Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Fernando Alonso, Daniil Kvyat and More
With five races of the Formula One season remaining, Fernando Alonso believes time is running out for McLaren-Honda to make significant progress in 2015.
The team have been handicapped by problems with their V6 turbo power unit throughout the year, scoring points in just three of the 14 races thus far, but they have remained committed to solving those issues.
But while he claims McLaren can still extract much from the latter stages of the season, particularly with 2016 in mind, Alonso suggests the team are now resigned to a ninth-placed finish in the constructors' championship.
While McLaren have limited expectations for the remainder of 2015, Daniil Kvyat has high hopes ahead of his home race.
This weekend's Russian Grand Prix will offer the Red Bull driver a chance to bounce back from a dreadful weekend at Suzuka, and Kvyat believes his home crowd can inspire him to a strong result.
Like McLaren, Manor are prioritising next season after spending 2015 at the rear of the field.
The backmarkers recently agreed a deal to run Mercedes engines in 2016, and while that—along with several other changes—should allow Manor to race competitively, sporting director Graeme Lowdon believes the team will face a certain degree of pressure to make the most of their new power units.
Meanwhile, Jolyon Palmer has discussed his prospects of landing a full-time race seat for next season.
The 2014 GP2 champion has participated in a number of practice sessions for Lotus this year, but he says he will have no choice but to walk away from F1 if he fails to find a place on the grid in 2016.
If Nico Hulkenberg had his way, however, Palmer wouldn't have had a chance to impress Lotus in 2015, with the Force India driver explaining his eagerness to reduce the number of practice sessions to provide a greater challenge for teams and drivers.
Here's this week's roundup.
Fernando Alonso Fears McLaren-Honda Will Not Make Progress Until 2016
Throughout the entire 2015 season, McLaren-Honda's buzzword has been "progress."
Even when the MP4-30 car was stuck in the garage during pre-season testing, Jenson Button told the team's official website how the team were making "good progress."
Even when both cars withdrew midway through the Malaysian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso told MailOnline's Ian Parkes how he was "very happy with the progress" the team had made.
And even when Button and Alonso retired within seven laps in Austria, on a weekend marred by countless reliability issues, racing director Eric Boullier told Sky Sports' James Galloway that McLaren were making "progress."
"Progress" has become something of a mantra for McLaren this year, encouraging them to remain positive even when the results, the championship standings—and, indeed, logic—all suggest they are a team in crisis.
But Alonso—following his team-radio outburst in Japan—has again diverted from the party line, claiming McLaren will make no progress over the remaining five races of the season.
Currently sitting ninth in the constructors' championship, McLaren haven't scored a single point since July's Hungarian GP, and while he claims the team can still learn much ahead of 2016, Alonso suggests they will make no noticeable improvements until next season, telling Autosport's Parkes:
It is going to be difficult to see big progress.
The limitations we have now are quite clear, and this requires a bit of time over the winter to make most of the progress.
But we are still using these remaining races for some set-up directions for next year, some aerodynamic improvements which might come to some races, and some more power unit experience.
We cannot forget that from now we will have the same mileage as the Mercedes team going to Australia for the first race [of 2015].
Overall this year we are down on laps, we are down on mileage on the whole package, but every lap we do we are learning something, so I'm sure some very useful information for next year will come.
After being blinded by the notion of progress for much of this season—making several bold yet foolish statements—it seems at least one person at McLaren has carved through the nonsense and recognised the true seriousness of their situation.
That, we think, is what you call real progress.
Daniil Kvyat Hoping to Impress Home Crowd at Sochi
Daniil Kvyat confirmed his status as a future world champion at last year's Russian Grand Prix, dragging his Toro Rosso car to fifth on the grid.
And the 21-year-old, now of Red Bull Racing, will need a similarly strong performance at this weekend's race following a lacklustre display in the recent Japanese GP.
Kvyat had scored points in five consecutive races between the British and Singapore grands prix, but his form evaporated at Suzuka, where he made several mistakes and crashed heavily in qualifying, with a new chassis forcing him to start from the pit lane.
Although the backup No. 26 car suffered brake and electronic problems, he could only recover to 13th place in the race, with F1 journalist Peter Windsor claiming the Russian's weekend confirmed Kvyat's "confidence has risen at a faster rate than his driving has improved."
Kvyat currently trails Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo by seven points in the drivers' standings, and the youngster hopes the support of his home crowd will propel him to a strong result at the Sochi Autodrom.
The Ufa-born driver told the team's official website:
It's my home race and I enjoy it a lot. The atmosphere last year was fantastic, there were so many fans giving me support. It really feels awesome to be there.
Sometimes you do get some strong attention but that's part of the game and what you have to take from it is that the attention comes from the fact that perhaps you have been doing something good, which is a positive. You have to understand that the fans are coming out to support you and that is something quite special—I'm happy to have the attention, it gives you a bit of a lift.
Kvyat won't have to wait as long to return to his home track next year, with the Russian GP set to be the fourth round of the 2016 season, according to the revised calendar.
Manor Aware of Increased Expectations Following Mercedes Engine Deal
Graeme Lowdon, the Manor sporting director, has admitted his team will be under pressure to become an established Formula One team after securing a Mercedes engine deal for 2016.
