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Williams F1 launch: Team slams 'pay driver' jibes over Sirotkin

Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams insisted calling anyone in Formula 1 a "pay driver" is unfair, as she defended the team's 2018 pairing Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin

The decision to pick Formula 2 graduate Sirotkin over Robert Kubica as Felipe Massa's replacement generated some scepticism, given his relative inexperience and the significant sponsorship that comes with the deal.

"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."

Lowe agreed that the Williams technical staff had chosen Sirotkin on pure merit.

"The selection process we used for that race seat was incredibly exhaustive, the most exhaustive I've ever been involved with, involving the technical team," he said.

"Sergey was selected simply on merit for his driving. That team know nothing about finances, they're not involved in it, they weren't aware of any factors like that.

"They made the call themselves, on the data."

Williams underlined that her team "would only put talented drivers in our car", adding "this is a dangerous business, and we are not going to put someone in the car just because they come with money.

"And also our decision making process is so much more complex than just deciding to put a driver into a race car because they have some cash.

"Yes, we're an independent team, yes sponsorship is really hard to come by these days, not just for our team, but every team out there.

"I don't think many teams have signed new sponsors over the past few seasons in F1.

"So clearly if a driver has some financial backing, that's an added bonus, but that's not the foundation for a decision-making process at Williams when we come to make our driver decisions. It's not a factor."

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