Williams acting team principal Simon Roberts refused to extinguish speculation that it could sign Sergio Perez next season to replace one of its drivers, further fuelling the rumours that George Russell’s place at the team in 2021 is under threat.
The Race understands that Sergio Perez’s management has approached Williams and that a discussion took place with the team which is now under the ownership of Dorilton Capital, although it is not clear whether this led to a serious possibility of a change.
Roberts appeared in the Friday press conference between FP1 and FP2 at the Portuguese Grand Prix and was inevitably questioned about the possibility of a change of driver, but was unable to put speculation to bed.
Williams confirmed in July that Russell and Nicholas Latifi would continue in the car next season and Roberts was initially asked by press conference host Tom Clarkson if the picture has changed in recent weeks.
“No, nothing’s changed,” said Roberts.
“There’s lots of speculation, there’s lots of good drivers around that are looking for seats. Dorilton bought the team and nothing changed, so I can’t say more than that.”
Roberts was then asked if he could confirm Russell and Latifi will be with Williams in 2021.
“I’m not going to say anything about either of our drivers,” said Roberts.
“They’ve both done a great job. But you know, there’s so much speculation around, I don’t want to inadvertently fuel it, someone will take some nuance of whatever we say so we’re happy. Let’s watch the rest of the market.”
Roberts was then asked the same question by Dieter Rencken of Racefans, eliciting a similar answer.
“I’m just not going to talk about it,” said Roberts. “Dorilton bought the team, nothing changed with regards the drivers and there’s just so much speculation and rumour, it’s crazy.
“We just don’t want to say anything one way or the other” :: Simon Roberts, Williams
“It’s silly season after all, so we’re not saying any more than that.”
He was then given an explicit chance to shoot down the rumour by The Race’s Scott Mitchell, who asked if it would be possible to extinguish the speculation by ruling out the chance of signing Sergio Perez to replace either driver.
“Yeah, possibly, but we just don’t want to say anything one way or the other,” said Roberts.
“We’re here focusing on a race weekend and we haven’t got any news. Guenther [Steiner, Haas team principal, who was also in the press conference] is here, he’s got some news.
“We’ve got plenty on this morning, we’re running lots of parts in FP1 and we’re going to get through all that and get both our drivers in the best possible place for Saturday and Sunday.”
At the end of the press conference, he was also asked by ESPN’s Laurence Edmondson who would make a final decision on drivers and what criteria would be used.
“The decision will be made by the management committee and the board of Williams Formula 1,” said Roberts.
“So it’s a pretty normal situation. But you know, we’ve nothing to say on that matter right now. So that’s all I can say.”
Roberts was put in a difficult position by this line of questioning and his unwillingness to eliminate the possibility of Perez was very clear.
While Russell is highly-rated and a potential star of the future, who has performed strongly for Williams over the past two seasons despite a maiden points finish eluding him, Williams could be tempted by Perez’s combination of financial backing and the fact he could be signed for the long-term.
Russell is tied to Mercedes with his Williams deal in its final year in 2021, so in the long term there is an argument that Perez is the better choice provided the contract would allow for a change.
Team-mate Latifi’s position appears stronger as he also brings significant cash and is under contract, but a change cannot be ruled out there – the Perez/Racing Point split, which was facilitated by exercising a contractual break cause, is a reminder of that.
With Williams known at least to have been willing to talk to Perez, and the decision to keep both drivers made under the previous ownership, there does appear to be some potential for change here.
Roberts will have had no choice but to attempt to evade the question in the press conference given he could not rule Perez out emphatically, with his equivocal answer confirming that there is at least some possibility of a move for the Mexican.