Williams have been through a difficult period in recent years financially, and have been backmarkers on the circuit, finishing last in the Constructors’ Championship in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
However, 2021 has seen an upward trajectory. The car is much improved and after Russell got close to bagging some points at the Red Bull Ring double-header, they took full advantage of the chaos in Hungary and Sebastian Vettel’s post-race disqualification to collect ten massive points to now sit 8th in the Constructors’ Championship.
The investment brought in by Dorilton Capital last year means the financial side of the team is secure, too.
On the presumption George Russell moves to Mercedes and Valtteri Bottas heads to Alfa Romeo if he exits Mercedes, MotorLat.com editors take a look at the potential contenders for the two seats at the Grove-based team next year.
Nicholas Latifi (Lucrezia Costa)
The Canadian driver is in his second full season with Williams, having joined the team in 2019 as third driver. After his debut year as runner up in the 2019 Formula 2 championship, in which he still managed to almost get into the top ten three times by finishing in P11, Latifi had a difficult start in 2021, suffering from technical issues and a contact with Nikita Mazepin at Imola that forced him to retire when he had obtained his best starting position ever.
However, he headed into the summer break positively scoring his first F1 points by ending in P7 at the Hungarian Grand Prix, ahead of his teammate George Russell. It was the first Williams double points finish since 2018.
Despite failing to outqualify Russell once since the beginning of last year, his races performances have been much more solid.
Williams’s CEO Jost Capito has publicly praised his positive attitude and the importance of his work within the team.
While not being the most famous, or experienced contender for the seat, Latifi brings in a deep knowledge of the team, and its most recent challenger. Another factor that might be taken into consideration is money: his father invested in the team last year, and one of his companies is among Williams’ main sponsors.
Jack Aikten (Ed Spencer)
Although he wouldn’t be most people’s first choice to drive at Williams, Jack Aitken could be the safe pair of hands that Williams needs when the new era of Formula 1 commences next year.
Williams has had Aitken in their ranks for just over a year and has used the Brit-Korean in the past to replace George Russell when he was called up to replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes at last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix.
Despite losing his front wing during the race, Aitken didn’t do a bad job on his Grand Prix debut, and with Williams’s record of promoting its third drivers into race seats, Aitken can’t be ruled out of a full-time seat.
In his time in Formula 2, the 25-year-old has secured four wins and has a best finish of 5th in the standings two years ago.
Daniil Kvyat (Mandy Curi)
Kvyat has been busy this season as the reserve driver for the Alpine Team and has been working hard to help the team develop their car for the 2022 season. However, the three-time podium finisher could also be a viable option for the Williams team if a seat becomes available.
Let’s look into why Daniil Kvyat could be a good fit at Williams. First off, he has worked with a number of F1 teams in the past such as Ferrari, Toro Rosso/Alpha Tauri, and Red Bull.
Having experience with such an impressive list of F1 teams is valuable in its own right and could be beneficial for a team like Williams that has had its fair share of struggles in the current F1 era.
Another reason to consider Kvyat for the Williams team is that he said he has learned a lot from his past in F1 and told formula1.com earlier this year that he has improved:
“I feel like I… improved as a driver [in 2020],” he said. “Sometimes circumstances fell not always in my favour this year… Some points that should have been scored weren’t scored due to different reasons, sometimes under my control, but most of the times out of my control.
''All in all, there were some really strong races which I’m really grateful for. It’s always good to have these [races] and I know that myself, I learned a lot.''
Stoffel Vandoorne (Silvia Giorgi)
The moment in which the drivers market steps in is here, and there is not only Mercedes to look at. If George Russell will finally head up to Brackley, a few names could come to Williams: that is when Stoffel Vandoorne enters the game. The Belgian could be a good choice for the British team.
Firstly, he is already experienced in the Circus, and with important people. Vandoorne raced in F1 for two seasons in McLaren and he managed to keep up – and eventually overcome on a few occasions in 2017 – with the toughest teammate, Fernando Alonso. He wasn’t helped by the fact his teammate would get upgrades first and the team's problems.
He has a shiny talent and a strong attitude that can fit Williams perfectly in its goal of reaching out to the middle grid.
Moreover, such a choice could be right from the political point of view as well. The Belgian is indeed part of the Mercedes driver program, as he currently races in Formula E with the official team, winning some races too. Bad luck cost him a proper shot at the title in season 2020/21 but helped Mercedes win the team’s championship with Nyck de Vries.
Vandoorne already proved his ability to drive fast; he has cold blood and a racing spirit, combined with his desire to win and a great team spirit. He got lost in his second year in F1, but McLaren ended up forcing Alonso into a sabbatical as well due to a lack of competitiveness, as it was a frustrating situation.
Now, with the different series’ experience on his back, Vandoorne will be more focused and even more determined to fight for Williams.
Will it be enough to grant him a sit?
Nico Hülkenberg (Ryan McGahey)
Nico Hülkenberg is a strong contender for a seat at Williams for next season. The 34-year-old German has a wealth of experience in Formula 1, with 179 race starts to his name. His skill was evident from early in his career, being one of only 5 drivers to win the GP2/F2 Championship as a rookie, and even taking a Pole Position in his first season in Formula 1 with an uncompetitive Williams at a rain-soaked Brazilian Grand Prix.
Hülkenberg has demonstrated his skill and consistency numerous times. For example, In 2019, his last full Formula 1 season, he finished just 17 points behind highly rated Renault teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
Most recently, Hülkenberg competed in 3 races for Racing Point in 2020. Filling in for Sergio Pérez in both the British Grand Prix and 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, as well as for Lance Stroll at the Eifel Grand Prix in the Nurburgring.
In just his second weekend in the car at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix in Silverstone, he managed to qualify a sensational P3, ahead of Stroll in P6. Couple this with his respectable performance to take P8 from last on the grid at the Nurburgring following a late call-up before qualifying on Saturday [replacing Stroll on this occasion] and his talent is evident.
Nico has proved that time away from the sport has not affected his skill behind the wheel and his experience could be a valuable asset to Williams as they head into a new era in Formula 1.
Nyck de Vries (Sara Habets)
Why would Williams want de Vries as their driver?
Well, there are a few layers to that. And no, I do not agree with the entire “he earned a right to drive in F1” debacle that has been discussed after de Vries has won the first-ever Formula E World Championship title…but having a driver that was crowned in two different series, F2 and Formula E would surely help, isn’t it?
de Vries is definitely known for his fighting spirit (he had many difficult starts this fE season due to being screwed by always having to qualify in group 1 and then starting from the back) and another very important thing about Nyck is being a Mercedes reserve driver. He has obviously driven for Mercedes EQ in Formula E, so having another driver with strong ties to the German manufacturer would surely be of benefit to Williams (who is using Mercedes engines) and their relationship with Mercedes.
Additionally, Nyck is not only limited to single-seater formula cars, but has also partaken in rounds of WEC and ELMS, and I personally believe a background in endurance will be 100% helpful for a team like Williams, that is still trying to take steps to stand back on its own legs, after the teams decline, buyout and managerial changes.