With a Lawrence Stroll led consortium having taken control of Force India from Vijay Mallya, the obvious question for fans of its competition is ‘what are the consequences for us?’
This is particularly true of Williams, the two teams sharing not only an engine supplier, but much of the same tarmac in recent years.
Well, it’s difficult to see, given all the parental support current Williams driver Lance Stroll has benefitted from this far in his career, that Stroll senior is now choosing to fund a competitor.
So in the short term it means Lance Stroll is likely to join his father’s team, leaving Williams a driver short and with a sizeable hole in their funding.
Now, Williams being without Stroll and his wonga may not be entirely bad.
Williams’ current engine supplier Mercedes have two potential future world champions lined up to succeed Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in the medium-term in George Russell, current F2 front runner, and Force India driver Esteban Ocon, who could be ousted from Force India to make way for Stroll.
The problem for Mercedes is where to seat them in order to a. keep them happy and b. maintain the momentum each has built in their respective careers.
A move to Williams in their current predicament might be considered too damaging (or too big a risk of being damaging) for a driver fresh into Formula 1, and it would definitely be seen as a backward step for Ocon at a time in his career when he needs, and deserves to be moving forwards.
But where else might they go? Red Bull have a seat available. But that isn’t going to happen for Mercedes protege Russell, and unless Merc want to let Ocon go it’s unlikely RBR would accommodate him at the expense of Gasly or Sainz, both of whom are highly rated by Red Bull. The same applies to Toro Rosso, however they decide to fill the seat vacated by Ricciardo.
All three Ferrari teams are out of the equation, Renault look like they’ve completed their line-up with Ricciardo joining Hulk and McLaren have three drivers (including Norris) and two drives, with Sainz on the fringes should there happen to be a vacancy.
Force India COULD decide to jettison Perez in favour of Ocon, but given his role in the behind-the-scenes machinations that led to the buyout, the team might feel they owe him a debt of gratitude. And given a single point separates the two in the 2018 WDC, there’s little to separate them in terms of performance.
So, back to Williams. We know talks have taken place for Mercedes to supply them with gearboxes. We also know that a Mercedes representation were interested in buying Force India in an attempt to replicate the setup Ferrari have at Haas, which is an unmitigated success whichever way you look at it.
So why wouldn’t Mercedes park one or both of their drivers at Williams, and by way of compensation for any lost income they might have received from a pay-driver or pay-drivers, supply them with all the trick bits the regulations allow? This would give Ocon the step forward he seeks, and it gives Russell a decent midfield ride for his debut season in F1, and better still, it’d be half a Mercedes he’d be driving which he’s both used to and is likely to be driving in the future.
And voila – Mercedes have the B team they’re looking for to match Ferrari and Red Bull.
All speculation of course, but Force India’s new owners might just have inadvertently solved all Williams’ and Mercedes’ problems!
OPTIMISM RATING: 10/10