Williams appear keen to ditch their pay driver team tag at the end of this season, they began by hiring highly rated Formula 2 ace George Russell for 2019 and now have indicated they are keen to keep Esteban Ocon by providing him with a seat next year.
This year the once mighty outfit is among the backmarkers, many times their drivers Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin in the slowest cars on the timesheets and out of their depth with regards to sorting out the issues with the FW41.
Speaking ahead of the United States Grand Prix, the Williams deputy team principal told reporters, “We have been working hard for six months to ensure that our 2019 budget allows us to hire drivers on merit.”
A total about-face for the team that was heavily criticised when they confirmed their inexperienced driver line-up ahead of this season and giving Russell his break is proof of their intent, “We signed George because we could sign an agreement for several seasons that allows us to build for the future.”
Williams: For the second seat we do not have the same room to manoeuvre
Several drivers are in contention for the second seat vacated, as Stroll moves to the team his father is building for him, among them the likes of Robert Kubica, Nicolas Latifi and Nikita Mazepin. They would all bring money to the team and the tendency (as they did last year) is to give the nod to the camp with the biggest chequebook.
This year with Stroll funding departing, Martini title sponsorship ending and SMP Racing money apparently drying up, the Grove outfit have a dilemma on their hands.
Williams explained, “For the second seat we do not have the same room to manoeuvre. We would like to proceed as we did for the first driver but the road to get there is harder.”
“We are working hard to ensure that Esteban stays in Formula 1 next year by coming to us. We are doing everything we can to get there,” she added.
Reading between the lines it would appear that Williams are waiting on Mercedes to make them an offer they cannot refuse to keep Ocon in Formula 1 where he has proved he belongs or the alternative is to turn to a pay driver to partner Russell.