News

Renault Spend 11 Engine Tokens

A parting gift for Red Bull but a litmus test for Renault?

Inevitably, as the nights begin to draw in across Europe, teams and engine manufacturers are driving towards 2016. After all, stretching the purse strings to add improvements to a car which is destined to spend the majority of its future as a museum piece is hardly a viable option. As such, developments are made with next year in mind and in the case of Red Bull and Renault, attention has been firmly on 2016 for quite some time. The eleven tokens spent by Renault ahead of this weekend’s US Grand Prix are most likely to be with a eye to a works team future in mind – a litmus test for the unit which could power the first fully-fledged Renault F1 Hybrid.

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Ferrari Retain Raikkonen For 2016

F1’s headlines have been dominated by weeks of speculation regarding what the sport’s notoriously fickle driver market could look like in the event that Ferrari called time on their relationship with the 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. Today, the debate surrounding who will partner Sebastian Vettel at the Scuderia in 2016 has been drawn to a rather abrupt close, as the team have announced the retention of the Iceman for another season. The status quo at Maranello could cause a shockwave of continuity effecting their competitors.

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Williams’ Weekend of Anninimity

Monaco is notorious for it’s double-six nature. The unique characteristics of the circuit mean that the form guide can be thrown into the harbour and past results count for very little. While Red Bull and McLaren benefited, Williams were one team who struggled throughout the weekend. With Bottas falling out of qualifying at the Q1 stage and early contact spelling a Sunday afternoon of woe for Massa, the team left Monaco without a point to their name. Certainly not the type of performance that Williams have become accustomed to over the past 18 months.

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Merry-Go Round At Maranello

Ferrari are rarely away from the Formula 1 headlines, but this past week as been a busy one even by their high standards. After their first season without a win since 1993 and arguably, their worst campaign since the ill-fated double floor of the F92A, few would doubt that change has become a necessity. However, no-one expected change to be quite so rapid and in a whirlwind week, Gutierrez and Vergne have been confirmed as new recruits, with Mercedes’ Jock Clear heavily linked with a move, while Pat Fry, Nikolas Tombazis and Pedro De La Rosa, are all confirmed departures. Maranello now looks markedly different in comparison to just a week ago.

Maranello, Italy
by Francisco Antunes [CC-BY-2.0

JEV Completes Crazy Week

Despite failing to finish in his first Formula E outing, Jean-Eric Vergne made quite an impression on his début weekend, taking pole position for Andretti Autosport. Regardless of his Formula E prospects, I imagine that JEV’s ever-growing army of fans will be ecstatic to hear that he will be returning to F1 – albeit, not in the capacity in which they first hoped. However, a job at Ferrari is illustrious and that is exactly what Vergne has obtained.
It was only Monday night, that the team announced that Esteban Gutierrez would fill the role of the team’s third driver for 2015, after being ejected from his Sauber seat. Following today’s news, Ferrari have signed two new drivers in the space of six days – and two prime candidates at that. Both Vergne and Gutierrez are fine additions to what is a growing roster of Scuderia drivers, with race seat occupiers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen clutching five world titles between them, already accompanied by test drivers Marc Gene and Davide Rigon. Undoubtedly, the team have an abundance of driving expertise among their ranks. 
Adding Vergne to a line-up already bursting at the seams may seem unnecessary at first, but it is a canny move from F1’s longest serving outfit. Vergne is an experienced driver, who has first hand knowledge of the characteristics and traits of a modern F1 car – an attribute that can only be attained from having recently possessed a race seat. His predecessor, Pedro De La Rosa may have a wealth of experience under his belt, with the ability to draw upon knowledge of racing in several eras of the sport across his 106 race starts, but 2012 was his last season as a race driver – he faces the challenge of being a Ferrari development driver without a campaign-enriched understanding of the new technology. Anyone who frequently reads this blog will be well aware of my opinions in regards to JEV – a magnificent appointment to the team, who will surely make significant contributions to the programme at Maranello.
Elsewhere in the team, it has been a seismic week of reshuffling. James Allison’s role has become far more identifiable – he is now Technical Director, following the departures of Head of Engineering, Pat Fry and Chief Designer Nikolas Tombazis. It appears as though these are two high profile names who have been held accountable for this season’s shortcomings, to add to the already surprising list featuring Stefano Domenicalli, Luca Marmorini and Luca De Montezemolo no less. Even the role of team Press Officer will see a new name on the door in 2015, Renato Bisignani will stand down and be replaced by Alberto Antonini. 
In terms of radical change, this eclipses even the Mercedes-overhaul between 2012 and 2013. Ferrari seem to be attracting talented individuals, (as you would expect from such an attractive luxury brand,) and are arguably looking stronger now than they did throughout 2014. This is however, only a first impression as it remains to be seen whether these new personnel can work co-operatively and efficiently – after all, Ferrari’s fundamental problem this season was miscommunication between the engine and chassis departments.       

Gutierrez Enters The Ferrari Fray

Just weeks after being dropped by Sauber and facing the daunting reality of an early end to his Formula 1 career, Esteban Gutierrez is now once again employed – and by one of the most famous names in motorsport, no less. Ferrari have snapped up the 23-year-old Mexican, who will be their reserve driver for 2015. Esteban has certainly made the best of a bad situation this winter.

