Why is Williams F1 most criticized for pay drivers?

The discussion over paying drivers is an interesting one in the press this week for a couple of reasons. It is mostly leveled and mentioned with regards to the Williams F1 car launch replete with their new driver lineup of Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll with Robert Kubica as the reserve driver. It’s not lost on me that many fans wanted Kubica’s return to F1 with a full race seat at Williams but was retained only as the reserve driver in favor of Sirotkin.

I’ve read a few reports suggesting that Sergey brings $15m per year to his driving program and the comments on social media haven’t been the most positive about his assignment as Stroll’s teammate. This left deputy team principal Claire Williams a bit cross:

“It’s nothing new in F1 that drivers come with money, and thank goodness that they do,” said Williams.

“It would be incredibly naive for anyone to make that statement, saying ‘He’s just a pay driver.’ It’s great if a driver has financial interests from partners – it’s great for the team, it’s great for the driver.

“This is an expensive sport, not just F1 but at grassroots level as well. We’d miss out on so much talent coming into F1 if drivers didn’t have financial backing supporting them through the junior formulae, and bringing them into F1.

“Partners want to partner drivers, because of their nationality or because of their character or gravitas in a certain market.

“It’s nothing unusual. Fernando Alonso, prime example. Santander followed him around every team that he’s been to. You could suggest that he’s a pay driver – I wouldn’t do such a thing.

“I think the terminology or the vocab used around pay drivers is wrong, it’s inappropriate and it’s unnecessary, and it puts negativity round a driver that we just should not be doing in this sport anymore.

“There are commercial issues of course, but we make our driver decisions based on talent, based on what Paddy [Lowe]’s engineering team needs in order to take this team forward, not about any potential financial backing that they have.”

We’ve discussed this before, pay drivers have been around a long time. Ayrton Senna was a pay driver. As Claire points out, at one time so was Alonso. There are also drivers who are supported by teams such as Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton. Without that support structure, they may never make it to F1.

It is also worth mentioning that F1 teams do not have the revenue streams from sponsors that they used to, and it does seem to come in the form of a driver backed by sponsorship these days as well as direct sponsorships.

I think Williams F1 is that one team that some believe should be there or thereabouts but the last several seasons they’ve chosen pay drivers and haven’t had the success that Williams fans would want. The notion of Kubica making an historic return to F1 also played a large roll but that didn’t materialize.

Stroll and Sirtokin may be young pay-drivers but in the case of Valtteri, it worked out well. I also think Sir Frank has always been less concerned by the driver than the team and car. Sure, having the best driver he can get is critical but not above having the team financially viable.

Last year they had the same issue with Stroll and the harsh words from F1 fans about his “rich” father and how he wasn’t good enough to warrant the ride. This year it is Sergey’s turn. Why this is a more negative reaction in regard to Williams F1 versus other team, I’m not quite sure other than to say that fans expect Williams to be in the same sandbox as McLaren and not trundling around at the back with pay drivers. The business viability is clashing with the desire and commitment to win and get the best driver as well as make a great car. At some level, I think fans can sense this and it manifests itself in criticism. Just my opinion, of course.

Hat Tip: Autosport

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To answer the article’s original question, it’s because many feel Williams is better than that; a team whose history and lineage should not stoop to bringing in pay drivers to its coffers. But reality tells a different story. Williams is no longer the top-tier team it once were decades ago. Didn’t Pastor Maldonaldo(a driver who brought PDVSA sponsorship) give the team their last victory?

Martin Hills

And his stellar performances thereafter and his ever upward career trajectory of further success proved without doubt that it wasn’t a fluke too….oh, no, wait a minute…I may have got that wrong.


I’ve been a long-time supporter of the Williams team (except few years after they, in my view, unjustifiably sacked Damon Hill). I must say I’m really really disapointed by the team choices. In theory Force India is a team with less money (and facilities) than Williams. Yet that team has outperformed Williams for 2 years in a row. The reason? Despite the boss financial difficulties, instead of selling drives to the best funded drivers, he chose a fine-balance between money and talent. Williams is disapointing because we still regard the team as a top team, so we expect the team… Read more »

sunny stivala

“Williams and Demon Hill”. By ninety five Williams who had by far the best car and engine was convinced that Schumacher made both Hill and the team look totally inapt, and had decided to replace Hill by Frentzen in ninety six who was back then regarded as faster then Schumacher.


I do agree that at the time many viewed Frentzen potentially as fast as Schumacher. It eventually was a failure, but from a sporting point of view that choice made sense

sunny stivala

When Renault ended their free supply of engines to Williams, (Williams/Winfield-Fretzen/Vileneuve), and Williams had to pay for Mecachrome engines, the FW20 ended-up the same car as the year before and Williams promptly dropped to the middle of the field.


According to Hill’s book, Williams and Head had decided to replace Hill in 96 by the end of 94. It seems they thought he was emotionally needy, and had cracked under pressure when he could have beaten Schumacher that season.
Seems a bit tough when he’d had to step up to team leader after Senna’s death, but Williams and Head aren’t renowned for their empathy with drivers.
I’m with Infox on this one, I lost a lot of respect for Williams over the way they treated Hill in 94 and 95.


I echo some of the thoughts already mentioned. If the pay drivers where, IMHO, better then this would not be a discussion. Its the pay drivers who are only in F1 because of they money the bring, and have no talent, that is upsetting. F1 should not be where drivers gain experience to be in F1. Alonso had talent, Aryton had talent. This was evident even before they were in F1.


That’s a good question NC. As previous posters have said, a lot of the critism is from fans and commentators who regard Williams as one of the teams who should still be winning races and championships, so should be choosing drivers solely on merit. It does seem that when they do choose to take a pay driver, they go ‘all in’ and take the biggest purse on offer, almost irrespective of the driver that comes with it, hence Maldonado in 2011-2013, Stroll in 2017, and now Stroll, Sirotkin, plus Kubica (SS&K) in 2018. In some ways their pragmatism should be… Read more »

Martin Hills

But how can they develop a car with 3 inexperienced and unproven drivers? It doesn’t matter how accurate their CFD and tunnel data is, they still need drivers who have a frame of reference to be able to make sure it works like the engineers expect…

The Captain

I’ve gave my thoughts before about how Lance Stroll will always represent something greater (in a bad way) to those of the lower classes, fair or not. But I’d like to draw one big distinction though between the ‘types’ of pay drivers. Not all pay drivers are equal, and you can’t remove the source of the money from that equation. I think sponsor money is understood to be one thing, and is much more accepted by fans. It’s the personal money that starts to become a real problem for fans. With sponsor money it’s assumed that the sponsor has done… Read more »

sunny stivala

‘Why is Williams F1 most criticized for pay-drivers?”. Prosit NC for asking that question, in my opinion Williams is the most criticized team for taking on pay derivers because those at Williams has always been the most hypocrite of them all on the grid about them taking on pay drivers. And when I say hypocrite I mean they come complete with a pedigree certificate as regards the subject. The facts are that if it wasn’t for sponsorship money (and I regard pay drivers money as sponsorship money) the likes of Williams, force India, Sauber to mention three that are still… Read more »