The former Renault test driver will partner Lance Stroll in 2018; Robert Kubica returns to F1 in a reserve and development role
The wait is over. All the ‘will they, won’t they?’ off-season rumours and speculation surrounding who would replace Felipe Massa in the most competitive remaining seat have been put to rest.
It’s Sergey Sirotkin – the former development and reserve man at Renault finally landing a full-season race seat. The 22-year-old Russian impressed in last autumn’s shootout, reportedly outperforming Kubica and Williams’ 2017 reserve driver Paul di Resta.
Sirotkin also performed well at the Abu Dhabi Pirelli tyre test, where he drove the Williams FW40 for the first time. Williams were adamant throughout the driver evaluation process that their decision would purely be based on performance, and it’s understood that Kubica struggled on Pirelli rubber compared to his Russian counterpart.
Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams announced “I’m confident Lance and Sergey can deliver the best results for the team. The Williams philosophy has always been to promote and develop young talent and Sergey fits right into that ethos.”
“Sergey impressed the team with his driving pace and talent, technical feedback and work ethic, both at the factory and trackside in Abu Dhabi,” added Paddy Lowe, Chief Technical Officer at Williams Martini Racing.
Sirotkin’s former team boss at Renault was instrumental in the young driver’s development, and agrees with Lowe’s assessment. “I can tell you we were very impressed by his technical feedback, his understanding of the car and the accuracy in his feedback,” said Cyril Abiteboul, Managing Director at Renault Sport F1.
“To overcome his injuries, return to fitness, and drive a Formula One car again is a remarkable achievement”
“Williams Signs Kubica” is the story every fan wanted to read – almost.
After a horrifying rally crash left Kubica with limited movement in his right arm, it seemed as if the Pole would never have an F1 seat again. However, after exhaustive analysis over several tests in 2017, Williams have signed the fan favourite as its reserve and development driver for 2018.
Chief Technical Officer Paddy Lowe was highly complimentary of Kubica’s determination and recovery: “to overcome his injuries, return to fitness, and drive a Formula One car again is a remarkable achievement, and one that few considered possible.”
He added that Kubica’s extensive F1 development experience will be invaluable when developing a new car and mentoring the youngest driver squad on the grid.
“Robert will make a strong technical contribution to the team, using his wealth of experience in track testing, simulator work, and support to the race drivers and engineers at every race.”
Despite missing out on a race seat, Kubica was clearly delighted to be back in the F1 paddock again and was clear that his physical condition was no barrier to eventually reaching his previous heights.
“I feel in the best physical shape that I have ever been, but it has taken a lot of work to get to where I am now, so I’d like to thank Williams for the opportunities they have given me so far, and for putting their faith in me with this appointment.”
“My ultimate goal remains to race again in Formula One and this is another important step in that direction: I cannot wait to get started,” he added.
Claire Williams made clear that Williams respects Kubica’s tenacity and dedication to returning to F1: ” All of us at Williams have been immensely impressed at what he has achieved, and it is a great credit to his strength of character and commitment to return to Formula One.”
As Williams aim squarely at Force India in 2018 , Sirotkin will be expected to immediately perform at the level F1 demands and significantly contribute to the team’s points haul. Kubica will be busy too – in addition to work with the engineers and simulation runs, the 33-year-old’s experience will be invaluable when working with Stroll and Sirotkin to improve their results.
Expect Poland, and Russia, to see what lies in store for their boys at Melbourne.