turbo, because the F1 rules permit tests in two year old cars and this year that is possible with a hybrid turbo car for the first time.

Lawrence Stroll, Toto Wolff

Stroll is well backed and well advised and the preparations are advancing well, overseen by his father Lawrence (above with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff)

His F3 team, Prema, is in GP2 and one route would be for him to race for them in GP2 next season, while driving Fridays for Williams at a dozen or so races as a prelude to a race seat in 2018. That would be the methodical approach.

Williams has Valtteri Bottas, who is considered one of the quicker drivers in F1 and so can afford to take a youngster like Stroll, albeit their constructors’ championship position would be at risk as he’d be unlikely to score the same level of points that a Massa or a Button would have scored.

Lance Stroll

Today well placed sources have suggested that all three of these routes are possible for Williams. If they do go with Stroll it will be a big test for the 18 year old Canadian, who would be coming in to F1 with a front running team with little experience and a lot of attention and pressure.

Max Verstappen did it and a few others have taken an ‘express’ path to F1, like Kimi Raikkonen.

But you only have one career and the preparation has been careful so far; why rush the last step?

They have the resources to do this however they wish and everything has been so meticulously prepared so far, it would seem risky to throw him straight in for 2017.

The counter argument would be that if he’s F3 champion this year, which looks likely and has a few thousand miles of F1 testing under his belt, which he has, then he’ll have momentum and the racer’s approach would be to ‘go for it’ and race in F1 in 2017. Max Verstappen has blazed a trail for teenagers and Esteban Ocon, another teen, is now racing for Manor.

F1 is increasingly about instant gratification. I think Williams could well be running a Canadian again in 2017.

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1
Tornillo Amarillo

For Lance the target should be Mercedes, so I would prefer him in Force India, but PEREZ stays…

So I prefer Lance in Manor in 2017 replacing OCON.
Lance in Force India in 2018-19.
Lance in Mercedes in 2020.
Lance Champion in 2022.
Yep.

2

Williams need money; with a change in regs next year now is the time to get a jump on the opposition.
If the car is slow there is nobody going to be able to drive it quicker than it will go.
At least if they take the youthful money bags, Bottas has a better chance of a desent car under him to do the business on track, and that as a multi decade Williams fan, I’d love to see.

3

Why not Pascal Wehrlein? Im sure Mercedes would like to test him in better car than Manor

4

a lot of people were sure that it was going to be Button, but not only it wasn’t ut it will most probably be only one British driver on the F1 grid next year.

5

You can only miss a boat if you want to get on it.

7

I think Jenson will call it a day, maybe join up with Mark at the Porsche series, shame though as he’s a gent, will be missed.

8

If Sergio goes to Williams or Renault, who would be favourite for his Force India seat? Definitely someone who would bring funding, or maybe Mercedes would put one of their drivers in exchange for discounts on engines?
I wouldn’t mind seeing Jenson in Force India, but what would he bring? He doesn’t meet their criteria, which is sad, because they’re a team on the ascendency, like McLaren.

9

I think Button has a feeling Mclaren will be quicker than Williams next year.
I wouldnt go to Willians if I were Perez. Bit of a sideways step.
I noticed Hulkenberg hasnt been mentioned again.

10

You cant blame Ron for giving Stoffel his opportunity ( it will happen)!

The kid has patiently bided his time whilst continuing to go about accruing the experience that’ll serve him well when he makes that next step.
Stoffel has WDC written all over him and his temperament will ensure that it happens before some of his vastly over-rated and temptuous fellow driver’s.

Sorry Jenson however if you answer that ringing phone of yours you’ll find a likely offer from Porsche to team up with your mate Webber in WEC.

11

If it were me I would definitely pick Felipe Nasr. Hes the right balance of speed, funding, and future prospects for a team like Williams. Button would be exceptional but he has little to gain seeing out his career going backwards with Williams when FI & Mclaren are going forwards. Definitely see him doing WEC and other stuff like TG.
Stroll :what a [Mod]joke – along comes daddy with a bag full of notes– Exactly what F1 does not need right now and Williams will lose more money than they gain when they drift back to the lower midfield if not right out of it.. The risks outweigh the financial benefit especially when you consider Banco de Brasil comes with several million euro and continuity of support in latin america. It just makes more sense all round

12

“Williams has subtly hinted that Button has missed the boat, telling the UK newspapermen that he’s ‘dithered’ and missed his chance.”

That’s pretty arrogant. Who needs who more? Does Jensen need another year in F1 more than Williams needs a world champion and someone who will please their sponsors?

13

The scarce resource is a formula one car in a team with budget. You may like this driver or that driver, but I’m sorry to say that with few exceptions the drivers are not the scarce resource. In the case of JB I’d say he’s a highly competent driver, but there are many of those. JB’s competitive advantage is in his marketability

14

sounds like Perez to me because he is good enough and he brings backing, and backing is big to a team like Williams. And please no more teenagers for a while; one is more than enough!

15

FI is a better team atm and are more consistent- it would be going backwards.

16

I would still want to see Jenson Button back at Williams, since it would be a nice story for his career to come full circle before it ends. Plus, Sir Frank’s team seems to be on the up (if not altogether stuck in the upper mid-field) compared to how it was from the period of 2006-2013, so in re-joining the outfit Jenson would still enjoy a competitive car (even more competitive than his McLaren currently! but for how much longer, no one knows).

