When former Williams driver Felipe Massa went to check in on his old team at the Spanish Grand Prix last week, he must have been overcome with relief at his decision to retire from F1 at the end of last season.
The Brazilian had enjoyed five seasons with Williams and was a fan favourite throughout his time at the Wantage outfit, but since his retirement the team have struggled for form, results and genuine class behind the wheel.
Williams are stuck at the bottom of the constructors championship after five races on just four points, seven behind Sauber and 149 points off pace setters Mercedes.
Already, their disastrous start to the season has led to repeated calls for reserve driver Robert Kubica to be promoted to a race seat with the team.
But for all the criticism about their form over the first five races, Paddy Lowe’s ambitious plan will take time to see results, given the inexperienced driver line-up of Lance Stroll (19) and Sergey Sirotkin (22).
Lowe, a former Executive Director at Mercedes, adopted one of the most revolutionary approaches on grid and has gone for a more aggressive aeroconcept change after Williams were so conservative in previous seasons.
However, for all the positivity of changes with the FW41, problems remain with the car and there is no solution how to fix it, especially with no experience behind the wheel.
Stroll is in his second season at Williams and clinched their only podium of 2017 at Baku. After skipping GP3 to go straight into F1, he was criticised for earning his place in the sport with his father’s billion dollar fortune.
But in a fast and competitive environment, the Canadian has nowhere to hide.
One of the criticisms was his instant promotion to Williams after little testing in the car. Fair enough Max Verstappen skipped F2 in 2014, but the amount of hours Red Bull spent to prepare him was phenomenal – and he has since proved his worth on the grand stage.
His team-mate Sirotkin also comes from money and has enjoyed a tough season to date with two retirements and three top-14 finishes. Poor as it looks, the Russian is still a rookie so needs time to learn.
For all the drivers’ inexperience it is difficult to criticise them for their lack of knowledge on how the car feels and pointing out problems that may help the engineers to fix the issues.
Stroll and Sirotkin may not be budding Sebastian Vettel’s behind the wheel, but calling upon Kubica does disservice to them.
The automatic assumption is the Pole can step in and bring the glory days back to Wantage – or at least improve them from their position at the basement of the constructors championship.
The 33-year-old nearly severed his arm in a rally accident seven years ago and only started a remarkable comeback to F1 in November when he completed 100 laps in the first test with the team’s 2017 FW40.
But for all his knowledge and experience, Kubica has been out of F1 since 2010 and the sport has changed so much in those years since. He is clearly a talented driver but needs to get his head around the car and how it works, but doesn’t have the necessarily seat time to do this.
In Spain two weeks ago, he posted the eighth fastest time overall and completed a total of 123 laps – quicker than Stroll – as Williams try to gather data to solver their ongoing issues.
With Williams sitting at the basement of the championship, now is the right time for Lowe to give Kubica a chance to see if he can help revive fortunes at the garage.
Even if his testing speed is superior to Stroll and Sirotkin, he needs to be given a chance on a full race weekend to help rediscover his form and have his abilities tested in a more pressuring environment.
This is the only way for Lowe and Co to fully assess where their drivers are at and whether they need to change or keep their original line-up named at the start of the season.
If he fails to prove himself, then Williams can stick to their original plan of pushing the two youngsters until the end of the season before drafting in a more experienced name.
The Formula One circus this week heads to the south of France for the blue-riband Monaco Grand Prix.
Defending champion Lewis Hamilton will be bidding to consolidate his 17-point lead over rival Sebastian Vettel.
Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at the key talking points ahead of the sixth round of this season’s championship.
Mercedes fear rivals will be streets ahead
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes returned to their dominant best at the last round in Barcelona, but the world champions fear this week’s grand prix in Monaco could be a case of damage limitation. The slow-speed nature of the Monte Carlo street track is one, alongside the Hungaroring and Singapore’s Marina Bay circuit, which does not suit their car, and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff reckons his team will be playing catch-up to both Ferrari and Red Bull.
Wolff’s gloomy prediction, which he revealed in Mercedes’ pre-race press release, is deliberate in the sense that it lowers expectations and makes any result higher than fifth appear a reasonable weekend.
But after two wins on the bounce, both Hamilton and Mercedes will not want to give up the momentum which could prove pivotal in this year’s championship race.
Could Red Bull be the dark horse?
Sebastian Vettel has been installed as favourite to end his three-race winning drought (the German has not featured on the podium since he won in Bahrain at the start of April), but the smart money could be on Red Bull. Both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo (4/1 to win) are certainly worth a punt given that the Monte Carlo layout is one not reliant on engine power.
The Red Bulls also looked superior in the slow-speed final section of Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya, while their only pole position of the post-2013 hybrid era was secured by Ricciardo at Monaco back two years ago. The Australian should have gone on to win before Red Bull messed up his pit stop.
Vettel may have led Kimi Raikkonen home in a Ferrari one-two last year, but do not be surprised if the Red Bulls are the team to beat at the principality this weekend.
A fresh face at McLaren
Following a series of recent changes to the management structure at McLaren, it was revealed on Monday that Canadian businessman Michael Latifi has parted with an estimated £203.8million to become a 10 per cent shareholder in the under-performing British group. Latifi is the first new shareholder at McLaren since long-standing Ron Dennis parted company at the end of 2016.
Latifi’s son Nicholas races in F1’s feeder series Formula Two, and is also a reserve driver at Force India, but it is understood the deal will not pave the way for him to race for the Woking constructor.
Hamilton continues to play waiting game
Hamilton’s future beyond this season continues to simmer away in the background with the 33-year-old British driver yet to commit to a new contract. Both parties had suggested the deal would be concluded before the season opener in Australia, but two months later, and we still await news.
Publicly, Hamilton and Mercedes insist there are no problems, while it seems improbable that the Brit will be racing anywhere else in 2019, so why the delay?
Image rights, money and length of the contract are all potential sticking points, but the longer the wait goes on, the bigger a distraction it will become for both Hamilton and his team.
Felipe Massa has announced he will join the Formula E championship next season.
Massa, the Brazilian who competed in 269 grands prix and was pipped to the 2008 Formula One world title by Lewis Hamilton, is to race for the Venturi team.
The 37-year-old retired from F1 at the end of last year and is the most established name to make the move to the all-electric series.
Massa, who was in Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya paddock last week during the Spanish Grand Prix, will begin testing later this month.
The new Formula E season gets under way later this year.
“For some years now, I’ve been clear about my interest in this innovative, forward-looking discipline that’s developing exponentially,” said Massa, who has signed a three-year deal.
“I especially like the format of race meetings, the city-centre circuits and the contact with the fans.
“I’m very happy to be joining the Venturi Formula E Team and the Formula E championship, which has become a magnificent competition in such a short space of time. I can’t wait to take part in testing at the end of the month.
“The team is in a phase of growth and development. I’ll do everything I can to contribute to the project and hopefully I’ll be among the front-runners.”
Hamilton’s former rival Nico Rosberg will showcase the next generation of Formula E car ahead of this week’s race in Berlin.
Rosberg, who retired five days after beating Hamilton to the 2016 championship, is a shareholder in the FIA-accredited series but has no plans to compete.