How Franco Colapinto’s signing shows Williams’ commitment to their future

The Williams Driver Academy’s signing of Franco Colapinto was one that was met with praise and excitement when it was announced on Monday. The move was seen as legitimising Williams’ position within the junior driver market as a team willing to back young drivers with promise and potential. Feeder Series explores how Colapinto’s signing shows Williams’ commitment to building a homegrown talent pool for their future Formula One driver line-ups.

By Oorjit Mishra

Williams have previously come under criticism for their tendency to hire rookies based not on their results but rather on the size of their sponsorship. Whilst drivers such as Pastor Maldonado, Lance Stroll, Sergey Sirotkin and Nicholas Latifi all performed respectably in their stints with Williams, their performances have paled in comparison to the likes of Jacques Villeneuve, Jenson Button, Juan Pablo Montoya and Nico Rosberg. 2010 GP3 champion Valtteri Bottas was arguably Williams’ last standout rookie in a decade which saw the former Formula One World Champions slip from the upper midfield to the back of the pack.

When the Williams Driver Academy was officially launched in late 2019, it was no surprise that it was met with scepticism by fans. Of their initial line-up, Dan Ticktum – fresh off an unsuccessful season in Asia that saw him dropped by the Red Bull Junior Team – stood out as a favourite for promotion to Formula One. Jack Aitken was unlikely to secure a seat in Formula One despite achieving three victories in the 2019 Formula 2 season; while he did fill in for George Russell at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, he would ultimately pivot to sportscar racing in 2021. As of 2022, neither Jamie Chadwick nor Roy Nissany have managed to acquire a Super Licence since they were signed to the academy.

A turning point

Whilst Ticktum might have had a chance of being promoted to a Formula One race seat, he was released midway through the 2021 season. This decision was only made public after the British driver responded to controversy regarding his mocking then–Williams driver Nicholas Latifi. Logan Sargeant was chosen to fill the place vacated by Ticktum, with the academy signing the American in late 2021 following his impressive campaign with Charouz in Formula 3.

Sargeant’s signing marked a turning point in the programme’s strategy, with the driver academy signing Zak O’Sullivan soon afterwards. Both Sargeant and O’Sullivan performed well in 2022; Sargeant’s fourth-place finish in Formula 2 secured him enough Super Licence points for a promotion to a Formula One race seat for 2023.

Franco Colapinto in FIA F3 in 2022 | Credit: Formula Motorsport Limited

In signing Franco Colapinto, Williams have continued to back drivers based on their potential. The 2019 Spanish F4 champion has enjoyed success in Formula Renault, FRECA and Formula 3, achieving a total of six victories and eighteen podiums across the three series so far. Colapinto has also won races in the 2021 European Le Mans Series with G-Drive Racing and competed in both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

The Argentinian driver made the step up to Formula 3 in 2022 with Van Amersfoort Racing in the team’s first year of competition, winning sprint races at Imola and Monza to finish an eventual ninth in the championship – ahead of highly rated drivers such as 2021 FRECA champion Grégoire Saucy and fellow Williams Driver Academy member O’Sullivan.

2023 and beyond

Whilst larger driver academies tend to sign drivers only after they’ve fought for multiple titles in karting or single-seaters, Williams does not have the money or political capital to do so. Instead, they have chosen drivers based on their potential and, in doing so, have secured a strong driver academy line-up for the 2023 season, their first overseen by newly appointed team principal James Vowles.

Both O’Sullivan and Colapinto are title favourites in the FIA Formula 3 Championship, having each moved to competitive teams for their second season. O’Sullivan has moved from Carlin to reigning teams’ champions Prema, whilst Colapinto has moved from Van Amersfoort Racing to MP Motorsport.

The Williams Driver Academy’s recent signings have ultimately left their Formula One team in a great position, as they are now able to fill their development and reserve roles with drivers of a high calibre with the added security of promoting from within once a seat becomes available. By reducing their dependency on bigger teams to provide them with talent, Williams may be able to avoid losing talented drivers just as they begin to hit their stride, and focus on building a stable, long-term line-up.

Photo credit: Williams Racing

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