Claire Williams claims that there is too much cynicism surrounding ‘pay drivers’ in Formula 1 after criticism regarding her team’s line-up of Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin.
Stroll and Sirotkin are believed to bring significant funding to the Williams team, with the latter backed by Russian organisation SMP Racing, which is linked to the bank of the same name.
Claire Williams, the deputy team principal, argued that the situation is not dissimilar to the sponsorship which far more credentialed drivers such as two-time world champion Fernando Alonso attract to their respective teams.
“It’s nothing new in F1 that drivers come with money, and thank goodness that they do,” she said at the team’s season launch.
“I think it would be incredibly naive for anyone to make that statement, saying ‘he’s just a pay driver.’
“It’s great if a driver has financial interests from partners, it’s great for the team, it’s great for the driver.
“This is an expensive sport, not just F1 but at grassroots level as well. We’d miss out on so much talent coming into F1 if drivers didn’t have financial backing supporting them through the junior formulae, and bringing them into F1.
“It’s nothing unusual. Fernando Alonso, prime example. Santander followed him around every team that he’s been to. You could suggest that he’s a pay driver – I wouldn’t do such a thing.
“I think the terminology or the vocab used around pay drivers is wrong, it’s inappropriate and it’s unnecessary, and I think it puts negativity round a driver that we just should not be doing in this sport anymore.”
Williams continued in arguing that the team would not have placed 19-year-old Stroll and 22-year-old Sirotkin in their seats if they were not up to the task.
“We would only put talented drivers in our car,” she said.
“This is a dangerous business, and we are not going to put someone in the car just because they come with money.
“Our decision-making process is so much more complex than just deciding to put a driver into a race car because they have some cash.
“Yes, we’re an independent team, yes, sponsorship is really hard to come by these days, not just for our team, but every team out there. I don’t think many teams have signed new sponsors over the past few seasons in F1.
“So clearly if a driver has some financial backing, that’s an added bonus, but that’s not the foundation for a decision-making process at Williams when we come to make our driver decisions.
“It’s not a factor.”
Former F1 driver Robert Kubica lost out to Sirotkin in the chase for the second Williams seat but was signed as a reserve driver.
He is scheduled to have three Free Practice 1 outings in 2018, starting with Round 5 in Spain.
The season begins in Melbourne on March 22-25.