Esteban Gutierrez 2014 Singapore FP1
By Morio (photo taken by Morio) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Welcoming Esteban

The past two years have undoubtedly been underwhelming where Gutierrez is concerned. He only managed to score 6 points in his maiden season, compared with teammate Hulkenberg’s 51 and while he did narrowly beat Adrian Sutil across the course of this season, his 8-7 victory was far from convincing – particularly, since neither driver was able to score points.
However, Esteban has been thrown in at the deep end. In 2012, the Sauber C31 was a regular front-runner and in an admittedly unpredictable campaign, the team scored four podiums. Signposts therefore, suggested that Esteban would be supplied with ample machinery to demonstrate the full extent of his talents. Unfortunately for the team, the early half of 2014 was a case of regression and it was not until the mid-season tyre construction change, that both Gutierrez and indeed Hulkenberg, had the equipment to challenge for points. Ultimately, Nico enjoyed a far more fruitful end to the season than his rookie teammate, yet this was understandable – Esteban was still learning his trade.
In 2014, the combination of a thirsty powertrain and an unpredictable car has meant that the Mexican has had a tough time once again. With no points to show for his efforts, Gutierrez was ejected from the seat. However, Ferrari have acknowledged his potential and aged just 23, Esteban certainly has time to develop as a driver. 
Newly appointed Team Principal and successor to Marco Mattiacci, Maruzio Arrivabene, has clearly acknowledged this. “We are pleased to be able to offer this opportunity to Esteban who, although young, has plenty of experience relating to the new generation of Formula 1 cars,” he said. “I am sure that, with his experience, he will make an important contribution to the development work of the team in the simulator.” This is a fascinating observation. Gutierrez can be considered as the perfect package for such a role – he is young and could be a potential Ferrari driver of the future, should he impress the team’s hierarchy, but he also has experience of driving an F1 car for two full seasons. Not just any F1 cars – Ferrari powered F1 cars. As such, he already has an in-depth knowledge of how the powertrain and technology itself functions and should be able to swim when dropped into Maranello’s simulator for the first time. 
After facing their first year without a win since 1993, next season has to be better. Appointing Gutierrez appears to be a wise decision from Ferrari, in a year when development has to be high on the agenda.   

Button and Alonso Confirmed At McLaren

While many analysts were beginning to guesstimate that Christmas could come before the McLaren driver saga drew to a close, the team have finally given their verdict – and it is pleasing news for Jenson Button’s army of fans. The Brit has retained his seat at the team, at the expense of Kevin Mganussen, who has been ousted to a reserve driver role. In regards to the worst kept secret of the season, Fernando Alonso was confirmed as Button’s teammate today and means that McLaren will field the oldest driver line-up in the sport next season – yet with 500 races and 47 wins between the duo, it promises to be a successful combination.

McLaren, Button, Cross The Line
By emperornie (Mclaren, Button) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Button In, Magnussen Less So…

Evidently, McLaren have opted to pursue experience over potential. At a time when a new powertrain is inbound, this appears to be a simple decision to make, at least at face value. The fact that in Jenson Button, the team bestowed a driver with 15 race wins, 50 podiums and a World Championship title to his name, would have surely made this an even easier choice. However, regardless of what Button fans would declare, the choice was far from a simple one.
Kevin Magnussen has enjoyed a steady 2014 – the Dane has not been as spectacular as his surprising podium in the opening round would have implied, but he had demonstrated the type of potential which encouraged both Ron Dennis and Eric Boullier to continue their support of him. Kevin has looked particularly impressive in wheel-to-wheel combat. At times, he has unfortunately overstepped the boundary between what is spectacular and what is acceptable, with his thrilling dice with Fernando Alonso at Spa springing to mind, for which he received a totally-justified twenty second time penalty. However, dogged determination is what has defined Magnussen’s campaign.
In terms of raw speed, he has also fared well against his teammate. His qualifying performance in Germany stood out as a spectacular result, as the Dane notched a superlative P4, compared with a lackluster P12 for Jenson. The race may have seen him at the heart of an unfortunate collision with Felipe Massa at Turn 1, but Saturday’s result could not be forgotten. Where Kevin has struggled in 2014, is in race trim and his deficiencies on a Sunday have been exaggerated by Button’s stunning consistency – the Brit is famous for being an excellent points-scorer and in the MP4-29, Button enjoyed one of his best campaign’s in this regard. His performances on a Sunday were rarely anything less than the maximum. 
Perhaps one of the biggest determining factors to create this disparity has been driving styles. It seems as though Button and Magnussen are a polarized as styles come. Jenson is the super-smooth operator, inputting subtle commands into the steering wheel and driving with a type of precision which ultimately hampers his one-lap ability. Meanwhile, Magnussen is visibly much more aggressive with his inputs, demanding much more from the car on turn-in and therefore, demanding much more from his tyres. As such, Kevin has been the better qualifier while Jenson has had the upper hand come race-day. 
However, the argument that points make prizes, is far too simplistic here. 2015 is a year of change at Woking, as Honda re-enter the sport with a first generation powertrain. Immediately, they face an uphill struggle as they will face opposition from second generation powerunits, and McLaren have to begin to learn the fine details and subtleties of it – something which the competition completed a full twelve months ago. As such, experience is a factor which cannot be underestimated and Jenson’s finely tuned senses will unquestionably prove pivotal in a year when driver feedback is of particular importance. If Jenson fails to spot something, you can be sure that his opposite number will, and vice versa of course. 

