Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Hulkenberg at Le Mans, Button, More

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistNovember 28, 2014

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Hulkenberg at Le Mans, Button, More

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    Lars Baron/Getty Images

    Nico Hulkenberg will become the first full-time Formula One driver since Sebastien Bourdais to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He will line up in a Porsche for his debut at the event on June 13 next year.

    Jenson Button may join him if McLaren choose to dispense with his services. The Brit outperformed rookie team-mate Kevin Magnussen in 2014, but the team's racing director, Eric Boullier, says statistics will not be the sole deciding factor on who stays and who goes.

    Clearly, Red Bull felt the same way with Jean-Eric Vergne. He has been axed from his role at Toro Rosso, with Carlos Sainz Junior looking like the man who'll take his place.

    Elsewhere in the F1 world, it has been confirmed that two "spice up the show" gimmicks will not feature in 2015. The F1 Commission and Strategy Group have decided to drop double points at the final race (or any race) and standing starts after a safety-car period.

    And in the aftermath of Red Bull's ejection from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix's qualifying results, Williams insist their own flexible front wing is entirely legal.

    Read on for a full roundup of the week's top stories.

Nico Hulkenberg to Drive for Porsche at Le Mans in 2015

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    Claude Paris/Associated Press

    Nico Hulkenberg has announced he will drive for Porsche in next season's 24 Hours of Le Mans.

    The 2015 edition of the world's most famous endurance race takes place on a free weekend in the F1 calendar, so it won't affect his usual role with Force India.

    Great news! I will also be #Racing for @PorscheRaces at #24hLeMans in 2015. Thanks @TheVijayMallya for the support! #challenge #excited

    — Nico Hülkenberg (@NicoHulkenberg) November 27, 2014

    F1 drivers are usually not permitted to take part in other high-profile events, so Hulkenberg's appearance will be quite significant.

    Before him, the last full-time F1 driver to take part at Le Mans while also occupying a race seat was Sebastien Bourdais in 2009. Hulkenberg will also compete in the Porsche 919 Hybrid at the Six Hours of Spa on May 2.

    Le Mans is hugely prestigious and there's little doubt a number of other drivers would be interested in a similar opportunity.

    Team principals all the way down the pit lane could find themselves under siege very soon.

    "But Nico's dad said he could..."

Williams Insist Their Front Wing Was Legal

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Rob Smedley insists the Williams front wing was legal after attention was drawn to its flexing in the wake of Red Bull's disqualification from qualifying in Abu Dhabi.

    Footage was spread on social media of the wing in Spa, showing significant movement of the upper flaps. F1 technical expert Craig Scarborough was among those who posted a .gif image:

    More deflecting front wing flaps http://t.co/XQaRilsAm4 via Blanchimont from @f1technical

    — Craig Scarborough (@ScarbsF1) November 22, 2014

    But the team's Head of Vehicle Performance says the manner in which the wing achieved this is firmly within the rules. He is quoted by Autosport, saying:

    I think the FIA tested quite a few front wing flaps, certainly ours was tested, and it was passed as being legal.

    We had conversations with the FIA over the weekend, and in the end they were content with what we were doing, that we weren't infringing the regulations. What other teams are doing I can't really comment on, but certainly we had a legal car.

    He went on to talk about Red Bull's response to being caught, including Christian Horner alleging that most teams were pushing the boundaries with flexible wings. Smedley said:

    I am sure Horner's correct that all teams are pushing, it just all depends on how far you are going to push doesn't it?

    There's a set of technical regulations, there's a very clear article that you can't have moveable aerodynamic devices on the cararticle 3.15.

    Given the number of very intelligent people working for Red Bull, they were surely aware of it...

Carlos Sainz Junior Looking Good for Toro Rosso Seat

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    Dan Istitene/Getty Images

    Carlos Sainz Junior looks set to replace Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso, with an announcement expected on December 1.

    Vergne announced on Wednesday that his time with the team was over.

    Despite a good season & 22 pts, I'll not drive anymore for Toro Rosso in 2015. Thanks for those years. Let's go for another big challenge.

