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Analysis: Why is Robert Kubica only the reserve driver at Williams F1 team?
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Posted By: James Allen  |  16 Jan 2018   |  4:23 pm GMT  |  380 comments

Williams has finally made its long awaited driver announcement, pairing Sergey Sirotkin with Lance Stroll as the race drivers for 2018.

Robert Kubica is confirmed as reserve driver.

Many Williams fans will be dismayed, while neutral F1 fans will be wondering, why is it that Kubica, a race winner and a big name in F1, is only the reserve driver?

The obvious conclusion most will draw is money: Sirotkin’s backers are believed to have offered €15m a year for two years to Williams on top of the funding from the Stroll family.

But it is also the case the in the Abu Dhabi tests, 22 year old Sirotkin did a good job and swayed the team towards thinking of him, rather than Kubica, who had been trying to build the case for a comeback from his arm injury.

Sirotkin was faster, especially on the single lap runs, although Kubica was strong on the long runs.

Time on track is very limited in F1 and Sirotkin had certainly had more than Kubica in the build up to the critical test at Yas Marina, after which the decision was made.

Kubica believes that he has more to come, as he said on his appearance at the Autosport Awards in December.

Sirotkin has been knocking on the door of F1 for some time, without landing a race seat. He orbited Renault, taking the reserve driver role last year, driving partly in tests and Friday practice sessions. Some will wonder why he didn’t get a chance, especially during the period when Jolyon Palmer was struggling.

But Renault had their eyes on Carlos Sainz from 2016 and when McLaren and Honda split with Toro Rosso taking the Honda engines, that opened the door for Renault to move in on Sainz.

Williams now has the youngest driver line up in F1, ahead of Sauber with Charles Leclerc partnering Marcus Ericsson next season.

But Williams has managed to convince Kubica to take the reserve driver role, which allows him to get more track time as well as regular simulator time and will reveal whether there is more potential, as he believes.

Stroll has two more years on a three year contract and Sirotkin a two year contract, so on the face of it there is no opening for 2019 for the popular Pole. But things can always change, for a variety of reasons – as Valttei Bottas’ shock move to Mercedes in 2017 demonstrated.

The main reason why Kubica is in the reserve driver role, however, is the engineers.

All F1 engineers need pushing; even the ones at the top of the tree at Mercedes or Ferrari. History tells you that F1 drivers who go into the real details with the engineers on everything from damping, to aero to fuel mixtures and make demands, push the team forwards.

A rookie line-up, however talented, doesn’t know what it doesn’t know and so an experienced and demanding driver like Kubica is important to keep them stimulated and to challenge them.

Also with both drivers under 25 and not exactly household names, it helps with the sponsors to have a driver with star quality like Kubica. He can fulfil obligations for Martini, which the youngsters couldn’t do as well.

It will be good to have Kubica around again and it will be interesting to see how Sirotkin does.

F1 paddock wisdom is that Williams will slip back behind McLaren and Renault in the pecking order this season, despite having a Mercedes engine and a chase overseen by technical chief Paddy Lowe.

That outcome would not reflect well on the drivers or on the decision makers who put them there. We will find out soon.

What do you think of Williams’ move on Sirotkin? How much of a role can Kubica play from the reserve driver position? Leave your comments in the section below


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1

I saw young survey’s times and. on. the slower tyre he was alot faster than rk was. very impressive

2
soren christensen

Well, of course it is frustrating, that Kubica seems not to get another shot at F1 – for the time being. But that put aside, Sirotkin is a good driver. As 18 year old, he was 5 in his first year at FR3,5, and the next 2 years finished 3 in F2. That shows a driver with both talent and stability. Todays F1 demands a lot of finance, and Williams has not the luxury of being a factory team with almost limitless budgets. So they must look for a combination of decent driver – and a serious backing. SMP with Mika Salo as their sporting director put together an attractive package with a talented driver, supported by the Russian sporting organisations, and huge investments, which were ready to act. That combination of talent and heavy sponsoring is needed in F1, when choosing a (paying) driver. And no other were ready with the same package.
No matter, we all would like a great come back story with Kubica, sadly this is not enough to pay the bills. Williams has done the obvious, and decided to go for the best possible available solution with both Sirotkin and Kubica.
I think they will do well in 18

3

risky move by williams. that russian money could evaporate with one simple us/eu sanction. check out the backers – could be shaky. this deal makes williams look desperate.

