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JANUARY 17, 2018

Sirotkin, Stroll is hungry driver lineup says Salo...

Williams has put together a "hungry" driver lineup for the 2018 season.

That is the claim of former Ferrari and Toyota driver Mika Salo, who is now the sporting director of Russian bank SMP's motor racing programme.

The cream of that programme is Russian 22-year-old Sergey Sirotkin, who has been controversially appointed to become teammate to Lance Stroll, 19, for 2018.

It means the popular candidate Robert Kubica misses out on the seat, even though the Pole will instead be a key reserve, test and occasional Friday driver this year.

The wait for confirmation about the last race seat on the 2018 grid was long, but Finn Salo said: "The Williams agreement was born quickly.

"The negotiations were not that long," he told the Finnish broadcaster MTV.

"Williams is the best choice for Sirotkin. It's a good team, he has a young teammate and both are definitely hungry," Salo added.

Many say Sirotkin is little more than a 'pay driver' with a reported $20 million in SMP Bank backing, but Salo defended the Russian.

"He's a smart guy. He knows a lot about engineering and technology and has good experience of F1 cars with Renault," he said.

But Salo won't predict which Williams driver - Canadian Stroll or Sirotkin - will have the upper hand in 2018.

"I think they're pretty much the same, but we'll only find out in the races," he said.

"They will certainly fight hard against each other, which takes the team forward and brings results for both of them."

SMP Bank's Boris Rothenberg, a billionaire, is quoted by Ria Novosti news agency: "In 2018 we are making our debut in formula one with Williams and Sergey Sirotkin.

"This will undoubtedly please Russian fans and have a significant impact on the development of Russian motor sport," he added.

(GMM)