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Williams to wait until new year before making 2018 F1 driver decision

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Williams will wait until the new year before making an announcement regarding its Formula 1 driver line-up for the 2018 season.

Williams holds the final vacant seat in F1 for next year, with Felipe Massa retiring at the last race of the 2017 season in Abu Dhabi at the end of November.

The Brazilian’s departure has opened up a seat alongside Lance Stroll for 2018, which looked poised to be taken by Robert Kubica, over seven years after he last raced in F1 before injuries sustained in a rally accident appeared to cut his career short.

Doubts emerged about Kubica’s comeback following a test with Williams in its 2017-spec car in Abu Dhabi after the final race of the season, leading to Russian youngster Sergey Sirotkin becoming the favorite.

Besides Kubica and Sirotkin, ditched Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat is also an option, but Williams has now confirmed it will make no decision on its line-up until the new year.

Sirotkin first entered the frame in F1 in 2013 when he became a development driver at Sauber, with Russian backers SMP Racing pushing to get him a race seat for the following year.

Sirotkin missed out on a full-time role at the team, leading him to focus on racing in Formula Renault 3.5 for 2014 before spending two years in GP2, where he finished third in the standings in both seasons.

Renault struck an agreement to sign Sirotkin in a junior role in 2016, leading to a number of practice run-outs over the last two seasons, but he was passed over for a 2018 race seat when it signed Carlos Sainz Jr.

Williams emerged as an option for Sirotkin following a successful maiden test with the team in Abu Dhabi alongside Kubica, with talks now set to continue over the holiday period.

Sirotkin has not taken on a full-time race program this year, making just a single competitive appearance in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with SMP Racing in the LMP2 class.

Sirotkin has also been involved in the development of the team’s BR Engineering-designed LMP1 car for the 2018 FIA World Endurance Championship season, and is likely to secure a seat should he miss out on the role at Williams.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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