Williams deputy chief Claire Williams has launched a staunch defence of her team’s 2018 Formula 1 driver line-up, denying the notion its choice of Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin had been influenced by money.

19-year-old Stroll will lead Williams’ charge this season, with the Canadian joined by Sirotkin, 22, in what will be the multiple world champions’ youngest-ever line-up in F1. The decision to pick heavily-backed SMP driver Sirotkin over Robert Kubica for 2018 received a backlash from critics, who claimed the decision had been financially swayed.

Stroll, who became the youngest rookie ever to reach the F1 podium in Baku last season, has also faced criticism for the backing he has received throughout his career from billionaire father Lawrence Stroll. But Williams moved to play down any concerns over its driver line-up at the team’s pre-season launch in London. 

“We would only put talented drivers in our car,” Williams was quoted as saying by Reuters. “This is a dangerous business and we’re not going to put someone in a car just because they come with money.

“Our decision-making process is so much more complex than just deciding to put a driver into the race seat because they have some cash.

“Yes, we are an independent team and yes, sponsorship is really difficult to come by these days... so clearly if a driver has some financial backing then that is an added bonus, but it’s not the foundation for a decision-making process at Williams.”

The Grove-based outfit has finished fifth in the constructors’ standings for two successive seasons, and has to pay for its supply of Mercedes engines in order to compete against rival manufacturers with bigger budgets. 

Williams believes it is “incredibly naive” for anyone to simply refer to someone as “just a pay driver”, citing double world champion Fernando Alonso as an example of a successful and world-renowned driver that has received significant backing from sponsors. 

“It is nothing new in Formula 1 that drivers come with money, and thank goodness they do,” she said. “[Spanish bank] Santander has followed Fernando Alonso to every team he has been to. You could suggest he is a pay driver, I would not do such a thing.

“The vocabulary used around pay drivers is wrong, it’s inappropriate and it’s unnecessary. it puts a negativity around a driver that we just should not be doing in this sport anymore.”

 

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