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Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Haas' Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen, More

Oliver HardenFeatured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Haas' Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen, More

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    The wait will finally come to an end for the new Haas team at next week's opening pre-season test, when Romain Grosjean rolls out of the pit lane behind the wheel of their very first Formula One car.

    With close links to Ferrari, the most successful team in the sport's history, much is expected of the American outfit ahead of their debut season in the pinnacle of motorsport. And ahead of the first of two tests at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Grosjean has outlined the team's plans and revealed how honoured he will be to represent Haas on track.

    The Frenchman will probably be joined on the Spanish Grand Prix circuit by Kevin Magnussen, who has effectively replaced him as the lead driver of the team formerly known as Lotus.

    Grosjean's switch to Haas was initially viewed as a major blow to Renault upon the French manufacturer's return to the grid in 2016.

    But in Magnussen, racing director Frederic Vasseur believes Renault have a driver more than capable of winning grands prix and world championships.

    Magnussen, the former McLaren driver, earned his place at Renault after Pastor Maldonado lost his seat due to complications between the team and his personal sponsor. But despite the ugly circumstances surrounding his departure, the Venezuelan has revealed he holds no resentment toward the French manufacturer, as well as discussing the challenges he faces in his bid to return to F1 in 2017.

    Elsewhere, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has explained why his team still live in fear of McLaren-Honda, despite the Silver Arrows winning two consecutive drivers' and constructors' championships, .

    Closing this week's roundup is Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne, who has spoken of his desire to see an Alfa Romeo team in F1.

Romain Grosjean Explains Challenges Facing Haas Ahead of Testing

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    Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    Romain Grosjean has revealed his excitement ahead of his first day of running in the colours of the brand-new Haas team.

    Almost two years after gaining an entry to Formula One, Haas' car will hit the track for the very first time at next week's pre-season test at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

    With the pre-season schedule reduced from three tests to two for 2016, the Ferrari-affiliated American outfit will have a maximum of eight days to prepare their Dallara-designed car for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in March.

    And the Frenchman has explained the importance of the first four-day session for Haas, telling the team's official website

    The first thing for the test is to get the car to run and to work well from there. Hopefully, we can get a lot of mileage. This is a new team, so we need to get everyone to work together, all the engineers, mechanics and the drivers. We need to get as much data and knowledge as we can. It’s important to get the reliability sorted as early as possible because we don’t get much testing and we’re going straight to Melbourne.

    As the team's marquee signing from Lotus, where he claimed 10 podium finishes in four full seasons, Grosjean will become the first driver to represent Haas on a grand prix circuit having been nominated to participate in the opening day of testing.

    Having settled in nicely at the team, the 29-year-old has discussed that honour, telling the same source:

    I felt a very warm welcome from day one with Gene (Haas) and Gunther (Steiner) and from everyone I’ve met in the team. It’s a nice spirit. It’s an American spirit. Everyone wants to go racing. It’s very exciting, as it’s a new challenge. It’s going to be something unique having an American Formula One team on the grid for the first time in 30 years. Driving the car out of the garage on day one will be unbelievable. There’s a lot to look forward to. I already feel comfortable in the team. Everyone is motivated and wants to get to the first test, and then the first race. 

    Grosjean ran with a number of striking helmet designs over the course of his Lotus career and has offered a first glimpse of his new headgear on his official Twitter account.

Renault Regard Kevin Magnussen as a Future World Champion

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    Christophe Ena/Associated Press

    Frederic Vasseur, Renault's newly appointed racing director, believes Kevin Magnussen has what it takes to win the Formula One title in the coming years.

    After winning the Formula Renault 3.5 title in a head-to-head fight with Stoffel Vandoorne in 2013, Magnussen claimed a podium finish on his grand prix debut alongside 2009 world champion Jenson Button at McLaren two seasons ago.

    Having been demoted to a reserve-driver role to make way for two-time title winner Fernando Alonso, however, the Dane spent much of 2015 on the sidelines before being released by the team last October. 

    Following his sacking, McLaren chairman Ron Dennis told Sky Sports' Mike Wise how Magnussen had failed to achieve the "very clear goals" set by the team.

