They say context is everything. So, before analysing the performance of any driver, we have to look at the overall picture. And the overall picture at Williams is not good.
It cannot be denied that both drivers are still raw but the pair have been thrust into a car that is barely fit for purpose. Putting inexperienced pilots into a car that is so challenging to drive helps no one. It hinders the development of the drivers, shatters their confidence and puts the whole team in danger of being overwhelmed by negativity. And it drives the fans wild.
The team have been quick to deflect attention from Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin, with Paddy Lowe admitting last week that the root of their problems lies with the car. A major operation to solve these problems over the next couple of months has been started. At which point we might get a better idea of where the team is at.
Solving such a crisis can be much easier when you have experienced drivers in the car. Drivers who know how a properly set-up F1 machine feels and can help the team pinpoint the exact areas where the package is falling short. Such drivers can also adapt to a poor car and take it to a level that newcomers often cannot.
Therefore, it was no surprise to see Robert Kubica out-pacing the team’s principal drivers in practice. Again, the big picture should be looked at here, but even when tyre compounds and track conditions are considered, the experienced Pole had the edge.
This raises two scenarios. First, that Kubica uses his experience to help the team resolve their issues, resulting in a car which helps the young drivers to rebuild their pace and confidence. And second, the 33-year-old earns a race seat.
So, with all this taken into consideration how do we assess the individual performances of the drivers?
No longer a rookie but still green in F1 terms, Stroll is facing a double battle this season. Not only is his car not up to scratch but his right to a race seat is being questioned more than ever. And it will take some strong performances to move the conversation away from his off-track privilege and on to his on-track skill.
But despite all that, Stroll has finished every race this season and has yet to place lower than 14th, his best being a P8 in Azerbaijan. He has only out-qualified his teammate twice but he has out-performed him in every race. The Canadian’s qualifying to race conversion has seen him pick up 21 places compared to just eight for Sirotkin. Much of that has been thanks to his aggressive but measured overtaking manoeuvres early in races.
There are signs that given a car which is more predictable in its behaviour, the 19-year-old could rack up more points before November.
Sergey Sirotkin has out-qualified his teammate on three occasions but has yet to get the better of him in any of the five races in 2018. However, he has been praised by the team for his ability to provide accurate technical feedback despite his inexperience. This no doubt comes from his previous roles as an F1 test and reserve driver for Sauber and Renault, respectively.
However, Williams have an experienced reserve driver who can fulfil this role and is also quicker on the track. As a result, the Russian needs to show more, and soon, if he wants to avoid the indignation of being replaced halfway through the season. So far, Williams have resisted the calls to reinstate Kubica but as those voices grow louder, Sirotkin’s performances will be scrutinised even closer.
Barring any dramatic downturn in form, Williams will stick with Lance Stroll for the rest of the campaign. His ability to gain track position in the race while avoiding trouble is admirable, and he has squeezed some decent finishes out of a car that is not doing him any favours. Perhaps the question is: Will Stroll and his backers stick with Williams in 2019?
Sergey Sirotkin needs to improve and fast. His overall contribution to the team is already being called into question and there is a driver who has amassed 273 points in his career waiting in the wings.
But most of all, Williams need to address their own failings. Only then can they honestly assess those of their drivers.
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