    — Jean-Eric Vergne (@JeanEricVergne) November 26, 2014

    Now, Red Bull adviser Helmut Markothe man in charge of the Red Bull young-driver programhas said his replacement will be unveiled soon. He toldSwiss newspaper Blick (h/t grandprix.com), "Turn on Servus TV on Monday. The driver will be on the Formula One show."

    Servus is an Austrian TV channel, and grandprix.com says he appears to be referring to its Sport und Talk aus dem Hangar-7 show.

    Sainz Jr. won the Formula Renault 3.5 series title this year, and he tested for Red Bull at the post-season test in Abu Dhabi. The most advanced of the three eligible Red Bull Junior Team driversthe other two being Alex Lynn and Pierre Gaslyhe looks a shoo-in for the seat alongside 17-year-old Max Verstappen.

    But if Red Bull rate Verstappen as highly as it seems they do, there's a strong argument that Vergne would have been a better man to learn from and compete against.

Statistics Will Not Determine 2015 McLaren Driver Choice

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    Aaron Favila/Associated Press

    McLaren say Jenson Button's superior 2014 performances will not be the deciding factor in who partners Fernando Alonso in 2015.

    The 2009 world champion scored 126 points, while rookie team-mate Kevin Magnussen managed only 55. The qualifying duel was closer, with Button edging it 10-9.

    But McLaren racing director Eric Boullier explained there's more to it than just figures, and is quoted in Autosport saying:

    If it was all about statistics, it would be really easy. I could take my calculator and make this decision, but it is not like this.

    I will not comment any more, and we have already commentated enough. There was a statement from McLaren saying there would be a decision taken, and that will be done before the 1st of December. So please be patient.

    The website reports McLaren CEO Ron Dennis favours keeping Magnussen, while other senior figures within the team prefer Button.

    Alonso is also rumoured to want Button to stay, and the stats suggest the Brit would be the better choice.

    But in defence of Magnussen, it's worth casting the mind back to 2000. Button was in his own rookie year with Williams.

    His then team-mate, Ralf Schumacher, scored 24 points (under the 10-6-4-3-2-1 system) from eight top-six finishes, including three podiums. Button's total from six points finishes was 12, with no podiums.

    The younger Schumacher, never a stellar talent, was unquestionably the better of the pair that year. Yet Button still went on to have a long and highly successful career, easily surpassing the German's accomplishments.

    So judging a driver on the statistics of his first season is never a good idea. The reason it has taken so long is that there are strong arguments for each.

    Whoever draws the short straw will certainly not deserve it.

2 Gimmicks Scrapped for 2015 but Cost-Cutting Neglected

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    Drew Gibson/Getty Images

    Two unpopular rules have been kicked to the kerb for 2015. The news prompted joyous scenes, the likes of which have not been seen since someone found an item they actually needed in a Black Friday sale.

    BBC Sport reports the Strategy Group and F1 Commission have decided to call time on the awarding of double points at the final race and standing starts after a safety-car period. The latter proposal was due to be introduced for next year, but has now been shelved.

    The rule change will need to go before the World Motor Sport Council for ratification, but this should prove a formality.

    The axing of double points will produce the most smiles, but the standing start rule had the potential to insert unfairness and gimmickry into every single race of the season.

    Autosport's article on the topic states safety concerns prompted the U-turn on this particular issue.

    But with every piece of good news comes some of the bad variety, and it has also emerged that no useful agreement was made on cost-cutting.

    Caterham and Marussia gained a small concessionthey will be allowed to use year-old engines in 2015 if it helps them survive. Exactly why they'd want to survive "racing" in a second tier, doomed to be even further off the pace than ever before, is unclear.

    But the real problems surrounding the inequitable distribution of the sports revenues remain unsolved.

    There was also no progress made on the partial relaxation of the engine development regulations. Mercedes will allow their rivals the opportunity for a small mid-season upgrade, but Renault and Ferrari want more.

    One sometimes wonders if an FIA-appointed autocrat in the mould of Jean-Marie Balestre wouldn't be preferable to the current setup*.

    The constant bickering and pursuit of self-interest is becoming somewhat tiring. Wouldn't it be nice if they were just handed a set of rules and told to stick to them?

    * OK, maybe not. How about in the mould of Martin Brundle?