Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Fernando Alonso, Force India, Manor, More

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2015

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Fernando Alonso, Force India, Manor, More

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    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    Fernando Alonso has left hospital looking fit and well, but will miss the third and final Formula One pre-season test at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona. McLaren reserve driver Kevin Magnussen will share the MP4-30 with Jenson Button.

    The Spaniard suffered a concussion in a crash during Day 4 of the second test and spent three nights under observation in hospital; there are fears he may also have to sit out the season-opening race in Australia.

    While Alonso will not be at the Circuit de Catalunya, Force India will be there—and they'll have a new toy to play with. The 2015 VJM08 is finally ready and is expected to make its track debut on Friday.

    Elsewhere, Mark Webber has hit out at what he sees as the increasing proliferation of pay-drivers on the Formula One grid, Will Stevens will race for Manor in 2015 and Susie Wolff feels the super licence rules set to be introduced from 2016 onward need to be changed.

    Read on for a full roundup of the top stories from the last few days.

Fernando Alonso to Miss 3rd Test

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    Dan Istitene/Getty Images

    McLaren have confirmed Fernando Alonso will miss the third and final pre-season test following his crash on the final day of the second test. He will be replaced by test and reserve driver Kevin Magnussen.

    According to information released by McLaren, Alonso suffered a concussion in the crash at Turn 3 of the Circuit de Catalunya. He spent three nights in hospital but left on Wednesday. The Telegraph tweeted a photo taken as he departed.

    Thumbs up from Fernando Alonso as he leaves hospital after crash http://t.co/mLL7ljK4AJ pic.twitter.com/kV7VBwh6I6

    — Telegraph Sport (@TelegraphSport) February 25, 2015

    A statement on the McLaren website said:

    Following his testing accident at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya last Sunday, we are pleased to confirm that Fernando Alonso has now left hospital. He has returned to his family’s home in Spain for further rest and recuperation.

    As a result, he will sit out this week’s final winter test, at which he was due to share driving duties with Jenson Button. Kevin Magnussen, McLaren-Honda’s test and reserve driver, will replace him.

    The speed of recovery from a concussion is very difficult to predict, and BBC Sport's Andrew Benson believes there is a real possibility Alonso will miss the opening race of the season.

    When Sergio Perez suffered a concussion during qualifying for the 2011 Monaco Grand Prix, he missed the race and the the following round in Canada. In an interview published on Formula1.com, the Mexican revealed he did not feel fully recovered until the Hungarian Grand Prix two months later.

    With McLaren almost certain to struggle in the opening races, Alonso has nothing to gain by rushing back before he is feeling 100 percent.

Force India Reveal VJM08, Set to Debut on Friday

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    The VJM07 in action at Catalunya.
    The VJM07 in action at Catalunya.Dan Istitene/Getty Images

    Force India plan to debut their new car on the second day of the third test at Catalunya following lengthy delays in getting it ready.

    The team missed the opening test and ran their 2014 car at the second. They will not run at all on Thursday as they prepare for the new car's arrival, so the VJM07 can now be considered retired.

    Force India chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer said on the team website:

    We have seen a tremendous effort from every department over the last few months to get us to this stage and we're looking forward to seeing the car take to the track later this week.

    The VJM08 will arrive in Barcelona on Friday morning and the final set up will take place in the garage at the track. We are aiming to get out on Friday and the new car will run as much as possible over the weekend.

    The team also tweeted a picture of the new machine.

    And for all those of our #BestFans who want to see a sneak peek of the new VJM08... here it is! #beauty #FeelTheForce pic.twitter.com/WEYJrJ4veu

    — Sahara Force India (@ForceIndiaF1) February 25, 2015

    It's only a render and we'll have to wait until the VJM08's track debut to get a proper look, but details such as an S-duct, what looks like a blown front axle, quite long nose and Mercedes-style front camera pods are visible.

    Force India finished sixth in 2014 to secure a seat on the Strategy Group and will hope to at least match that result in 2015.

Mark Webber Slams Pay-Driver Proliferation

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    Webber's car at the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans.
    Webber's car at the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans.Andrew Hone/Getty Images

    Mark Webber has hit out at the number of pay drivers making their way onto modern F1 grids. The Australian made his grand prix debut for Minardi in 2002 and had spells at Jaguar, Williams and Red Bull in a 215-start career which spanned 12 seasons.

    Now racing for Porsche in the World Endurance Championship, he feels the overall quality of the F1 grid has diminished due to an influx of drivers who only made it due to the deep pockets of sponsors.

    Speaking to the Herald Sun and initially referring positively to Daniil Kvyat, he said:

    It’s always exciting when you have a youngster who comes in on merit and does very well.

    We have a few guys on the grid who have paid their way into Formula One and that’s rubbish—that’s not what we want in the sport.

    The depth of the field has dropped off a bit in the last two or three years and all of us drivers at the front are disappointed with that. We want the depth all the way through and the best young talent coming through the back of the grid.