    The 23-year-old's F1 career appeared to have been put on hold until complications between Pastor Maldonado's personal sponsor, PDVSA, and Renault allowed Magnussen to replace the Venezuelan at the Enstone-based team, as reported by BBC Sport's Andrew Benson.

    And Vasseur, who has joined Renault from the highly successful ART Grand Prix junior team, believes a motivated Magnussen will be a major asset to the French manufacturer, telling ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson

    He had a strong race season at McLaren two years ago and showed his ability in the junior categories such as Formula Renault 3.5. He can target winning races and championships as he has the talent.

    The fact he had a lack of mileage last year will motivate him and he'll be chomping at the bit to get back into it all. It's important for us because we all know 2016 won't be an easy season. We know where we are starting from and we need motivated characters like Kevin to keep pushing hard.

    Per the same source, Magnussen added:

    I had a season in 2014 with McLaren and I felt it went quite well pitched against a past world champion. To be replaced the following year was tough even if the line-up the team used was very strong. I had been racing every year since I was six so to sit to the side certainly wasn't part of my plan.

    Hopefully I'll prove many points. I'm extremely motivated after a whole year away. I've been sitting on the sideline during the races for so many weekends and I'm hungry to come back and prove my worth. I've raced my whole life and I'm extremely hungry and keen to get in a race car again and even more so with Renault Sport.

    Like Magnussen, team-mate Jolyon Palmer also sacrificed his racing career in 2015 after joining Lotus as reserve driver.

    But the 2014 GP2 champion has dismissed suggestions that he may take time to readjust to racing, telling F1i.com's Julien Billiotte that he feels "race sharp" and has "no nerves" ahead of his F1 debut in March's Australian Grand Prix.

Pastor Maldonado Discusses Departure from Renault

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Pastor Maldonado has opened up about his departure from Renault ahead of the 2016 season for the first time, insisting he feels no bitterness toward the team.

    Despite claiming just seven points finishes with Lotus over the course of 2014 and '15, Maldonado had been expected to lead a full-blown factory outfit this year following Renault's purchase of the Enstone-based team.

    As reported by BBC Sport's Andrew Benson, however, Maldonado's personal sponsor, Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, were late in delivering payments to the team, with the driver being replaced by Kevin Magnussen ahead of Renault's launch event in Paris at the beginning of February.

    And Maldonado, whose contract for 2016 was confirmed as long ago as last September, has revealed just how quickly his place on this year's grid was taken away from him.

    He told Italian publication Autosprint (h/t ESPN F1's Nate Saunders): "The situation changed radically within a few hours and I found myself without a sponsor, and everything else came from that. I am not angry, not negative, but I feel anything but happy. It felt like a bolt from the blue."

    Following the news of Magnussen's signing, Maldonado's manager, Nicolas Todt, told Reuters' Alan Baldwin how his client was already trying to "bounce back" in 2017, claiming a move to the Mercedes-powered Manor team for 2016 would make "no sense for Pastor."

    However, with serious financial problems in Venezuela—as reported by the Washington Post's Matt O'Brien—it is unclear whether the issues that contributed to Maldonado's departure from Renault could be resolved in time for next year.

    And the driver has admitted he may be forced to explore other options to keep his F1 career alive.

    He told Autosprint (h/t Saunders): "These are sensitive issues. I have yet to understand and think only to work for an alternative way to keep running. PDVSA has so far done a great job and the state programme gave support also to other drivers—such as EJ Viso and Samin Gomez—and in various sports."

Mercedes' Toto Wolff Expects McLaren-Honda, Manor to Come Good

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff believes McLaren-Honda can still emerge as a direct threat to the Silver Arrows despite the team's lacklustre 2015 campaign.

    As Mercedes claimed their second successive drivers and constructors' world championships with Lewis Hamilton in 2015, McLaren endured their worst season since 1980 as Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were restricted to just six points finishes between them.

    Honda's underpowered, inefficient and unreliable V6 turbo power unit was the cause of many of McLaren's problems, but Mercedes are convinced the team remain a dangerous proposition.

