The Williams Formula 1 team have formally announced their driver line-up for 2010. The new pilots will be veteran Rubens Barrichello and rookie Nico Hulkenberg. It had been anticipated for several weeks that both of the current Williams drivers, Kazuki Nakajima and Nico Rosberg would be replaced, and in recent days the addition of Barrichello and Hulkenberg had been an open secret in the F1 paddock.
Nico Rosberg announced last week that he would be leaving Williams, but he has thus far refused to confirm which team he would be driving for in 2010. It is generally assumed that he’ll be sitting in front of a Mercedes engine, either at Brawn of McLaren, with Brawn being the more likely destination. This would be a straight swap for Rubens Barrichello’s current seat.
The Williams team recently announced that they would be terminating their deal for Toyota engines in 2010, in favor of a switch to Cosworth power. Inasmuch as Kaz Nakajima’s position in the team has been mandated by the Toyota deal, it has been assumed that once Toyota was out of the picture, Nakajima would be as well. According to rumor, Toyota’s asking price for Nakajima’s services in 2010 is $1 million. As the young Japanese has not really impressed during his tenure with Williams, it is not likely that any of the established or fledgling Formula 1 teams will jump at the offer.
The Barrichello-Hulkenberg line-up should be an interesting combination. The most experienced Formula 1 driver of all time will be partnered with an absolute rookie. Nico Hulkenberg is highly touted by manager Willi Weber, however, and he comes with an impressive resume. He won the GP2 championship as a rookie in 2009, and has previously won titles in the F3 Euroseries, A1 GP and Formula BMW Germany. He has also been a tester for the Williams team.
Rubens Barrichello, who currently has 284 grands prix under his belt, has raced for the Jordan, Ferrari, Stewart, Honda and Brawn Formula 1 teams. He currently has 11 grand prix victories to his credit. If all goes according to plan, he will surpass the 300 mark next year for the number of total grands prix contested.
Barrichello is thought to have a one year contract with Williams. Barrichello has stated that he would like to be in a position to challenge for race wins next season, but the move to Williams looks dubious in this respect. Brawn GP have provided Barrichello with a race-winning car this season, and they look to be strong again next year, if not actually as dominant as they were in the first half of 2009. Williams, however, have not won a race in several years.
One suspects that Barrichello, who was on a one year deal with Brawn for 2009, had no new contract on offer from the Milton-Keynes based team, so he decided to take matters into his own hands, rather than waiting for Ross Brawn to make up his mind. It had been rumored for some time that Ross Brawn would release one of his drivers to make room for Nico Rosberg, and all indications have been that Brawn would prefer to keep Jenson Button on board, rather than Barrichello, although a new contract with the 2009 title-winner has yet to be finalized.
The new Williams line-up should be a winning arrangement for everyone involved. It makes sense to couple an experienced driver with a rookie, as the older driver can mentor the younger one, if called for, and Barrichello, with his many years of testing and development behind him, should be of value to the team as they develop the car in the coming year. As winter testing is now very limited by FIA regulations, all F1 teams will want to fully leverage such testing time as they have available to them, and this is best done with seasoned drivers. This will be especially important for Williams in the coming year, as they’ll be switching to Cosworth powerplants.