As for Valtteri Bottas, I think he really needs to move on: his declining form since the highs of 2014, is primarily due to complacency and stagnation. A change of scenery (a “new challenge” as Alonso and Vettel put it) is necessary for him to unlock the next level. Renault would be wise to partner him with Sergio Perez. The general view is that the Mexican has (again) been impressive since his 1-year stint at McLaren, and no doubt he has been (thrashing rated team-mate, Hulkenberg). But I sometimes wonder if perception, from lower(ed) expectations, plays a strong(er) part towards that sentiment. As Mark Hughes put it, McLaren realized Perez is a good F1 driver but likely not a championship contender. Although, let’s see… maybe the disappointment of 2013 really had more to do with McLaren than Perez. I’m not quite sure if he’s a top 5 driver, but I remain a fan of the guy.

Finally there’s Esteban Ocon, I think the Frenchman is highly talented but a move to a manufacturer team (possibly) may be too soon. He should probably join Renault when it is already more (re)established and is truly ready for a “star” driver (assuming Esteban proves himself to be one). So, Joining Williams for a season or two may be a better fit for him as things currently stand. Given there, he would be able to gain the experience of working with a championship winning team (plus, Sir Frank’s squad has a history of either making or breaking drivers), and at the same time enjoy driving a competitive car (assuming the team does not blow the gains from previous seasons). He could either be partnered with Jenson Button or Felipe Nasr.

17

– time for Button to retire. He is simply old – 36 year old.
– not sure why would Perez make a sideways move.
– didn’t feel Nasr as strong – maybe I am wrong. Stroll or pascal or ocan are good solid options.

18

How old was Damon Hill in 1996? Just wondering.

19

button’s still strong!

20

Why can’t he go to Renault?
Renault need a face for their F1 campaign
Button’s experience is vast in racing and car setup
Renault need to convince people of their F1 future
Button would have a chance of a manufacturer seat rather than customer team
He would be quite marketable by Renault.

It’s a bit like when Mercedes first came back in 2010, they brought in Schumacher to be the star of their F1 campaign. He wasn’t as good as his prime but it’s gotten the team pretty far I’d say

21

perez is eying renault..

22

I expect you’re right about Button, but the line about him being ruled out because he ‘dithered’ is so implausible that I’m surprised you didn’t ask them what the real reason was.
I wonder whether it could mean that they would like him to drive for them, but maybe only for a year, and maybe only if he took a big pay cut, and maybe he doesn’t like either of those conditions and is holding out for a better deal, so they’re now calling his bluff.

23

Not THAT implausible.

Claire Williams said before the break, that last year Williams waited for Button, then were left hanging when he stayed with McLaren.

She still wanted him this year, but felt her team too good to be the same position two years running if he wasn’t going to make a decision. So yeah, Button missed the boat.

24

very good point. i suspect button is negaciating for a figure bigger than massa’s.

25

Stroll could be exactly what Williams needs, a new young gun to motivate Valerie to show his real ability – a kick up the pants like Ric gave to Seb and Lewis did to Alonso.
It just seems the Bottas and Williams choose to aim for mediocrity as it’s easier to achieve your goals.
Williams was the 2nd best team at the start of 2014, the number 2 Merc team but they have just slid backwards since then.

26

Felipe was the real champion of 2008. Robbed by the system that needed Hamilton to win that title for several reasons. Looks like it will be the same with Verstappen in the not too distant future. Well done on a great career Filipe. You have class and that is something that can’t be bought.

27

Yes I think Spa that year easily proves your point.

28

Well he wasn’t. It’s time to get over it. By the way, if you believe Lewis Hamilton was given special treatment in 2008, somebody forgot to tell the race stewards. Look up that season on Wiki if you need to refresh your memory.

29

massa’s best achievement was in 2008 with raikkonen’s assistance. if he was championship material that wouldn’t have been a fluke but unfortunately it was. he never showed that form ever again, confirming that the only reason massa did so well in 2008 was raikkonen’s help.

30

Am I missing something with this whole Button to Wiiliams thing? After twice reneging on his contract… The second time cost him £18 million … Why would Williams bother even putting a piece of paper in front of him to sign?

31

simply because they want to make progress..

32

Massa only lost his form after Hungary in 2009 unfortunately.. Would be ironic if Jenson took his spot at Williams

33

please explain the irony here ? ! 🙂

34

Well your so right,and we didn’t land on the moon either,it’s all a big conspiracy

35

James, i´m afraid you´ve a vowel misplaced in Banco DO Brasil.

36

And you seem to have some extra spaces in your comment. Easily done.

37

Thanks for that. Now the whole story makes so much more sense.

38

Didnt mention Alex Lynn!

Although my guess is he will end up with a formula E drive

39

My gut feeling is that it could be Lynn. He’s already announced he won’t be doing another year of GP2 and has been vocal about an F1 seat. Whether this is just an impatient driver trying to force Williams’ hand or he’s been given the seat, we’ll find out in due course. He’s been a development driver for a while now so would make sense. Then again, Nasr is probably the favourite.

40

I don’t think age is really a big deal in the times of modern day sportsmen…Button is a super fit athlete…Ideally he should still be in F1, I don’t think he has lost any of his speed…And it looks like he doesn’t really intend to be in Williams…they are going backwards and it really doesn’t offer him any challenge to be with them.

41

That would be awesome if Lance got the Williams seat next year – but if not 2017, hopefully soon after. It’s been far too long since a Canadian has been in F1!

42

“Williams would like some additional budget”.
“It would seem risky to throw him straight in for 2017”.

Risky, how? As long as dad’s cheques are big enough, F1 will have a place for Stroll.

43

How about Bernd Maylander – experienced, steady, never been overtaken………

Williams are not looking too shabby down the straights at least – clocking in at around 220 MPH. Hopefully that will silence the critics of the hybrids – 220 clicks in a straight line speed is way fast enough.

44

never been overtaken………

Ham had a pretty good go at Silverstone IIRC 🙂
With regard to silencing the critics of the PU – ha ha , good luck with that!

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