Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Romain Grosjean, Lotus, Renault and More
Romain Grosjean's third-place finish in the Belgian Grand Prix was arguably the most popular result of the 2015 Formula One season thus far.
It has been two years since the Frenchman and Lotus were on the verge of greatness, but the team's tumble down the pecking order has prevented Grosjean from building upon his strong end to the 2013 campaign.
And Grosjean has explained how it feels to hold a trophy high above his head and to spray that celebratory champagne once again after his extended and painful absence from the podium.
One of Grosjean's bosses, meanwhile, has offered an insight into the financial concerns that saw Lotus transform from race winners to occasional point scorers almost overnight.
Alan Permane, a long-serving member at the team, has revealed the lengths Lotus have had to go to in their efforts to survive and why the outfit are pinning their hopes on a takeover by Renault.
But could Renault be set to purchase one of their closest challengers?
Despite a deal between Lotus and the French manufacturer appearing to be a formality, a rival team boss has claimed he has held discussions with Renault about a potential takeover.
The Belgian GP weekend was marred by the tyre failures suffered by Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, who missed out on a podium finish when his rear-right Pirelli exploded with two laps remaining.
The drivers, particularly the latter, have criticised F1's sole tyre manufacturer, and Pirelli have responded, but in a way none of us were expecting.
Closing this week's roundup is Jenson Button, who cut a very downbeat figure after another nightmare race for McLaren-Honda.
Romain Grosjean Reflects on Emotional Belgian GP Podium
Grosjean has revealed his relief after securing his first podium finish in almost two years at the Belgian Grand Prix.
The Frenchman was arguably the star of the Spa-Francorchamps weekend, posting the fourth-fastest time in qualifying. A gearbox penalty meant he started ninth, but an assured performance in the race saw him run close behind the Ferrari of Vettel in the latter stages.
Vettel's tyre failure with two laps remaining elevated Grosjean to third, allowing him to ease to third place, his first appearance on a podium since the 2013 United States Grand Prix.
Grosjean's result came at a perfect time for Lotus, whose financial concerns became increasingly apparent at Spa, and the 29-year-old explained the team's post-qualifying predictions suggested he was on course to finish no higher than fifth in the race.
He told Sky Sports' James Galloway:
It's unbelievable to be on the podium.
Qualifying was really good, but we never thought about coming back that high on the standings.
The very optimistic pre-race strategy was giving us P5 and here we are P3. Thirty-one races without a podium I think, since Austin 2013, and so it's just great to be here. I think we're going to celebrate with a lot of champagne!
Grosjean shadowed Vettel for a number of laps before the four-time world champion's tyre explosion on the Kemmel Straight on Lap 42, but he was unable to seriously challenge the position.
And the French driver, per the same source, admitted that although Lotus had turned their Mercedes engine up to its maximum settings, it "would have been difficult, but not impossible" to pass the Ferrari.
According to BBC Sport, Grosjean admitted his rise to third place reduced him to tears as he coasted to the chequered flag, stating: "I was crying on the last lap, so it was kind of hard to see the apex of every corner!"
Lotus' Alan Permane Reveals Extent of Financial Problems
After Grosjean's podium finish in the Belgian Grand Prix, Lotus trackside operations boss Alan Permane explained how the team have been crippled by financial worries throughout 2015.
The Enstone-based outfit have looked extremely vulnerable since their delayed start to pre-season testing in February, but the seriousness of their predicament has only become obvious in recent months.
According to Sky Sports' William Esler, Lotus missed half an hour of first practice ahead of July's Hungarian GP due to a dispute with Pirelli, who initially refused to provide the team with tyres, just weeks after being the subject of a winding-up petition.
On the eve of the Belgian race, meanwhile, Autosport's Dieter Rencken and Ian Parkes reported that Lotus were "embroiled in a legal battle" with Charles Pic, their disgruntled former reserve driver, which could have seen their cars being impounded at Spa-Francorchamps.
And Permane has lifted the lid on just how troublesome this year has been for Lotus, telling Esler in a separate Sky Sports article:
We have had a very, very difficult season.
This is the worst season we have had financially and we have scrimped and scraped for parts and to get the cars on the track is a massive effort each week. So to be able to stick it on the podium is just unbelievable.
It has been a very, very hard weekend for us, especially Friday—we've had all kinds of money problems as people know—and to be able to put that behind us and do the business on the track has been great.
Permane added that Lotus have been starved of resources this year, forced to operate with just three gearboxes while other teams use "five or six," adding that a new front wing, introduced at Spa, is "about the only thing we have done" in terms of developing the E23 chassis this season.
A decade ago, Lotus—then under the guise of Renault—were on course for their first of two consecutive world championship triumphs with Fernando Alonso.
The French manufacturer have been heavily linked to repurchasing Lotus, and Permane, a figurehead at the team during that successful spell between 2005 and 2006, is desperate for the deal to come off, telling the same source: "The team are incredibly excited about it. We would welcome them back with open arms obviously."
Renault Turning Attention to Force India?
Renault and Lotus seem like a perfect fit, not only because of their previous success together but the potential of the black-and-gold outfit, who as recently as 2013 were beating manufacturers of the might of McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes on a regular basis.
But it seems the French manufacturer could now be planning to purchase one of Lotus' closest rivals, with Force India holding discussions with the company the night before the Belgian Grand Prix.
According to Autosport's Dieter Rencken and Lawrence Barretto, Renault are currently debating their long-term future in Formula One and are set to either continue as an engine supplier—they currently power Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso—return as a factory team or walk away from the sport entirely.
