Williams – Esteban Ocon is still on 2019 shortlist

Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams has revealed Esteban Ocon is on the team’s shortlist to partner George Russell next year.

Russell, who is part of the Mercedes junior programme, was confirmed as a Williams race driver for 2019 on Friday and will make his F1 debut with the team next year. Ocon is also a Mercedes junior driver but looks set to lose his seat at Force India next year when Lance Stroll, who is currently racing for Williams, switches teams over the winter to drive for the outfit recently purchased by his father.

Current Williams driver Sergey Sirotkin is in the running to be retained by the British team next year and was thought to be in a straight fight with reserve driver Robert Kubica, but Williams has revealed Ocon is also on the shortlist.

“We are still doing a lot of evaluation work,” Williams told Sky Sports. “It’s a short short-list. We’re very happy with the drivers we are evaluating and it will not take us a long time to make that final decision. Of course Esteban is in the mix. We would be crazy not to be looking at him.”

Russell’s links to Williams’ engine supplier Mercedes has led to speculation that his deal is based on a cut price powertrain deal for next year. But Williams insists that is not the case and says Russell’s multi-year contract is in place so that the team can rebuild itself around him.

“This doesn’t enhance our racing budget, this was a decision purely based on the talent we know George has,” Williams said. “This is what this team needs — and this is a message of our intent.

“We need someone who we can build this team around. We need a galvanising force and George is going to be that for us. We wanted someone who would be with us for a number of years and who the team could get behind. That was a big factor in our decision-making.

“It’s really exciting for us to bring in another new talent into Williams. We’re a team renowned for that and this is our first British driver since Jenson [Button]. His racing pedigree speaks for itself. It’s exciting for F1 to have another young talent on board and George is tipped to be a superstar of our sport in years to come.”