INSIGHT: Who is in the frame at Williams?

INSIGHT: Who is in the frame at Williams?

Zhou Guanyu’s retention at Alfa Romeo was almost as big an open secret as the fact that Nicholas Latifi would be leaving Williams at the end of the year, but before such matters are made public there’s always that flicker of uncertainty that prevents other dominoes from falling.

Latifi’s time in Formula 1 appeared to be coming to an end a number of months ago when Oscar Piastri was lined up to replace him in 2023, only for the Australian – and his management – to have another option in play after Alpine’s inability to follow through with a firm contract.

That turn of events did give Latifi a chance to earn himself a reprieve, with Alex Albon offering a strong benchmark and Williams continuing to develop the car. There was a glimpse of him potentially doing that at Silverstone where he ultimately finished 12th, but that’s as good as it got, and last week Williams confirmed that the Canadian will not be retained next year.

And what looked like a potentially obvious move to replace him now carries an uncertainty that makes the Williams vacancy almost as intriguing as the one at Alpine.

Nyck de Vries has to be considered the favorite for the Williams seat after his performance in Monza showed what he’s capable of with only an hour’s warning to jump in the car and an hour’s practice to get on top of it.

For a spell it also looked like he’d get a second chance to stake his claim for that spot on the grid in Singapore this weekend, but Albon has now confirmed he will be behind the wheel on Friday. That’s not to say de Vries wouldn’t be turned to if there are any issues with Albon’s comeback, but Williams will want to give its full-time driver every possible chance to race.

Once again that means one seat between the same two drivers, as de Vries came so close to getting the drive currently occupied by Albon last year. But moving forward, he could now find himself as Albon’s teammate in 2023 if Williams wants to combine the two options it was choosing between 12 months ago.

But the “could” probably relies more on the Dutchman himself than Williams.

The Monza outing appears to have caught the eye of multiple teams, with a test for Alpine at the Hungaroring coming amid interest from Helmut Marko, who views de Vries as a potential replacement for Pierre Gasly should Alpine push ahead with plans to sign the experienced French driver.

And that means de Vries has options, although whether they will all align to allow him to choose his own fate or if he’ll have to take a calculated risk by holding off on responding to certain offers remains to be seen.

The lack of certainty surrounding the potential moves de Vries has on the table and where Williams fits into that means he could well prove to be another unattainable option despite appearing to the the team’s first choice.

Nyck de Vries made a huge impression at Monza – so good, that Williams now finds itself facing competition for his services next year. Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

Perhaps ironically, it could be the failure of an American driver to get a spot on the grid that could lead to another American having an even better chance.

Red Bull’s unsuccessful attempts to get Colton Herta a Super License might not spell the end of any hopes to get a driver from the United States into a race seat in 2023 after all.

If AlphaTauri turns to de Vries, then Logan Sargeant (main image) becomes a much more realistic candidate for Williams than he perhaps has been up until now.

At the age of 21, Sargeant has a deal in place to continue racing for Carlin next year in Formula 2, with the intention originally being for him to use his rookie season to gain experience and his second year to mount a title challenge.

Now, while you can’t say he’s had much of a look into the title race since Austria, Sargeant has shown some impressive pace on a consistent basis and currently sits third in the standings with just the final round in Abu Dhabi remaining. A top six finish will earn him a Super License after his FP1 run in Austin is taken into account, so he’s well set even if the championship position are close behind him.

Although de Vries brings a greater level of experience despite his lack of F1 starts, the presence of Albon means a move for a rookie is not off the table, especially if Williams wants to beat Red Bull to the punch of being the next team to get an American on the grid.

And Sargeant has been embedded into the Williams set-up at races whenever the schedule allows, including this weekend in Singapore where he has been appearing alongside Latifi at partner events while Albon recuperates. He’ll then spend the rest of the weekend juggling commitments with access to engineering briefings and team meetings that de Vries won’t get unless he’s racing.

There are outsiders who have more F1 experience than both, although Nico Hulkenberg didn’t seem to warm to the chance at returning to the team he started his career with when he was losing his full-time ride, and doesn’t bring the same commercial potential that Sargeant or even de Vries could.

It’s a similar story when you consider Antonio Giovinazzi, who showed some solid spells of performance at Alfa Romeo but is still struggling to convince a Ferrari-powered team to give him a race seat after a year in Formula E. Another Ferrari-linked driver – Mick Schumacher – brings a great surname but has seen his stock start to drop at Haas and neither fits the bill of intriguing rookie nor established name.

Daniel Ricciardo can certainly lay claim to the latter, but seems set on taking a sabbatical and hoping a more competitive ride comes his way at the end of 2023 rather than keeping himself on the grid at all costs next year.

So Williams is left without an obvious fit to replace Latifi, even if there are multiple worthy candidates that can be linked to the vacancy.

There’s no obvious weak choice from all of those mentioned, but the biggest gamble would certainly be the most exciting…