18 Aug 2021
Williams appears to have no shortage of options as it looks to form its driver line-up for the 2022 Formula 1 season, but who will it end up signing? Crash.net'sF1 Digital Editor Lewis Larkam considers some potential options...
The Grove-based outfit still has two ‘TBC’ spots to fill on its line-up for next season but is one of the most attractive options for drivers looking to secure themselves a spot on the F1 grid heading into the sport’s new era.
Fresh investment from new owners Dorilton and a positive upward trajectory in performances this season has left Williams confident that it is on track in its quest to re-establish itself as a front-running team in the coming years.
Williams is in no rush to finalise its line-up and is ready to take advantage of any sudden movements in the driver market, with CEO Jost Capito revealing the team has “quite a long list” of potential candidates.
“I think every driver who hasn’t got a fixed seat for next year, or has an option for next year, is talking to us at the moment,” Capito said at the Hungarian GP.
“It is the most aspired seat in Formula 1 right now for a team that has to fill a seat.”
With that in mind, we have taken a look at which drivers could find themselves on Williams' radar…
The key to Williams’ 2022 driver line-up puzzle is George Russell.
A number of starring displays from Russell has seen the 23-year-old increasingly linked with a move to Mercedes to become Lewis Hamilton’s next F1 teammate.
Russell remains Williams’ number one choice for 2022 but with the Mercedes protege out of contract at the end of the year, the British squad will not stand in his way if the call comes from Toto Wolff.
Should Russell leave, Williams will find itself needing to make at least one change to its line-up.
Any decision surrounding Russell’s future is likely to have a knock-on effect for Nicholas Latifi, who is also out of contract and yet to be confirmed for next year.
The Canadian has scored mixed results for Williams since making his F1 debut in 2020 and has been comprehensively out-performed by Russell, particularly in qualifying.
While his own progression has been slower and less noticeable than Russell’s headline-grabbing showings, Latifi has still impressed Williams this season.
A brilliant drive to seventh in Hungary came at the perfect time for Latifi as he looks to show the team what he can bring to the table, in addition to his strong financial backing.
Should Russell earn promotion to Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas would find himself on the hunt for a new seat to remain in F1 next season.
Re-signing the Finn, who entered F1 with Williams, would be a massive coup for the team and underline its intentions to return to winning ways.
A move for the nine-time grand prix winner to replace Russell as its lead driver next year would be a no-brainer for Williams.
Although it would represent a step back for Bottas after five seasons fighting it out for race victories, Williams or Alfa Romeo look to be Bottas’ best options to stay on the F1 grid should he lose his Mercedes drive.
The challenge of helping re-establish Williams as a force to be reckoned with could be a tempting one for the 31-year-old, who still has plenty to give in F1.
At the British GP, Capito indicated that Nico Hulkenberg is among the drivers on Williams’ list of potential candidates for 2022.
Current Aston Martin reserve Hulkenberg remains on the lookout for a full-time return to the F1 grid having been limited to a number of impressive cameo appearances for Racing Point in 2020 since losing his Renault seat at the end of 2019.
Nearing 34 and with 179 grand prix starts to his name, Hulkenberg is a proven and experienced driver who would have a lot to offer the Williams team with whom he scored his stunning sole F1 pole position back in 2010.
Hulkenberg reportedly turned down a return to Williams prior to Dorilton’s takeover but its exciting recovery project could be one that proves too tempting for the German to reject this time around.
Another driver who boasts plenty of F1 experience is ex-Red Bull racer Daniil Kvyat.
The 27-year-old Russian is currently carrying out a test driver role at Alpine and feels he has unfinished business in F1 after losing his AlphaTauri seat to Yuki Tsunoda at the end of 2020.
Kvyat is a veteran of over 100 grands prix, has three podiums on his CV and holds a hunger and determination to prove his doubters wrong. He would be a good option for Williams if Bottas was unattainable.
Nyck de Vries
Another driver to have found himself linked to a possible Williams F1 drive is Nyck de Vries, who was crowned Formula E world champion in Berlin last weekend.
The Mercedes Formula E works driver is already a reserve for Mercedes in F1 and there has been growing talk that the German marquee is interested in replacing Russell with another one at its juniors at its customer team Williams.
Speculation linking de Vries to F1 has only continued to mount amid reports that Mercedes is poised to quit Formula E.
Signing a world champion driver would have obvious appeal for Williams, while de Vries would also provide a long-term option with the Dutchman only 26.
If Guanyu Zhou is to realise his dream of becoming China’s first-ever F1 driver next year, he will have to look outside of the Alpine team he is an academy member of.
With Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso continuing for 2022, Alpine has already admitted that it could place Zhou at another F1 team next season.
The 22-year-old, who currently sits second in the Formula 2 championship, has been linked with both Williams and Alfa Romeo but is considered to be an outside bet. Winning the F2 title in his third season would provide a major boost to his hopes of graduating to F1.
Although Zhou is the least experienced candidate on this list, he brings backing and is highly marketable, while he has proven his speed in the junior series.
Fellow Alpine junior Oscar Piastri would also be worth considering should he go on to convert his F2 points lead into the title at the first attempt.
Red Bull reserve Alex Albon would be another outside bet for Williams.
The Anglo-Thai, who scored two F1 podium finishes for Red Bull last year before he was replaced by Sergio Perez, is currently racing in DTM while carrying out reserve driver duties for Red Bull. Albon is eyeing a return to F1 but has also stated his interest in a possible switch to IndyCar as an alternative.
Albon struggled to meet Red Bull’s high expectations but could flourish and realise his potential within a more relaxed environment at Williams. He would certainly be deserving of another chance in F1.
If it comes down to selecting the best two drivers on the market then a combination of Bottas and Hulkenberg would signal a real statement of intent from Williams to form a line-up that would strengthen the team heading into F1’s new era.
Alternatively, combining experience and youth with a pairing like Bottas/Hulkenberg and one of de Vries, Zhou, or Piastri would be exciting.
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