"The problem with leaving your Christmas food shopping too late," mused a Formula 1 bigwig in Mexico last weekend, "is that you can end up with the last turkey on the shelf..."
This metaphor elegantly summarises the Williams team's quandary as it contemplates the scarcity of candidates to fill the second seat alongside Lance Stroll for 2018 - a season that could be make-or-break for the legendary British outfit, since its high-profile sponsorship deal with Martini is up for renewal at the end of it.
That commercial imperative is riding in tandem with another pressing matter that's freighted with major financial implications: the urgent need to do better in the constructors' championship. Having finished third in 2014 and '15, Williams slumped to fifth in '16 and can now finish no higher than that this season. Each dropped place brings a further squeeze on earnings.
Trouble is, all the surefire aces have been taken, leaving only the scraps that others have passed on: the incumbent Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica, Paul di Resta, Pascal Wehrlein and Daniil Kvyat. The team wrote off development of its current car and switched focus to its 2018 offering in September, which was prudent, but by leaving the vital business of signing a star to drive it until far too late, Williams has throttled its own options.
Rarely since the famous Cambridge horse rental magnate Thomas Hobson pointed at the nag nearest to the stable door and remarked, "Take it or leave it", thereby embroidering the term 'Hobson's choice' into the tapestry of English idiom, has a customer been presented with such a scrawny bill of fare.
Massa 'retired' from F1 last year when Williams chose Valtteri Bottas ahead of him to partner Stroll for the 2017 season, and duly bade his home fans an emotional farewell at Interlagos, but had barely warmed the cushions of his rocking chair when he was called back after Mercedes plucked Bottas away following Nico Rosberg's shock retirement as world champion.
Now, just as Barry Manilow tearfully embarked upon a farewell tour only to announce a fresh set of gigs months later - and he's hitting the road again in 2018, crooner fans - Massa believes he is both rejuvenated and the man for the job next season.
So far as the team is concerned, though, he is just one of admittedly few candidates. Chief technical officer Paddy Lowe, signed from Mercedes last winter, has said the team is "not in a hurry" to reach a decision, and that "Felipe is very much in the frame".
But that didn't stop rumours circulating during the Mexican Grand Prix weekend that Massa might not see out the season, and that Williams might evaluate one of its other driver options in his place for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and subsequent Pirelli tyre test.
"Where are you coming from?" was Massa's response when this was put to him during a team press conference. "I'm doing all the races under my contract, and with pleasure. About the future I cannot say anything at the moment, but this is completely..."
Sometimes a human sacrifice is required whenever a project is deemed to be failing. Someone has to carry the can
He signed off his response by doing a fine impression of an 'expletive deleted' beep. Emotions notwithstanding, it seemed fair to follow up on my colleague's question, so I did, asking, "If you had the opportunity to carry on, would you?"
"Man, I did a perfect lap today [in qualifying]," was his unequivocal response. "I did a perfect lap last race. I'm doing a great job.
"Sometimes you guys just look at the numbers [Massa is currently on 36 points, Stroll on 40]. Are you saying Alonso isn't up to Formula 1 because he's behind his team-mate in the championship? Does that mean he isn't doing a good job?
"To be honest, in my point of view, I'm doing a great championship. Unfortunately I don't have the points I'm supposed to have, but not because of my fault - that's clear.
"Russia, I had a puncture at the end of the race while I was running in sixth, 15 seconds ahead of the guy in seventh. Barcelona [pictured], I had an amazing start, passed Fernando, then he touched my tyre. Baku, but for a mechanical issue in the car I could even have won the race.
"But people forget that very quickly. I'm a professional and I'd be the first person to say if I wasn't having a good season, but I've been happy with my pace."
This is a compelling enough argument from a driver who has proved himself, over the years, to be an extraordinary sportsman. But it neglects to factor in an unfortunate but inevitable truism about life in a sport that's also a big business: a human sacrifice is often required whenever a project is deemed to be failing. Someone has to carry the can.
Massa believes he could have doubled his present haul of 36 points had those sundry misfortunes not struck, but even that would have left Williams well short of fourth-placed Force India's present tally.
It's for that reason Williams is shopping around, even though Massa has outqualified Stroll 15-2 and is on average three-to-four tenths faster on Saturday afternoons. Stroll has a three-year contract and brings a budget, and although he struggles for confidence when the back of the car is unstable, and he is yet to deliver consistently in qualifying, when he has track position and a decent strategy he executes races very well.
