Italian media reported confidently last week that Valtteri Bottas has signed to race for Ferrari from 2016 onwards. With Kimi Raikkonen likely to retire attention turns to the short list for what has once again become a coveted seat with Williams.
One thing is certain: the shortlist of drivers Williams draw up to partner Felipe Massa will be exactly that, short. Williams are not close to a return to their 1990s domination but outside of a seat with Mercedes or Ferrari, Frank Williams’ eponymous team is the place to go so the team can afford, to an extent, to be selective.
Nico Hulkenberg – his form dipped in 2014 but a renewed Hulkenberg has put Sergio Perez in the shade this season. Victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours reminded teams of his potential as a fast, consistent race driver.
Undoubtedly Nico is ready for a move and is desperate to show his potential for what would be his final shot at winning races in F1. With a good car, a good team and the all-important Mercedes power unit behind him, Hulkenberg combines enough experience to help Williams continue to develop with the hunger for success of a younger driver.
Prediction: hot favourite
Romain Grosjean – the Frenchman is back looking frustrated at Lotus. The arrival of Mercedes power has not been the magic solution he and the Lotus team had hoped for. Combined with more rumblings about Lotus’ finances and the recent winding-up order leveled at the squad, the Frenchman is undoubtedly considering his options.
Much matured since his 2012 meltdown Grosjean has impressed with his rehabilitation in the sport. Further in his favour is the benchmark his team-mate Pastor Maldonado offers. A former winner with Williams, his performance is a known quantity for Williams and a driver Grosjean has had pretty much covered so far this season and in 2014.
Even though Williams are sponsored by Brazilian petrochemical firm Petrobas, the potential Total cash that might follow Grosjean will tick another box on the Frenchman’s application.
Prediction: making a late charge with sponsor backing helping his cause
Jenson Button – from recent comments by both Jenson and McLaren it is clear that his position with the team in 2016 is far from assured. McLaren have a serious backlog of talent and increasingly the Honda experiment looks like a very long term one. Consequently it is not hard to envisage Button being deemed surplus to requirements.
There is a growing clamour for Kevin Magnussen to get a seat for 2016 having not done particularly much wrong in the his rookie year. A similar, if less vocal, push for Stoffel Vandoorne adds more pressure to the system. Button leaving McLaren would unblock the system there and could be a great option for Williams.
Button has at least a couple more seasons in him. Combined with arguably the second best car/power combination, Button could offer Williams a mature but smooth and consistent driver partnership. Steady development of their chassi to fully exploit the Mercedes power unit will be critical to them not falling away further from Mercedes and perhaps more importantly, keeping pace with Ferrari.
Prediction: long shot
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