    It's a common complaint among fans that the best youngsters are often passed by in favour of those with the wealthiest family or sponsors. Webber is likely to find few disagree with what he said.

    A good recent example can be found by comparing the careers of Robin Frijnswho won a host of junior titlesand Max Chilton, who never finished higher than fourth in a single-seater championship. Both drove their last full-time lower formula season in 2012.

    Chilton raced two seasons in F1 due to personal backing (reported by The Telegraph's Daniel Johnson to be around £5 million per season), while sponsor-lite Frijns is yet to rise above reserve driver status.

    But pay drivers only make it because the teams they sign to do not have a choice. Even midfield constructors like Force India and Sauber have to bring in drivers with significant backing just to survive.

    Force India got lucky with Sergio Perez, as he has demonstrated he is worthy of a seat on talent alone; the jury remains out on Sauber duo Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr.

    The only way to ensure the best youngsters make it is to ensure the financial stability of every team on the grid.

    Unfortunately, that's easier said than done.

Will Stevens to Race for Revived Manor Team

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    Will Stevens in Marussia colours at last season's Japanese Grand Prix.
    Will Stevens in Marussia colours at last season's Japanese Grand Prix.Clive Rose/Getty Images

    Will Stevens has been announced as one of the reborn Manor F1 team's drivers for the 2015 season.

    Really happy to confirm that I have signed as a race driver for @ManorF1Team! Can't wait to get to Australia in 2 weeks! #F1 #goodtimes

    — Will Stevens (@WillStevens_) February 25, 2015

    Manor have been working flat-out to get a car ready for the start of the season after having their bid to race using a 2014 car blocked by the F1 Strategy Group.

    In a statement on their Facebook page, the team said:

    The car with which Manor will begin the season is now in an advanced stage of build at the team's current race preparation facility in Dinnington, UK, where personnel are working 24-7 towards the air freight despatch date of 6 March.

    As the sport counts down to the curtain-raising 2015 Formula One Rolex Australian Grand Prix in 18 days' time, Manor is now in a position to be able to provide regular updates on its preparations for Melbourne and wider plans for the season, including the completion of its driver line-up.

    Stevens added:

    It's very exciting to see everything coming together at Manor after the tremendous effort that has gone into saving the team.

    It would not have been possible without the incredible support we have received from all the suppliers and from within the sport, but most of all the fantastic team of people at Manor who are working around the clock to ensure we are ready for Melbourne.

    My thanks to the team for their confidence in me and I can't wait to see all the hard work rewarded when we line up on the grid in two weeks' time.

    Stevens began racing single-seaters in 2008, but has struggled to find any real success. Four seasons in Formula Renault 2.0 returned three winstwo in the UK championship and one in the Northern European Cup.

    He progressed to FR3.5 in 2012 and remained there until the end of 2014, winning two races from 51 entries. Despite this mediocre record, he did a good job for Caterham on his F1 debut at last season's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

    Without the benefit of a full F1 season, it's difficult to know how good he will be, but his record suggests his appointment was not entirely down to his driving talent.

Susie Wolff Wants Super Licence Criteria Changes

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    Susie Wolff in the FW37.
    Susie Wolff in the FW37.Dan Istitene/Getty Images

    Susie Wolff says the FIA Super Licence qualifying criteria set to come into effect from next season need to be changed to allow test and reserve drivers a chance of stepping up to race seats.

    From the start of 2016, drivers with no F1 racing experience will need to score a minimum of 40 qualifying points over their previous three years in the lower formulae. The details of which series' will award how many points are detailed on page 23 of Appendix L to the International Sporting Code (.pdf).

    Drivers who would currently be excluded include Wolff (zero points) and Mercedes' Pascal Wehrlein, who at the time of writing has 10 points but will have zero when the new rules come into effect.

    Speaking to Autosport's Scott Mitchell, Wolff suggested the FIA should take testing experience into account. She said:

    It can't be like that. Pascal is in a different place to me, he's an up-and-coming driver. He's a guy that it can't limit the likes of him coming in.

    We've got to be aware of the fact that the time in a Formula One car is absolutely so valuable because it's so limited.

    So every kilometre you can do gives you an advantage as a driver. It gives you experience and it can't be overlooked completely.

    It's a difficult situation and there's no easy solution. Points just for driving an F1 car is a bad ideaany professional racing driver could do that.

    But there is a strong argument that exceptions should be made for a driver of Wehrlein's calibre. He came fourth in the championship in his rookie season of European F3 (and second in the now-defunct F3 Euroseries), is a DTM race winner and Mercedes believe he's good enough.

    However, waving him through would open a very unwelcome can of worms. Where would the line for exceptions be drawn, and if the qualifying system could be bypassed, what would be the point of having it?

    The new licence rules are fundamentally a good idea, but one wonders if they're going to create more problems than they solve.

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