F1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Kevin Magnussen at Renault, Esteban Gutierrez, More

Oliver HardenFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2016

F1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Kevin Magnussen at Renault, Esteban Gutierrez, More

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    Renault's return to Formula One will move a step closer this week when the French manufacturer stages a team-launch event in Paris.

    As chief executive officer Carlos Ghosn told French publication Le Figaro (h/t Motorsport.com) last December, the occasion will allow Renault to reveal the specific details of their return, including their aspirations, their sponsors and, it seems, their drivers.

    Signed alongside rookie Jolyon Palmer, Pastor Maldonado had been expected to lead the factory outfit in the 2016 season. But complications between Renault and the Venezuelan's personal sponsor are almost certain to result in the 30-year-old being replaced by Kevin Magnussen in time for the team launch.

    Like former McLaren driver Magnussen, Esteban Gutierrez will also return to the grid this year after spending the 2015 season on the sidelines.

    Driving for the new Haas team, the Mexican will be offered the opportunity to show what he's really made of after spending two unconvincing seasons with Sauber in 2013 and '14.

    Following his departure from the Swiss outfit, Gutierrez fell into the arms of Ferrari, who played an integral role in securing his place at Haas. And the 24-year-old has revealed why joining the Prancing Horse was the biggest gamble of his life.

    The first of two pre-season tests is on the horizon, but the rebranded Manor Racing outfit remain the only team yet to reveal any plans concerning their 2016 driver lineup.

    With financial support from the Indonesian government, Rio Haryanto has long been regarded as a contender for a race seat, but the GP2 race winner is facing a make-or-break week as he hopes to realise his F1 dream.

    Also clinging to the F1 dream is Bobby Epstein, the chairman of the Circuit of the Americas, who is hoping to secure the future of the United States Grand Prix by the end of this month.

    Closing this week's roundup is Marcus Ericsson, who would seemingly like to see a Scandinavian-based race on the F1 calendar if a United States GP-sized hole appears on the schedule.

Kevin Magnussen's Deal to Replace Pastor Maldonado at Renault Is 'Done'

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    Kevin Magnussen's return to the Formula One grid is expected to be confirmed in the coming days, with it being reported that a deal with the new-look Renault team has been finalised.

    After being released by McLaren-Honda last October, around 18 months after claiming a podium finish on his grand prix debut, Magnussen's F1 career appeared to be on hold after he was overlooked for a role at the brand-new Haas team for the 2016 season.

    As reported by BBC Sport's Andrew Benson in mid-January, however, Magnussen emerged as a contender to join Renault as a replacement for Pastor Maldonado, the 2012 Spanish GP winner, whose personal sponsor PDVSA was late in delivering payments to the team.

    According to Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, PDVSA had until January 29 to deliver those outstanding funds but has been unable to meet that deadline, leaving Renault with no option but to switch their attention to Magnussen.

    And while it is unclear "whether or not Maldonado's chances of keeping his seat have evaporated totally," Noble claims a "high-level source" has suggested a deal between Renault and Magnussen is all but "done."

    Following their takeover of the Enstone-based Lotus team at the end of last season, Renault will stage a team-launch event in Paris on February 3, when it is expected that Magnussen will be formally announced as Jolyon Palmer's team-mate for the upcoming season.

    Per the Telegraph's Daniel Johnson, Frederic Vasseur, the boss of the ART Grand Prix team in junior single-seater racing, will be confirmed as Renault's new team principal at the launch.

    As it stands, Palmer will be the only rookie driver on the 2016 grid, and the 2014 GP2 champion has confirmed via his official Twitter account that he has chosen No. 30 as his official driver number ahead of his debut campaign.

Esteban Gutierrez Believes Ferrari Move Was 'The Biggest Risk' of His Life

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    Esteban Gutierrez, the Haas driver, believes he took the biggest risk of his career by accepting a reserve role at Ferrari in 2015.

    After claiming just one points finish in 38 grand prix appearances with Sauber, the Mexican was released by the Swiss team at the end of 2014 but was soon offered a lifeline at Ferrari.

    Gutierrez, whose personal sponsors appeared on the SF15-T car, attended several grands prix in the colours of Ferrari as an understudy to four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 title winner, who led the team to a comfortable second-place finish in the constructors' standings.

    His links to the Prancing Horse meant Gutierrez instantly became a leading contender to drive for the Ferrari-affiliated Haas team, who will make their long-awaited debut at March's Australian Grand Prix.

    After the team announced the capture of Romain Grosjean from Lotus last September, Gutierrez's signing was finally confirmed on the eve of his home race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

    And ahead of his return to the grid in 2016, the 24-year-old has admitted he took a major gamble by postponing his racing career to join Ferrari, telling Autosport (h/t Eurosport): 

    I took the biggest risk of my life probably.

    But in life sometimes you need to take those risks and never be afraid. And I was never afraid.

    I was aware of the risk I was taking, but also the fact I had the opportunity.

    It was also about Ferrari taking me to their team.

    I then set very clear targets in the short term, looking at the necessary steps in order for me to achieve another drive the following year.

    Obviously I looked towards Haas, and my relationship with Ferrari. Hopefully that will bring further opportunities to get to the top of Formula 1 in the future.

    Per the same source, Gutierrez revealed that he gained much from working closely alongside drivers of the calibre of Vettel and Raikkonen, claiming the experience was "really crucial" and offered him "a great opportunity to see things from a different perspective."

    Meanwhile, team owner Gene Haas has suggested that the American outfit will share a reserve driver with Ferrari for 2016, per Sports Business Daily's HJ Mai.

