Paul the best of di Resta? Williams seeking options for 2018?

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30/07/2017 Hungarian Grand Prix, Budapest.

15+ years in senior management will change the way you see the world.  When things happen some observers will take matters at face value, watch and enjoy the spectacle, celebrate or groan.  Others often overthink things and question why? They might ask what lead up to that thing being “a thing”.

I am part of the cynical old bugger brigade.  Being called a cynic, or being accused of being “too sceptical” is a common occurrence.  What I have found is that, on average, every story has a black side, a white side and the truth is usually in the grey area in between.  Formula One is a perfect example.  People say things, reactions are given, the following trail of events usually result in a lot of random situations flying up in the air and the clever people seize the best opportunities before the dust settles, many of the observers call this “luck”.  The F1 silly season embellishes this.  All it will take is for the Ferrari seats to be affirmed and the rest of the pack will fall in order, in short succession.  I firmly believe that the drivers’ lineups across the pit lane will depend entirely on Kimi’s seat becoming accessible, or not.

Today, I suggest we saw the start of “exploring options”.  Back up plans.  With Felipe who returned from his departure to fill an empty seat and act as a mentor for Stroll probably reaching the limit of what he has to offer, expectations are that his seat will become available next year.

Button has talked to Williams, but has “ruled out” a return, proposing “it was time for me” (to leave F1).  Williams would have relished Jenson for 2017 but could not wait for McLaren deals to be sorted out.  We all know Williams is grappling this year and they really needed an accomplished driver for Stroll to follow around a circuit.  Stroll is an encouraging young driver and the economics he came with meant that Williams could hardly say no.  This extra seat then is a problem.  The team are not effective enough to attract any names as prominent as Massa, and two rookies would be a managerial horror, and championship disaster.  The obvious choice then would be di Resta, the backup driver.

Mercedes-AMG has always looked after di Resta.  A sceptic would say his last drive for Force India was part of their engine deal.  When his 59 starts failed to score any podiums for the team  Mercedes-AMG found him a home as the reserve for Mercedes powered Williams (Toto used to be a large shareholder remember) and placed him in a DTM car (since 2004).  Now they will be pulling out of that series di Resta will be looking for a job.  I can hear Wolff’s voice saying “it’s not like you’re going to score any points in Hungary, give Paul a go.  Oh and we need to talk about next year’s engine supply”

We all know testing is a big problem.  Almost non-existent.  What testing is available comes with restrictions.  Some days have to be wet testing, mileage is limited.  Dates are fixed, other dates can only be driven by drivers who have NOT completed in more than two F1 championships.  I would imagine Lance Stroll would have consumed as much track time as possible, through necessity or through his father’s demands.

What I am inferring, therefore, is that we should perhaps consider this weekends “substitution” to be a shrewd move by Claire Williams to get some real testing under the scots belt at a current F1 circuit, in a current car, in authentic conditions.  Something that is almost unmanageable – ask Kubica.  I realise that replacing a sick driver is a formality but it does require paperwork and steward approval. The driver swap was very fast.

The Scots’ post-race comments sounded like he was ticking boxes, getting to know the car ready for another drive, rather than acting as a shallow stand in.

So the question is, did he pass the experiment?  Given how alien the car would have felt, I would have to say yes.  Toto Wolff was quick to announce that his DTM driver did an “unbelievable Job”. His pace was sufficient, and only just behind Stroll’s which would suggest with more track time he could easily be quicker.  If I were a team boss and needed some experienced enthusiastic auxiliary plan for next year,  I might have done the same, and if I was an average driver, I would want Toto managing my affairs too.

Oh and in case you missed it Alonso got bored and decided to set the fastest lap of the race running quali mode, Ferrari finished at the head of the Hungarian caravan, Raikkonen came second but was faster than Vettel who had steering problems, and Hamilton gave back third place to Bottas (gained by team orders) as he couldn’t get passed Kimi.  I say 3 points in the championship was a fair price to pay to invert some of the hate he has picked up lately.  See, he IS a good guy.

I have to go now, I am running the risk of leaving the “being annoyingly overdue” window at the grumpy old men gathering in the Nags Head.

Steve Barby F1 on twitter


UPDATE: BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Brazilian Felipe Massa has withdrawn from this week’s Budapest Formula One test after missing Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix because he felt unwell.

His Williams team said on Monday that Canadian Lance Stroll would drive on Tuesday instead, with young Italian Luca Ghiotto making his Formula One test debut as previously scheduled on Wednesday.

The Brazilian is expected to return for the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of August, although there are no certainties.

“I think we’re optimistic. It would be really a great shame if he wasn’t ready for Spa,” team technical head Paddy Lowe said at the weekend. “That’s four weeks away so he ought to be in good shape by then.”

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