4

Personally I thing Kubica would have ignited more interest across news and other programming around the world than another bloke you never heard of.
Maybe liberty are not a bright as they think or putin really has trump by the short and curlies.

5

Great sign up by Williams. Get the driver line-up they want along with the money and sponsor requirements.

Kubica can do the work behind the scenes while Stroll and Sirotkin can be the face of the team and their future.

Both drivers can be considered tier-2 but so is Williams.

Stroll did a good job in year-1 under the guidance of Massa (& his dad’s money helping with private tests & so on) and scored solid amount of points. While there is always a risk, I think the model can repeat again this year. If a driver struggles, there is Kubica to cover for a short time.

I am not sentimental about Kubica – he got evaluated by both Renault and Williams. He was a class act before his accident – while we may never know how good is he now, the two teams have an idea and the results are in front of us.

6

Well it’s not a particularly strong driver line-up, but the primary impact on next years position will be the strength of their car compared to the others. Then whether Williams’ race strategies improve, they seem to be a bit lacking of late and can get outfoxed, or settle for a result rather than force other teams strategies.
Then there’s the interesting question will Mercedes allow another Merc engined team to beat them.
The ‘pay driver’ debate is a little disingenuous, the implication is that they’re not as good, but they aren’t all at the back of the grid, Lauda was a ‘pay driver’ at the start and he did OK. Let’s see how they go first, driver performance in F1 isn’t fixed by previous formulas.

Frankly (no pun intended), I’m more curious about what Mercedes will do about they’re long wheelbase concept, will they move towards the high rake angle, and will everyone copy the Ferrari short side-pod trick?

7

On the face of it, sure it looks bad right now…but Kubica is a good place right now. He’s employed at a team as Test/Reserve driver which means increased time in Sims/Car over the next year where he can build up more experience with these new machines.

Sure Sirotkin and Stroll have cash to spalsh, but at some point what’s the point of racing if both your pay drivers suck and you’re not going anywhere but backwards? If Stroll doesn’t improve and Sirotkin doesn’t do anything…they’re going to have to turn to someone else to be a team leader and drag them back into the sharp end.

Who better than the Pole who’s been quietly more knowledge and experience on the current spec F1 cars out of the limelight.

It all may just work out in his favour in the end.

8

FM’s 2017 average qualifying position was c. 10th. LS was c.15th. Given FM was 0.3 off Alonso in 2011 you could argue that the 2017 Williams would have been right behind the top 3 teams (4th??) in the hands of FA – so not too bad. Now if we have two rookies and it continues down the LS route Williams is looking at 7-8th best team. It would be interesting to see the net effect of the difference between 8th and 4th in prize money – and how far would that go to pay some top drives and offset the money of the pay drivers?

9

It pains me to see Williams and McLaren struggling so much recently. F1 needs all of it’s historical names at the front. That RBR and Mercedes get a larger loyalty payment is astonishing given McLaren and Williams exist solely to race in F1.

Imagine how great a season it would be to see Williams vs McLaren Vs Ferrari once again, with RBR and Merc also in the mix. That for me is priority no 1 for liberty, closing up the field of competition. It would be better PR at this point for Merc to be in a close title race and lose than another year of dominance. They are, ironically, in the same position now as Williams Renault were in 1996/1997 where they only turned heads in the races they didn’t win.

10

Just seat tide and wait
After few races alot will clear out
Just watch

11

“All F1 engineers need pushing; even the ones at the top of the tree at Mercedes or Ferrari. History tells you that F1 drivers who go into the real details with the engineers on everything from damping, to aero to fuel mixtures and make demands, push the team forwards.”
True and I thought that would be one of RK’s big advantages too. However, a year or 2 back a remembered reading a synopsis of various F1 chassis in the pre-season tests written by Sirotkin. To say I was blown away by the insight, knowledge, appreciation of F1 car handling and use of English grammar would be the understatement of the year. This guy is one smart, knowledgeable and quick cookie. Very capable of giving insightful comment back to engineers: whether he can drive them remains to be seen but there is every chance he can speak their language.