Rio Haryanto Facing 'Critical Time' in Race for 2016 Manor Seat

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    Rio Haryanto is facing a crucial period in his bid to secure a place on the 2016 Formula One grid, with the driver reportedly still unable to meet the financial demands of the new-look Manor team.

    With just three weeks remaining until the first of two pre-season tests begins at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Manor remain the only team yet to confirm their driver lineup.

    Haryanto, who won three races in the GP2 feeder series in 2015, appeared to take a major step toward landing a Manor seat when he received a £10 million boost from the Indonesian government last December, per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble.

    Almost two months on, however, Haryanto still hasn't been able to confirm his place in F1, with F1i.com's Phillip van Osten reporting that the 23-year-old remains "approximately 25 per cent" short of the "$16 million budget requested by Manor."

    Per the same source, Haryanto told a press conference that he is hoping "for the best that (his) dream will come true," with Gatot S. Dewa Broto, a spokesman for the Youth and Sports Ministry, outlining the challenges facing the driver.

    He claims Haryanto would effectively need to provide a deposit to Manor to demonstrate his "seriousness" in entering F1 before paying the remainder of the budget in a number of installments throughout the 2016 season.

    And it appears the coming days may act as a deadline for the deposit to be made, with Dewa Broto stating: "Therefore, this week will be a critical time for Rio in entering F1."

    With Manor switching to the all-conquering Mercedes power unit and using Williams components in 2016, as well as attracting notable paddock figures such as Dave Ryan, Nikolas Tombazis and Pat Fry, the perennial backmarkers have become a more attractive proposition than ever before for potential drivers.

    Will Stevens, who drove for the team throughout the 2015 season, told Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde how he is "100 per cent confident" of retaining his seat, with American driver Alexander Rossi telling Sky Sports' James Galloway how he has a "very good" chance of securing a full-time drive.

    Pascal Wehrlein, the Mercedes-affiliated driver, recently told Motorsport Total (h/t Crash.net) how he remains hopeful of being handed an opportunity, while Pastor Maldonado shouldn't be discounted if the Venezuelan loses his place at Renault.

United States GP Decision to Be Made at the End of February

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    A decision on whether the 2016 United States Grand Prix will go ahead will be made by the end of February, the chairman of the Circuit of the Americas has confirmed.

    Since rejoining the Formula One calendar in 2012, the United States GP has established itself as one of the highlights of any given season.

    Last year's rain-interrupted race, where Lewis Hamilton sealed his third world championship following a late mistake by Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, was arguably the most thrilling spectacle of 2015, but the event has come under threat.

    Shortly after Hamilton's victory, as reported by the Telegraph's Daniel Johnson, the Texas state government cut its funding of the race by 20 per cent from $25 million per year to $19.5 million, with COTA chairman Bobby Epstein fearing the United States GP was "screwed."

    However, F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone recently offered a glimmer of hope by telling BBC Sport's Andrew Benson how he was "absolutely" convinced the 2016 race would go ahead.

    The 84-year-old added that the cut in state funding was directly influenced by the poor attendance figures at the 2015 race due to Hurricane Patricia, which meant qualifying and the grand prix itself were held on the same day.

    Taking confidence from Ecclestone's comments, Epstein has confirmed the future of the race will be decided in the coming weeks, telling Autosport (h/t Eurosport):

    I share his optimism on it.

    We all want it to happen, and usually when that's the case, things get done.

    I certainly can't confirm anything at this point, but for sure there will be something within the next 30 days.

    We'll have an answer definitely before the end of February.

    This year's United States GP is currently scheduled to take place on October 23.

Sauber's Marcus Ericsson Hopes for an F1 Race in Scandinavia

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    Marcus Ericsson, the Sauber driver, has revealed his eagerness to see a Scandinavian race added to the Formula One calendar in the coming years.

    Should Kevin Magnussen replace Pastor Maldonado at the Renault team ahead of the upcoming season, the 2016 grid will feature four Scandinavian drivers, including Ericsson, Williams' Valtteri Bottas and 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen.

    Scandinavian drivers have a long and proud history in F1, with Finland's Keke Rosberg winning the title in 1982 and Mika Hakkinen claiming two consecutive titles with McLaren in 1998 and '99, but the sport hasn't visited the region since the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix at Anderstorp.

    Upon joining the now-defunct Caterham team in 2014, Ericsson became Sweden's first F1 driver since Stefan Johansson, and after a troublesome debut season, he claimed five points finishes following his move to Sauber in 2015.

    And while the 25-year-old, who races in the colours of the Swedish flag and sported a tribute to Ronnie Peterson at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix, has accepted his dream is unlikely to come true, Ericsson believes a Scandinavian race would be hugely popular, telling Autosport (h/t Eurosport): 

    I don't see it happening for a long time but it would be cool for the sport if we can have a race in northern Europe.

    We have Swedes, Finns [in F1] and a lot of tradition for motorsport in Scandinavia.

    So to have a race there would be very, very good and I think a lot of people would watch it.

    As it is now, the money it costs to do a race, I don't see a country like Sweden will have the money.

    But I think for sure, there would be great interest for it. ...

    The support I have in Sweden is great.

    We didn't have a driver in F1 for 23 years before I entered the sport, so I appreciate the support.

    It's great and I can see with my results getting better, there are more people following.

    In recent years, F1 has made a habit of reviving historical races, with the Austrian GP returning after an 11-year absence in 2014 and the Mexican GP rejoining the calendar last year—more than two decades after the last event at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

    Last November, F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone told BBC Sport's Andrew Benson of his desire to see the sport return to Argentina, which last staged a race in 1998, with Zandvoort officials also contemplating the return of the Dutch GP, per GPUpdate.net.