Williams eye new driver line-up for next year
Felipe Massa is in danger of losing his Formula 1 race seat at the end of the season as Williams contemplate a change of driver line-up for the 2017 season.
At this stage, the most likely scenario is that Williams will drop Massa at the end of this campaign, leaving him the choice of trying to find another drive – with no top team likely to have such a vacancy – or retiring. Valtteri Bottas is under option for next season and is likely to stay.
Massa’s fate could hang on the options Williams have available. Both Jenson Button and Mclaren reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne are of interest to the team.
Mclaren will choose between Button and Vandoorne as a partner for Fernando Alonso for 2017, which is the last year of Alonso’s current contract. However, rumours that the team have already decided to promote Vandoorne following his impressive debut in Bahrain are wide of the mark, according to sources at Mclaren.
Vandoorne is the logical choice in many ways – he is more than ten years younger than Button
Mclaren must choose between the experienced and popular Jenson Button (left) and highly rated reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne (right) and is regarded as the most promising driver outside F1. And his performance in Bahrain, where he outqualified Button on his debut, suggests he is more than ready.
Equally, if Mclaren retain Button, they risk losing Vandoorne for good – which would mean they have lost two rising stars in the space of two seasons following their decision to let Kevin Magnussen go. But against that is Button’s experience, his continued good form, and the fact that he is very popular with sponsors.
Mclaren have an option on Vandoorne which runs out in the autumn, meaning he is not free to sign for another team until that lapses. If the team do not promote him, he has a strong chance of a seat at Renault next season. Renault racing director Frederic Vasseur is a big fan of Vandoorne, whom he ran in GP2, and believes is the best driver who has ever raced for him. Vasseur is said to be keen to partner Vandoorne with current Renault race driver Kevin Magnussen for 2017.
Unusually, Vandoorne has no management representation, so has no one pushing his case at other top teams. This could be a weakness in the context of the number of major vacancies this year, including at Ferrari, where Kimi Räikkönen’s contract is up for renewal.
Felipe Massa may be on his way out as Williams consider alternative drivers – including Mclaren’s Jenson Button