12

@ Rob…Well spotted. I too believe that there is more to Sirotkin than a fistful of $$$. I only heard yesterday that he recently completed a Uni degree in Racecar mechanical engineering which he undertook to enable him to better understand the car and assist his race engineers. If he has speed and can quickly adapt to the then he could be a short term prospect for a decent haul of points.

13

Last year the WILLIAMS was a dog. It was difficult to set up and they never got on top of the tyre use. Paddy has been there, done that with Merc, so expect improvements. That said does anybody really think a top class driver would take the chance and go to Williams?
Their saving grace is going to be the Merc PU.
The minor places are going to be influenced greatly by reliability.
How many Merc PU failures did we get last year compared to Renault?
I think the middle of the table is possible with a bit of luck and not to many crashes.
I find it interesting that many people have the belief that the driver has only a small effect and that it’s mostly the car, however the same people are here giving Williams no chance this year purely based on their driver line up. Go figure.

14

I would like to see Kubica in that seat for sentimental reasons. But you say Sirotkin was faster, if only on short runs, Given equal reliability and assuming Sirotkin does not crash a lot, he becomes the choice. With two very inexperienced drivers Kubica stands a better chance to race than it might look right now…

15

Williams will be racing sauber this year.
Mandela could do a better job. Get him out of retirement with damon

16
Clarks4WheelDrift

maybe, but will they both be faster than Torro Rosso Honda though?

17

Nelson Mandela? RIP.

18

I’d bet it was Mansell…but he typed mandel and auto correct gave Mandela 🙂

you know the same software that shut down Alonso’s honda engine because he was “driving too fast”….–> Ithink THAT was the lowest moment of the 3 Mclaren honda

19

Maldonardo with predictive text taking over

20

As a lifelong McLaren and Williams supporter I am extremely disappointed that Williams have chosen to go with such an inexperienced driver line up.

We have watched the team under-perform over the last two seasons largely down to less than stellar drivers. That can surely only get worse in 2018. Even if Sirotkin proves to be very quick he will throw away lots of points with rookie errors.

WIlliams should have spent some money on a very good experienced driver or at least kept Massa for another year while waiting for someone more talented to become available.

The compensation for the sale of Bottas from Mercedes probably didn’t cover the loss of income from FOM as a result of last season’s poor performance.

This year will almost certainly see the team going backwards again !

21

What’s this??
You advocating a Monisha like approach?
How many reserve drivers does a team need?

22

Why? Because the Russian undoubtedly brings a bigger pot of money.

It’s a very sad day when the once mighty Williams team have two drivers who effectively pay for their drive. Williams has sold its soul to the money devil.

23

He is and never will be with me.. I can still remember his snide bump into Lewis at Interlagos almost costing him hIs debut WDC.

24

Formula One all about money? SHOCK! HORROR! Its hard to believe how daft some peoples comments are. Kubica is never going to be the driver he was driving almost one handed. Singapore, Monaco, and Hungary would probably be to much for him.

25

If i win the lottery will i have a chance at williams seat???

26

As a long time Williams supporter I was really hoping they would use this opportunity to prove they are not on the starting line to just make up the numbers and provide a stable income to all its employees. However its seems they have gone for the safer sans killer instinct option. Time will tell as it always does.

27

For all Williams talk of being on the upswing, this is just more of the same. Sad that the team that prides themselves on being real racers is at the end of the day swayed by money as a result of the current state of F1. Sad commentary about F1 all the way around.

28

Williams = less racing team, more business.
Used to be otherwise.
Sad!

29

Question James

Given the lack of experience with the line up and the fact that both drivers are paying for their drives how many times can we expect Kubica to be in the car on Fridays?

Williams will be wanting the young guns to learn the tracks and learn the car set up so can’t imagine Kubica getting too many runs. Likewise I can’t imagine Daddy Stroll or Sirotkin’s sponsor’s will be happy seeing Kubica driving the car when they are paying for their boys to be in it.

30

I think RJ will get some decent mileage, no point in having him without giving him time in the car to give feedback and move the car forward.

32
Torchwood Mobile

If sanctions or other issues delays the Sirotkin money at all, Kubica is waiting in the wings; so there may be that unspoken reason for having the latter in the reserve driver role.

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