Since arriving on the grid under the guise of Virgin Racing at the beginning of 2010, the team have spent their life nailed to the rear of the field, scoring points on only one occasion—at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix—and lapping several seconds off the pace of the front-running outfits.
Manor's rise from the ashes of Marussia at the beginning of this season has seen the team compete with a year-old car and a 2014-spec Ferrari engine in 2015, but there are now several reasons to believe they will make a significant leap in performance in 2016.
In June, Bob Bell, the former Renault and Mercedes technical director, joined as a consultant and will have a considerable influence on the up-to-date car, with Manor recently announcing an agreement to use Mercedes power units from 2016.
The team will also receive transmission and suspension parts from Williams Advanced Engineering, and while Lowdon is excited about the wave of changes, he accepts Manor must now emerge as a serious F1 operation, telling Autosport's Ian Parkes:
It's a definite step forward because it's going to be a few seconds the aero guys don't have to find, and it's also a reliable package.
There is still a lot for us to do, but having a new car—chassis and engine—is a step in the right direction for us, without a doubt.
You have to consider we've done virtually an entire season now with a car that was designed quite some time ago.
At the minute we've kind of got a place to hide, if you like. Right now it's quite easy to blame something on the engine, but that is removed.
Effectively we'll have the same engine, gearbox and rear suspension as Williams, so there is a benchmark there.
Aerodynamically they are more mature than we are, but it will certainly be a big step forward.
Mercedes' relationship with Manor may also see the Silver Arrows supply a driver to the backmarkers, with Toto Wolff, the German manufacturer's motorsport boss, telling ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson that Pascal Wehrlein could join the team in 2016.
Jolyon Palmer Unwilling to Stay in F1 Without a Full-Time Race Seat
As Lotus' 2015 reserve driver, Jolyon Palmer has replaced Romain Grosjean in nine practice sessions this season. But the British driver wants to replace the Frenchman on a full-time basis in 2016.
In an unusually stable driver market, and with Lotus set to be repurchased by Renault, there is currently no overwhelming favourite to succeed Grosjean, theoretically enhancing Palmer' chances of landing a race seat.
And the 2014 GP2 champion—whose 18-year-old brother, Will Palmer, was recently shortlisted for the prestigious McLaren AUTOSPORT BRDC Award—has admitted the team's decision will decide his entire F1 career, claiming he has no interest in settling for a reserve role in 2016.
The 24-year-old told Autosport's Lawrence Barretto and Ian Parkes:
I would say it is probably racing or nothing.
I'm enjoying what I'm doing. Having not been in F1 before, to drive the car as often as I have has been great, and to be involved in a team you learn a lot.
But having done one year of it, I feel I wouldn't be learning a huge amount by doing another year doing the same thing with the same team.
I'm flat out for racing next year. There's a chance. It just depends on the outcome of a lot of things.
Palmer added that he will return to the cockpit of Lotus' E23 to participate in an "unconfirmed amount" of practice sessions over the remaining five races of the season, offering him a "good chance to prove" why he deserves a race seat.
Grosjean earned a full-time drive with Lotus for 2012 after competing in two FP1 sessions at the end of the 2011 season, which may be a good omen for Palmer, although it is likely that Renault will sign a more experienced, high-profile driver for their long-awaited return as a works team.
Nico Hulkenberg Calls for F1 to Shorten Practice Sessions
In July, the Formula One Strategy Group (h/t the FIA) announced their intention to make "several exciting and innovative changes to the qualifying and race weekend formats" in an effort to increase the sport's popularity.
Many interpreted this as evidence of F1 warming to the idea of reverse grids and similar gimmicks, but Force India's Nico Hulkenberg believes the sport's rule makers should consider changing the practice sessions.
At the moment, grand prix weekends include three separate free-practice sessions, with two 90-minute sessions held on Fridays and an hour-long session taking place on Saturdays.
However, in an era when the calendar features a number of night races, FP1 sessions, in particular, have lost their relevance. The opening practice sessions in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, for instance, occur in broad daylight, while FP1 at Singapore takes place at dusk, resulting in a lack of meaningful, representative lap times.
And Hulkenberg believes F1 should follow the lead of its feeder series GP2—in which practice is limited to just 45 minutes—to offer a greater challenge to the drivers and prevent teams from engineering their way out of setup-related mistakes, telling Autosport's Lawrence Barretto:
I am sometimes of the opinion that we have too much practice in Formula 1.
Two 90-minute sessions on Friday and on Saturday another hour—it is a lot of practice.
I think I would personally find it more interesting if we had a lot less like in GP2.
Maybe not quite as little but where you only had half an hour and you get thrown into the water.
There would be a lot more emphasis and focus on the driver.
Sometimes if you struggle, you have so much practice to get around it.
The German's team-mate, however, disagrees.
Per the same source, Sergio Perez insists each practice session is worthwhile, claiming FP1 allows drivers to place rubber on the racing line, FP2 lets them simulate racing conditions with high fuel and FP3 acts as a warm-up ahead of qualifying.
A shortage in practice sessions would also reduce the amount of time cars spend on track when F1, presumably, is eager to become fan-friendly and produce as much on-track action as possible.