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Alonso to Williams rumor offers fresh twist to F1 silly season

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Just as Formula 1’s driver market ‘silly season’ appeared to be running out of steam, a fresh twist has emerged ahead of this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix following a report that a move to Williams has emerged as a possible option for two-time world champion Fernando Alonso next season.

Alonso is out of contract at the end of 2018, and has long made his desire to be in a winning car next season clear after three difficult years with McLaren, hamstrung by Honda’s underperforming power unit.

Alonso entered this season appearing to hold the keys to the driver market for next year, but his options have narrowed dramatically in the months that have followed.

Valtteri Bottas’ impressive start to life with Mercedes looks set to result in him sticking around for 2018, while Ferrari confirmed earlier this week that Kimi Raikkonen would be part of its line-up once again next year. A similar announcement concerning Sebastian Vettel does not appear to be far off.

With Renault still running in F1’s midfield and rebuilding after returning to the sport with a works team in 2016, a third stint with the French marque does not yet appear attractive enough to Alonso.

This appeared to leave the Spaniard two options for 2018: stick with McLaren, regardless of whether or not it continues with Honda; or take time out of F1, something he does not want to do given his affinity for the new-spec cars.

Auto Motor und Sport‘s Michael Schmidt reported on Friday that Williams has now emerged as a possible alternative for Alonso, as the British team bids to return to its past glories and boost its global profile with a blue-riband signing.

The idea of Alonso joining Williams for 2018 was put to deputy team boss Claire Williams by NBCSN’s Will Buxton over the British Grand Prix weekend in July.

“I would be very flattered if Fernando Alonso came and knocked on our door, of course,” Williams said.

“He’s one of the best drivers in Formula 1 history, that the sport has ever seen. He’s a phenomenal talent.

“What a great coup for any team to get Fernando. But as I said, we’ve got to focus on this year and maybe worry about drivers later in the year.”

Williams did however add: “He would be a proper Williams driver. He’d probably look good in Williams Martini overalls as well, right? We’ll see…”

Williams currently fields Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll in its race seats, the latter arriving in F1 this year off the back of a convincing Formula 3 title win and with significant financial backing from his father, Lawrence.

Massa had initially planned to retire from F1 at the end of last year, only for Nico Rosberg’s shock decision to quit the sport after his world championship win to free up a seat at Williams again when Valtteri Bottas moved up to Mercedes.

Were Alonso to join Williams, he would find himself racing with the strongest power unit on the grid courtesy of Mercedes, resolving his chief complaint from his time with McLaren.

Alonso has long said he would wait until September before making a decision about his F1 future, even joking at Spa earlier this week that he has “one more week of freedom” before he would start thinking about it.

Schmidt notes in his report that Alonso would only be looking for a one-year deal, regardless of where he moves to, with the driver market for 2019 set to be particularly fluid as more seats at the front of the field become available.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.