The Return Of Robert Kubica

By The Way - Weekly Columns

ByTheMinF1

At last, the driver line up for the upcoming Formula 1 season is complete. The second seat at Williams was up for grabs and it emerged on Tuesday that 22 year old Russian driver Sergey Sirotkin will partner Lance Stroll this year, having gotten the nod over a valiant effort from Robert Kubica to make his Formula 1 return.

Sirotkin joins the Grove outfit after spending two seasons as a development driver and then as a reserve driver at Renault. He drove in four practice sessions in 2017 at various points during the season and received positive feedback from Renault head Cyril Abiteboul. Sirotkin must have fancied his chances.

The Stroll-Sirotkin partnership is by far the weakest and most inexperienced on the grid. Stroll only joined the team at the start of the 2017 season and despite having record breaking season under Felipe Massa’s wing, he surely can’t have that much experience to pass on to a rookie in his first season.

Granted, Sirotkin has indeed won 3 GP2/F2 races but his most prolific season was 2016 where he won two races and finished third in the Championship. He made two starts in Baku and finished a credible 4th place in the feature race. I must admit, I worry for Williams especially in the early stages of the season.

Money played its part in the Sirotkin deal too, it has to be said. Sirotkin signed a multi year deal and that brings with it £15 million worth of sponsorship albeit from a company (SMP Racing) that are reportedly under US sanction. Russian billionaire Boris Rotenburg has also been instrumental in getting Sirotkin to Formula 1 – always helps when you’re a close confidant of Vladamir Putin, I guess.

Sirotkin is just another one of the number of ‘paid drivers’ having secured seats on the grid over the past few season. Pastor Maldonado, Sergio Perez and even Sirotkin’s new team-mate Lance Stroll got the seat at Williams after his dad reportedly ‘bought’ him his seat.

Of the three I’ve mentioned above, Sergio Perez is arguably the only driver who would probably still be on the grid on merit - even if the money didn’t matter to the teams. It has perhaps been obvious for a few years now; in Formula 1, money does every bit as much talking as the drivers do during a race weekend.

Also, I’m not believing the ridiculous argument from Williams of ‘We need a driver over 25 years of age because of Martini’. I can’t help but think that Williams has suffered over the past two years because of that stance.

Back to the Williams’ news. The man who had reportedly been in the driving seat – pardon the pun -for most of the latter half of 2017, Robert Kubica has been given the role of reserve driver for this year. Kubica hasn’t turned an F1 steering wheel in anger since Abu Dhabi in 2010 where he finished 5th and Sebastian Vettel claimed his first of four consecutive Drivers crowns. Kubica severely injured his right forearm in a rally in Italy in the following February. Despite taking part in four in-season tests, the Polish driver was beaten to the seat by Sirotkin on the evidence of lap times.

After the double announcement on Tuesday, Sirotkin, Kubica and Team Principal Claire Williams had their say. SS; ‘A huge amount of work has gone into getting me to this point, I’d like to thank everyone involved and the team can rest assured that I will give it 100% this season. RK; ‘I’ve enjoyed being back in Formula 1 and look forward to building a strong relationship with the technical team to give the development of the FW18 an added push in the right direction.’