Formula 1 03 Aug 2006 09:59 am

Wurz replaces Webber at WilliamsF1 for 2007

I admit to surprise. WilliamsF1 has decided not to sign a new deal with Aussie F1 Ace Mark Webber, after allowing the option over his services to expire a few days ago. He is to be replaced by the team’s test driver, Alex Wurz.

Most speculation points to this being a decision driven primarily by financial considerations. Webber’s contract provided for a small but material pay increase for next year, and Wurz (who’s been without a race drive since 2000) is probably significantly cheaper. It’s also possible that Williams found himself with too many drivers, and had to make a tough decision – when Wurz was signed as test driver at the beginning of this year, there were indicators as to some commitment having been made to giving him (Wurz) a race drive in 2007. Could it be that Frank had (i) a firm, contractual commitment to Wurz; (ii) an up-and-coming star (currently cheap) in Nico Rosberg that he doesn’t want to lose in the same way that Button slipped away; (iii) an established driver out of contract? Could it be that Mark ‘lost out’ in this three-into-two-doesn’t-go situation?

I rate this as a neutral to slightly negative development for WilliamsF1. Wurz is undoubtedly a competent driver and accomplished tester, but I’ve not seen him demonstrate Webber’s hard edge or determination. And, of course, the subsequent reduction in the level of support offered by the Flying Nerd (once Mark departs) will be material.

For Webber, this could be his biggest and luckiest break. As I wrote yesterday, there are good seats to be had right now, and my feeling (based on overnight press) is that things are looking a little clearer than a few days ago.

Here’s what I think is happening:

* Michael Schumacher will be joined at Ferrari by Kimi Raikkonen
* Fernando Alonso will be at McLaren, but the other driver is not yet clear
* Giancarlo Fisichella is staying at Renault, but the other driver has not yet been named
* David Coulthard will be joined at Red Bull by Vitantonio Liuzzi (Klien will go to the other Red Bull team, Scuderia Toro Rosso)*[note]
* Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli will both stay at Toyota (and waste Toyota’s massive investment in F1)
* Nick Heidfeld will be joined at BMW-Sauber by test driver Robert Kubica (Kubica will sub for Jacques Villeneuve at this weekend’s Hungarian GP while Villeneuve ‘recovers’ from last weekend’s accident — don’t be at all surprised to see Kubica occupying that seat for the rest of the year)
* Jenson Button and Rubens Barichello will struggle on at Honda
* Wurz and Rosberg will drive for Williams F1
* and nobody much cares who drives for Midland or Super Aguri!

*[note] I reserve the right to be wrong about RBR and STR. It’s possible that either or both of these teams could take a driver placed by another team as part of a deal to secure engine supply for 2007 or even a later year. If this happens, look for either Lewis Hamilton to be placed by McLaren or Heikki Kovalainen to be placed by Renault.

Two great spots to fill: one at McLaren, one at Renault. Only one established F1 driver available to fill them: Mark Webber.

How will it all pan out?

The current Flying Nerd view of things is:

* Webber goes to Renault – FN odds: 3:2
* Webber goes to McLaren – FN odds: 5:2.

If Webber goes to Renault, expect Hamilton to drive alongside Alonso.

If Webber goes to McLaren, look for Kovalainen to suit up in blue for Renault.

Of course, I could be wrong.

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