Stroll is therefore a fixed asset, and one from which the team must extract maximum value; it follows, then, that it must create an environment that enables it to extract his full potential for at least the remaining two years of his contract. That means not pairing him with a potentially destabilising influence in the garage next door.
Let's consider the remaining choices, then. Both Kvyat and Wehrlein bring their own baggage and would require the kid-glove treatment. As Autosport revealed last week, Kvyat's departure from the Red Bull young driver programme came about through mutual frustration, his generated by his car's unreliability and fluctuating performance, Toro Rosso's by his apparent inability to race for more than a handful of laps without hitting something.
Wehrlein is part of the Mercedes family, but has yet to deliver on his promise. It will not have gone unnoticed at Grove that both Mercedes and Force India passed on Wehrlein when seats came up, preferring Bottas and Esteban Ocon respectively. Force India evaluated both Wehrlein and Ocon, and insiders say that while it was a close contest, the team's eminences grise concluded that Ocon had more personal development potential and was the hungrier of the two. It may be a question of perception, but indubitably perception is all in Formula 1.
Beyond that, for Wehrlein there's also the question of Marcus Ericsson, about whom you could charitably say that he occasionally has a strong race. On several recent occasions Wehrlein has been outqualified by his team-mate, which - given the team's position at the back of the grid, with the least competitive car - usually entails Wehrlein being put on outre strategies involving long stints on the harder compounds in a bid to regain track position lost on Saturday afternoon. For the sake of maintaining sanity we'll discount the conspiracy theorists' view that Ericsson is getting better equipment because his personal sponsors also own the team.
So while Williams is keeping Wehrlein and Kvyat in the frame, they remain outside candidates, especially since they are both under 25. Martini would prefer at least one of the drivers to be older, for legal compliance reasons when using their image for marketing in certain regions. It's not an unbreakable rule, Autosport understands, but - if you'll pardon the pun - it sets a high bar for Wehrlein and Kvyat.
Di Resta is old enough not to bruise the gin, as it were, but according to team insiders he is preferred in his present role as a reserve driver, a job he discharged perfectly in Hungary this season. He will, though, act as a benchmark for the most likely challenger for Massa's seat: Kubica.
Williams made a play for Kubica in 2010, only for him to choose Renault, largely through loyalty (he had been part of Renault's driver development programme in the early 2000s). He's made a cautious return to the F1 cockpit this year, also supported by Renault, as part of his rehabilitation from the serious injury he sustained in a rally car in 2011.
But while he's shown an impressive turn of speed in a variety of machinery - including a current F1 chassis - enough questions remained for Renault to pass on him in favour of securing Carlos Sainz Jr on a medium-term loan from Red Bull when the opportunity arose.
Why not give Kubica a shot in Abu Dhabi? If he isn't fast enough, he eliminates himself from the running, but if he is he could easily lead the charge in the constructors' championship
Given how hard a number of senior Renault personnel worked to make Kubica's tests happen, this must at least warrant a yellow flag. It's believed that while the strength in Kubica's injured arm is still in question over a race distance, a bigger stumbling block exists in the form of the insurance payout he received after his accident, which assumed he would have no future earnings as an F1 driver. If Kubica does race an F1 car again, therefore, he may have to reach a settlement with his insurers.
Kubica has now tested a 2014 Williams car twice, at Silverstone and the Hungaroring, which the team described as "successful" and "productive", though it didn't release lap times. But we know from previous outings that pace isn't a problem.
With that in mind, why not give Kubica a shot in Abu Dhabi? As a classic no-bullshit racer, he fits perfectly with the team's historic values and wouldn't play politics with the kid in the garage next door. And, since Williams' nearest rival for fifth in the constructors' championship, Toro Rosso, is facing multiple engine-change penalties for both drivers at Interlagos, there's some breathing space at the end of the season.
If Kubica isn't fast enough, or can't handle a race distance, he eliminates himself from the running and gives the team an even narrower field of options - from which it would probably choose Massa.
If he is fast enough, Kubica could easily lead the charge back into constructors' championship contention in a new Paddy Lowe-era car. It would be the feelgood F1 story of the century, and a fantastic new narrative thread that would delight both the fans and the sponsor that's up for renewal.
Because as everyone but James Bond knows, a good martini should be stirred - not shaken.