Toro Rosso were the initial favourites to become a Renault works operation, but team principal Franz Tost told the official F1 website that communication between the two parties had dwindled, claiming Renault had "decided to buy another team."
That team appeared, and is still very likely, to be Lotus, but before Renault finalise a decision, they are seemingly assessing every single option.
Due to Grosjean's third-place finish at Spa, Lotus overtook Force India in the race for fifth place in the constructors' standings, but the two teams are separated by just one point with eight races remaining.
And Vijay Mallya has revealed that he met Renault ambassador Alain Prost, the four-time world champion, on Saturday evening to discuss the possibility of a takeover, telling Rencken and Barretto:
Yesterday was a conversation from their side to update me on the fact no decision has been taken, they haven't made a proposal about the board of Renault.
Secondly, he wanted to know how I would feel about shareholding. Would we be willing to consider being a minority. If so, what would be our aspirations. ...
We talked generally about their interest in about potentially becoming a constructor, that they are talking to multiple teams and about what is my vision and what is possible and not possible. ...
There is no deal on the table. They have not made a decision about their plans. It's very preliminary.
Force India began life as Jordan in 1991, and after spending much of the last decade as a backmarker outfit—under the guises of Midland and Spyker—have established themselves as one of the most well-driven teams in the sport.
The team equalled their best-ever finish in the constructors' standings in 2014 with sixth place, and it would be fascinating to see what the Silverstone-based outfit could achieve with a wealth of resources.
Pirelli Hit Back After Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg Criticise Tyres
Rosberg and Vettel suffered huge tyre failures over the course of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, and both men didn't hold back in their criticism of Pirelli.
Rosberg was fortunate to miss the barriers when his rear-right tyre exploded at Blanchimont in the second practice session on Friday afternoon, while Vettel's failure could have resulted in a serious crash at Eau Rouge had his tyre burst just seconds earlier on the penultimate lap of the race.
In a video on his official Twitter account, Rosberg claimed the situation is "really not acceptable," claiming Pirelli risked causing "the biggest shunts ever."
Vettel, meanwhile, told the BBC (h/t Autosport) that "things like that are not allowed to happen," even claiming Pirelli have refused to take responsibility for similar incidents in the past, having released a statement distancing themselves from Rosberg's incident in FP2.
While Paul Hembery, Pirelli's motorsport boss, reacted to Vettel's complaints by blaming Ferrari's one-stop strategy for the failure, per Motorsport.com's Charles Bradley, the Italian manufacturer themselves decided against issuing an official response.
Instead, Pirelli released a statement via their official website on Sunday evening, explaining how a rule change they proposed almost two years ago would have prevented the incident suffered by Vettel, whose medium-compound tyres had completed 28 laps at the time of the failure. It read:
Regarding what happened today at the Belgian Grand Prix, Pirelli underlines that:
In November 2013, Pirelli requested that there should be rules to govern the maximum number of laps that can be driven on the same set of tyres, among other parameters to do with correct tyre usage. This request was not accepted. The proposal put forward a maximum distance equivalent to 50 per cent of the grand prix distance for the prime tyre and 30 per cent for the option. These conditions, if applied today at Spa, would have limited the maximum number of laps on the medium compound to 22.
Pirelli's statement was bizarre for a number of reasons, not least because—since they became F1's sole tyre supplier in 2011—they have prided themselves on their capability to produce exciting racing through fast-degrading tyres and strategic variation.
In offering to implement defined stint lengths, the Italian manufacturer risked removing the one element that has defined their era, offering yet more evidence that Pirelli, the determining factor in each team's race strategy, have no real strategy of their own.
Jenson Button Humiliated by McLaren-Honda's Belgian GP Performance
McLaren-Honda entered the Belgian Grand Prix with a significant engine upgrade and huge expectations, with Yasuhisa Arai telling Autosport's Ben Anderson how their new-spec power unit would see them compete "on a level similar to Ferrari."
Yet the team endured one of their most degrading weekends of the year as this "big step" saw them move closer to the back of the field than the front.
Alonso and Button were nailed to the penultimate row of the grid and were given engine-related grid penalties of 30 and 25 places, respectively, at Spa—an impressive feat since there are only 20 cars in Formula One.
On a circuit that does not suit their MP4-30 car, Alonso and Button were lapped en route to 13th and 14th place in the Belgian GP and were not even classified above Vettel, who failed to reach the chequered flag following his tyre failure, per the official F1 website.
And Button was left to reflect on his terrible race, three years after claiming one of his most impressive victories for McLaren at Spa.
The 2009 world champion revealed he was hindered by deployment problems relating to the energy recovery systems, which also affected his performance with the old-spec Honda engine in Hungarian GP qualifying, proving the Japanese manufacturer have made no progress whatsoever. He told Sky Sports' William Esler:
We had deployment issues. It wasn't deploying as it should and it wasn't recovering as it should, so basically I did the straights with no deployment, so immediately after the top curve at Eau Rouge it would cut so I did the whole straight with just a petrol engine.
So yeah that made it a little bit tough out there, it was pretty embarrassing to be fair. I was just driving round, the last eight laps were interesting, the guys that were lapping me I was able to have a grandstand view of their race which was the only bit that was fun.
The pace isn't good anyway, as you can see with Fernando, but when you don't have any deployment on the straights it is a lot of power these days. I was basically just driving around and keeping it on the black stuff.
McLaren's predicament is unlikely to improve at the next race at Monza, the fastest and most power-dependent circuit on the F1 calendar.