Burying The Hatchet

Fernando Alonso 2007 USA 2
By Matthew Blasi from Fredericksburg Va & Washington DC, USA (2007 US Grand Prix)
 [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
While it was Jenson Button making the headlines today, Fernando Alonso’s appointment to the team in which he faced serious turmoil in 2007 is just as intriguing. The intrigue has undoubtedly been quelled by the news being the worst kept secret in F1 for quite some time, but it is still a fascinating storyline to explore. 
Without retelling the countless details, Alonso’s time at McLaren ended in acrimonious fashion – as acrimonious as it gets. The Spaniard was at loggarheads with Ron Dennis, as the former questioned his status in the team and seemed to use every trick in the book to win a position as the undisputed number one. As the championship neared its conclusion, the pair were no longer on speaking terms and both Alonso and that rookie teammate of his, missed out on the title after a resurgent Kimi Raikkonen took advantage of the McLaren drivers and bosses stepping on each others toes.
As such, the chances of Alonso returning to McLaren were somewhere between slim and none – particularly as Ron Dennis returned to the helm. However, it seems that the pair are now ready to bury the hatchet and move forward in a harmonious coalition. For both McLaren, Honda and Alonso himself, it is a good job they have.
The double World Champion may be moving into the autumn of his career, yet another sublime campaign behind the wheel of a decidedly average Ferrari has demonstrated that age has certainly not eroded any of his talents. In the right machinery, both he and Button have shown enough potential in the past 12 months to justify that that they can deliver a championship title.  
However, delivering a championship is not on anyone’s mind as a goal for the immediate future at McLaren. This is a project and regardless of how effective the Honda powertrain is, the team as a whole need to overcome the fact that they are essentially twelve months behind the opposition. If they can win races in 2015, that will be an impressive achievement in itself, but to challenge the mighty Mercedes for the title would surely be a bridge too far.
Regardless, McLaren seem to have made a wise choice in terms of drivers. Experience over youth is an age old argument and is applicable to most sports, yet as circumstances suggest a rocky road ahead as McLaren and Honda reacquaint themselves, a safe pair of hands behind the wheel is an excellent place to start. They have elected for the safe option, but as a famous saying suggests, discretion is the better part of valour.         

Sainz Jr Becomes Latest STR Recruit

While speculation suggested that the announcement would come on Monday, Toro Rosso have finally committed to an individual from their vast pool of promising youngsters – Formula Renault 3.5 Champion, Carlos Sainz Jr, has snapped up the seat alongside boy-wonder Max Verstappen for 2015. An inexperienced line up, but undoubtedly an exciting one.

Carlos Sainz Jr Motorland
By Willtron (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

JEV Out, Jr In

The biggest flaw with Dr Helmut Marko’s “School of Hard Knocks” is the mere fact that it produces too much world-class talent. As such, the Toro Rosso seats have become some of the most highly contested in the paddock. After 17-year-old Max Verstappen exploded onto the scene and secured one of the seats, a teammate to the Dutchman was required when Daniil Kvyat received the call from the big team, who wanted his services for 2015 and beyond. With Jean-Eric Vergne, Alex Lynn and Carlos Sainz Jr all in the running for the vacancy, speculation has been rife.
Speculation that was brought to an end today, as FR3.5 Champion and son of former World Rally Champion, Carlos Sainz Jr has earned the right to call himself a Formula 1 driver. Like Kevin Magnussen before him, Carlos has proved that winning the FR3.5 title can be an excellent launch pad into the pinnacle of the sport.
His credentials are there for all to see and he is fully deserving of his chance in F1. However, Toro Rosso’s decision and Sainz’s début season will be overshadowed by his unfortunate predecessor, Jean-Eric Vergne – the man who most people agree should be on the grid, with many suggesting that the injustice lies in the fact that he will not be donning Red Bull Racing overalls in 2015. JEV has become the latest refugee of the Red Bull programme and is perhaps the strongest of the ever-growing club. Remember, this is a man who was only narrowly defeated by Daniel Ricciardo, who has arguably forced a four-time World Champion out of his own team. 
However, it is 20-year-old Sanz Jr who will partner 17-year-old Max Verstappen in 2015. A Vergne and Verstappen partnership would have provided a pleasing balance of youth and (albeit relative) experience. Vergne could have been the perfect yardstick, by which Verstappen could be judged by. Ultimately, Toro Rosso have opted for total inexperience, yet the fact that they have chose an exciting duo jam-packed with potential and crammed full of impressive credentials, means that the disappointment of Vergne’s departure is somewhat nullified. I am looking forward to seeing what Sainz Jr can bring to the table.