    Head of Mercedes High-Performance Powertrains Andy Cowell recently told Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble that Honda are a "big threat," claiming the Japanese manufacturer "are going to make some big, big gains" with the help of McLaren's "data-driven approach."

    And Wolff has echoed his colleague's thoughts, even suggesting Honda made more progress with their engine than any other engine supplier over the course of 2015, despite McLaren's lack of results.

    He told Mercedes' official YouTube channel:

    Honda is a huge organisation with lots of resource, and they were the power unit with the most impressive development curve through 2015.

    Even if it was a very difficult year for them, it was still very good what they achieved in terms of how they progressed through the season. I have no doubt they will be a strong competitor in the future.

    Per the same source, Wolff also expressed his excitement for Manor, who have switched to Mercedes engines ahead of the upcoming season.

    The perennial backmarkers have undergone a change of identity over the winter, with Manor signing a number of highly experienced F1 personnel as well as Pascal Wehrlein, the Mercedes-affiliated driver.

    And Wolff believes Manor, who have registered just one points finish in six seasons to date, are now ready to progress to the next level, adding:

    Manor will make a big step up and not only because of the engine.

    There is a good bunch of people coming together: impressive individuals, with the right budget and right attitude, and Pascal in the car.

    I have confidence that the car and driver will have highlights and be a solid midfield runner.

    With just seven days until the first of two pre-season tests begins, Manor are running out of time to find a team-mate for Wehrlein.

    Although Alexander Rossi, the American driver who participated in five races for the team last season, recently told Sky Sports' William Esler that his chances of landing a seat are "looking positive," GP2 driver Rio Haryanto has claimed he is Manor's preferred candidate, per the Jakarta Post (h/t F1i.com's Chris Medland).

    The source suggests Haryanto missed the deadline of February 5 to pay a deposit for a 2016 race seat, but the Indonesian has stressed he has been given "another week to settle" the issue.

Ferrari's Sergio Marchionne Keen for Alfa Romeo F1 Return

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne has reiterated his desire to see the Alfa Romeo name return to the Formula One grid in the near future.

    Despite not competing in the sport since 1985, the Italian manufacturer has a proud history in grand prix racing, with Giuseppe Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio winning world championships behind the wheel of Alfa Romeo machinery in 1950 and '51, respectively.

    Marchionne combines his position at Ferrari with the role of chief executive officer at Fiat Chrysler and "has been tasked with turning Alfa Romeo into a global force," per Autosport's Lawrence Barretto.

    In 2015, the Alfa Romeo logo appeared on Ferrari's SF15-T car, which won three races with Sebastian Vettel, and Ferrari held discussions with Red Bull Racing about the four time world champions running Alfa Romeo-branded engines in 2016, per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble.

    Despite Red Bull ultimately deciding to use TAG Heuer-branded Renault engines for the upcoming season, Marchionne remains committed to the return of the Alfa Romeo name and has suggested Ferrari may play a direct role in his plans.

    He told Italian publication Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Autosport's Barretto): "In order to re-establish itself as a sport brand, Alfa Romeo can and must consider the possibility of return to race in Formula 1.

    "How? Probably in a collaboration with Ferrari."

    Per the same source, Marchionne said that while the constructor would be capable of producing its own chassis and engines with its own team, Ferrari could supply power units to Alfa Romeo to create "a classic example of a model to follow," adding:

    You couldn't imagine a Red Bull brand associated with Ferrari.

    I say this because they criticise me for not giving them our engine: we either want them in or out.

    In the end this sport must be saved.

    The important thing is to make other car manufacturers enter grand prix racing.

    After a comfortable second-place finish in the 2015 standings, Ferrari are widely expected to provide a stern challenge to Mercedes this year despite failing to win a drivers' championship since Kimi Raikkonen's victory in 2007.

    It has been seven years, meanwhile, since the team last claimed the constructors' crown, and according to Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble), Marchionne has admitted "it would be a tragedy" if Ferrari were to go a decade without a title.

     

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