Every Driver Replacing Williams F1 Ranked
Nyck De Vries will make his Formula 1 debut today with Williams in the Italian Grand Prix after his late recall to replace Alex Albon, who is suffering from appendicitis.
De Vries is far from the first driver to be recruited as a temporary replacement for the venerable team, which entered F1 in 1977.
Here is our ranking of those we loosely consider replacement Williams drivers.
We have defined them as those who drive in the place of a regular driver who is temporarily unavailable, on a provisional basis or, to stretch the classification, in a third car. So the longer-term replacements that came in mid-season (Derek Daly, David Coulthard) weren’t considered and after a little debate we decided Nigel Mansell’s 1994 reappearances were out. also part of this list.
The ranking is not based on their overall qualities as drivers, but simply on their effectiveness and impact – for better or worse – in their role as substitutes.
8 Mario Andretti
Between Carlos Reutemann’s retirement and Derek Daly getting the full-time seat, Williams needed a driver for the 1982 Long Beach Grand Prix.
Who better than 42-year-old Mario Andretti, who had a free weekend in his IndyCar schedule?
By Andretti’s illustrious standards, it wasn’t a good weekend. He qualified 14th and retired after 19 laps with suspension damage caused by hitting the wall. His return later that season with Ferrari at Monza had a far greater impact.
7 Jack Aitken
Aitken’s only F1 start to date came at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix as a replacement for George Russell, who had been called up for a one-off first outing for the Mercedes factory team when Lewis Hamilton been sidelined with COVID.
He qualified just a tenth behind regular driver Nicholas Latifi and started 17th. He also did a very competent job in the race, but wiped his front wing on a final turn.
Aitken recovered in the pits and rejoined, finishing 18th, and was on standby to continue in the car in Abu Dhabi, but Russell returned once Hamilton was passed into form.
“Immediately after getting out of the car on Sunday, I was frustrated with myself because of the spin I was having,” Aitken said of his performance.
“Actually, after having had some time to digest everything and move on, it was a pretty solid weekend and the pace has come a long way since Friday.
“There wasn’t much notice to get ready and sort everything out and I’m happy with how the weekend went overall.”
European F2 champion Palmer was not a replacement as such, but he made his F1 debut on a one-off basis in the 1983 European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch driving a third Williams.
At the time of the race he was one of only two Williams drivers on the grid, given the failure of regular Jacques Laffite to qualify.
Palmer, whose exit was due to work he had done as a Williams test driver, qualified 25th and finished 13th in his only appearance for the team before earning a first full-time practice with the RAM team for 1984.
5 Jean Louis Schlesser
Perhaps the most infamous Williams replacement of all, Schlesser was a sports car ace on the verge of turning 40 when he made his F1 debut as a replacement for Nigel Mansell, who was suffering from chickenpox. , at Monza in 1988.
Schlesser, who had previously tried to qualify for the 1983 French GP at the wheel of a RAM and was often used as a Williams test driver – but not for a long time before his only race outing – won his place in the legend thanks to the collision with the leader. Ayrton Senna while being overtaken at the end of the race.
Senna, who was keen not to waste time given he had “overspent” on fuel thanks to the pace of McLaren team-mate Alain Prost earlier in the race, ran into Schlesser at the first chicane of the penultimate round. Schlesser locked in and went deep, so Senna passed but was cut into a spin by the Williams.
Schlesser tried to stay out of the way by scrambling up the sidewalk, Senna not giving as wide a berth as he should have.
And while Schlesser finished 11th, Senna spun and retired. This deprived McLaren of a clean sweep of 1988 race wins and handed Ferrari a 1-2.
4 Paul de Resta
Di Resta was given arguably the toughest task possible when he was launched to replace the ailing Felipe Massa to qualify and compete in the 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix. As in, without taking part in any of the three qualifying sessions free practice, or having driven the car before. He had only driven it virtually in the simulator, and not in the previous four months.
Di Resta somehow overqualified Sauber driver Marcus Ericsson, a performance Mercedes team principal whom Toto Wolff described as “incredible”, but given he had only 11 laps under his belt before the race , unsurprisingly, he struggled in the grand prix itself.
He retired from the race late due to excessive throttle and brake overlap. It was the inevitable result of struggling in a car that didn’t fit him well and wearing racing boots that were too small.
3 Martin Brundle
Schlesser was actually Mansell’s second replacement at Williams in 1988, as the first driver called up was Martin Brundle. In 1988 he reconciled Williams’ test duties with a successful World Sportscar Championship season for TWR.
Brundle finished seventh in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa driving a Judd-powered Williams and would have continued at Monza had he not been made available by TWR.
He was close to a full-time racing seat in 1993 and had been led to believe he would get the team’s wheel before it was given to Damon Hill.
2 Marc Gene
In his four years as a Williams test driver, Marc Gene completed two stints as Ralf Schumacher’s replacement.
The former Minardi rider finished fifth at Monza in 2003, then rode in France and Great Britain the following year, finishing 10th and 12th respectively.
The team then decided to give the replacement role to the highest ranked driver on this list…
1 Antonio Pizzania
After driving 11 races for Jaguar the previous season, Antonio Pizzonia joined Williams as a second test driver in 2004. But after Gene’s disappointing performance in place of the injured Ralf Schumacher, Pizzonia got his chance.
He bagged a trio of seventh-place finishes in his four outings and retired from third place at Spa with a gearbox problem.
He was given a second chance the following year in place of the injured Nick Heidfeld, who was not promoted to a full-time racing seat.
Pizzonia took another seventh place in his first outing, but failed to score in his last three races and was released at the end of the year.
However, Pizzonia tops the list due to the prodigious speed he showed flashes of on his substitute outings, and the fact that he should have performed better.