'Pay driver' statement is incredibly naive, says Williams


Claire Williams hit back at claims Williams had chosen its 2018 line-up according to the financial support enjoyed by its drivers.

Both Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin bring funding to the Grove-based outfit, but Williams insists 'drivers bringing money' was nothing new in Formula 1.

"This is a dangerous business and we’re not going to put someone in our car just because they come with money," Williams deputy team principal said at the launch of the team's 2018 car in London Thursday evening.

"Our decision-making process is much more complex than just deciding to put a driver into a racing car because they’ve got some cash.

"Yes, we’re an independent team, yes money is hard to come by these days – not just for our team but any team, I don’t think many teams have signed new sponsors over the last few seasons in Formula 1.

"If a driver has financial backing, that’s an added bonus but it’s not the foundation for a decision-making process at Williams, when we come to making our driver decisions it’s not a factor."

While Stroll's family support has been well chronicled, Sirotkin benefits from the backing of Russian bank SMP to the tune of a reputed $20 million.

"It’s nothing new in Formula 1 that drivers come with money," added Williams.

"Thank goodness, frankly that they do. I think it’s incredibly naive for anyone to make that statement to say ‘he’s just a pay driver’.

"It’s great if a driver has financial interest from partners. It’s great for a team, great for the driver.

"It’s an expensive sport, not just in Formula One. We’d miss out on so much talent coming into Formula One if drivers didn’t have financial backing supporting them through the junior formulae and bringing them into Formula One. Financial backing for racing drivers is not uncommon."

"Partners want to partner with drivers because of their nationality or because of their personality =, because of their characters or gravitas in a certain market."

Williams pointed to Spanish bank Santander's support of Fernando Alonso in the past, both at McLaren and Ferrari.

"Fernando Alonso, prime example: Santander followed him around every team that he’s been to. You could suggest he’s a pay driver – I wouldn’t do such a thing.

"I think the terminology is very confused around pay drivers. It’s wrong, it’s unnecessary, it puts negativity around a driver, we just shouldn’t be doing it in this sport anymore."

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