Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: McLaren-Honda, Red Bull, Force India, More
McLaren racing director Eric Boullier is not ruling out the possibility of Honda supplying a second team in the near future—but only if it doesn't impact on his own team's relationship with their Formula One engine partner.
The once-mighty British team have struggled this season with an uncompetitive and unreliable Honda power unit. Having another team share the development work may be of assistance in the future, but Boullier says the potential benefits have to be weighed against the risk of Honda becoming distracted.
Red Bull have also had a hard time in 2015 with their own engine supplier, and they look set to start the Italian Grand Prix at or near the rear of the grid. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat will be hit with grid penalties for changing their Renault power units.
Both will start no less than 10 places down on where they qualify.
Elsewhere, Nico Hulkenberg's Force India future is secure, but the identity of his 2016 team-mate is less clear, Bernie Ecclestone has revealed he paid the salaries of Lotus staff last month and Renault are close to spending all 12 of their remaining engine development tokens on a single, large upgrade.
Read on for a full roundup of the top stories from the last few days.
McLaren Worried Second Team Could See Honda Resources Split
McLaren are not ruling out the possibility of engine partner Honda supplying a second team in the near future—but are wary it could prove a distraction.
Honda have struggled badly since they returned to the sport at the start of 2015. Because they are only supplying McLaren, the team have been forced to do all of the testing and development work themselves.
This contrasts sharply with Renault, who were able to call on four teams to iron out teething troubles with their own power unit at the start of 2014.
But McLaren racing director Eric Boullier would rather his team took all the pain than see Honda's resources split. He revealed to Autosport, "I'm not sure we would like to pay the price of having a distraction within Honda or giving some focus to this. We have to balance things. We'll see in time."
He added, "We are thinking and we are talking and we are brainstorming."
The arguments for and against a Honda-powered "B-team"—if they could find a team willing to sign up—will have been debated at McLaren all year long. But discussions won't just have focused on the operational side—the question of drivers will also have featured.
McLaren's lack of a suitable midfield partner at which to place their young drivers has been causing problems for some time. Sergio Perez was ditched after just one season to make way for Kevin Magnussen, who was in turn kicked to the kerb to allow Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button to drive in 2015.
Magnussen is eyeing a return to the grid in 2016, while highly rated GP2 star Stoffel Vandoorne looks to have the makings of a future champion. Teams like Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari are able to use their links to place their young drivers further down the grid to develop.
McLaren, despite having two of the most talented, F1-ready youngsters in the world, can't do that. The team can sign kids up, fund their junior careers and develop them into exceptional prospects—but they can't, at the present time, offer them the same chances afforded to Red Bull- and Ferrari-backed drivers.
With a second Honda team, they could.
Of the issue, Boullier said, "It's a nice problem to have—but a tricky one. We will do our best for them."
Fans wanting to see the most promising youngsters race, not sit on the sidelines, can only hope their "best" is good enough.
Nico Hulkenberg to Stay, but Uncertainty Surrounds the 2nd Force India Seat
Nico Hulkenberg will remain a Force India driver after signing a contract extension through to the end of 2017.
The German was among a number of drivers rumoured to be in the running for Kimi Raikkonen's seat at Ferrari—James Allen among others mentioned his name alongside those of Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo.
However, Raikkonen stayed at the Scuderia and, with the other top teams seemingly settled on their own lineups, Hulkenberg has opted to stay put. In a statement on the team website, he said:
I’m very pleased to finalise and announce my plans for the future. I know this team inside out and I feel at home here so it made perfect sense to make a long-term commitment. The progress the team has shown over the last two years has really impressed me and gives me confidence for the future. It’s a great group of people who are hungry for success and want to keep improving year-on-year. I think we have the important things in place going forward and I want to continue growing with this team as we move even further up the grid.
Hulkenberg entered F1 with a glittering record in the junior formulae. He seemed set for great things after impressing in his debut season with Williams in 2010, but his F1 career has never truly taken off.
He spent a year on the sidelines after Williams were forced to take Pastor Maldonado's money for 2011, then he drove for Force India in 2012. A year at Sauber followed before a return to Force India at the start of 2014.
Hulkenberg stayed on for 2015—the first time in his career he had not switched teams over the winter—and now looks set to remain with the Indian outfit until the end of 2017.
Those fans who believe the German deserves a top drive will be disappointed. But at least he is staying in the sport and will have the freedom to defend his Le Mans crown. The future of two of his rivals is less clear.
The expected takeover of Lotus by Renault could leave Pastor Maldonado out in the cold. Auto Motor und Sport (h/t grandprix.com) reports he could take his $50 million PDVSA sponsorship to Force India—displacing Sergio Perez as Hulkenberg's team-mate.
But rather than find himself surplus to requirements, Perez (who packs a sizable sponsorship punch of his own) could come out smelling of roses.
AMuS adds that Williams may be interested in his services, while Sky Sports' Martin Brundle and Johnny Herbert predict the Mexican will go to Lotus—or rather, to Renault—in a straight swap with Maldonado.
So we could still see one Force India driver taking a step forward on the grid—just not the one we might have expected.
Bernie Ecclestone Pays Lotus Staff's Wages as Renault Talks Continue
Bernie Ecclestone paid the salaries of Lotus staff last month to ensure the team were able to make it to the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix.
The team are currently in talks with Renault regarding a takeover, but they are struggling to keep their heads above water in the short term.
Legal action by former test driver Charles Pic resulted in bailiffs visiting the team garage at Spa, and Joe Saward reports Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (the British taxman) is seeking to have the team placed into administration. The hearing for that will take place on September 9.
Ecclestone isn't known for his love of underfunded teams; when Caterham attempted a crowdfunding campaign to make it to last season's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, he told reporters (h/t Reuters), "We don't want begging bowls. If people can’t afford to be in Formula One, they have to find something else to do."
But he stepped in on this occasion as he is keen to see Renault return.
Speaking to the Times (h/t ESPN), he revealed, "I thought I should cover the wages of the people there to make sure they were all right and so that Lotus would at least get to Spa and, hopefully, to Italy. But they really need to make progress with Renault now to make sure everything is OK."
Autosport reports a major factor in the team's current financial situation is uncertainty over its 2016 driver lineup. Under normal circumstances, Lotus would have by now invoiced Pastor Maldonado's sponsor, PDVSA, for $50 million (£32.5 million) to secure his drive for next year.
However, as he is not guaranteed a seat if the team is sold, they have been unable to do that.
Ecclestone's contribution—reported by ESPN to be £1.5 million—was to ensure the 400 unsung heroes at the Enstone team were paid.
Hopefully the Renault deal will be concluded soon and their long-term futures can be secured.
Red Bull Set to Start from the Back at Monza
The two Red Bulls will start at or near the back of the grid for this weekend's Italian Grand Prix after it was confirmed they would be taking new power units for both cars.
Speaking to Autosport, team principal Christian Horner revealed:
We'll be taking a penalty this weekend with both cars, which will be power unit six.
We're out of mileage on the units we've got, and we need to do what we can to get to the end of the year.
We've decided to take it tactically at Monza because it's a track where you are flat out for 75 per cent of it, so of course it's not going to be our strongest circuit of the year.
If full new power units are taken, the penalties should be enough to park the two RB11s on the back row. The rules governing this area state that each driver may use four (or five, for a new supplier) whole power units over the course of the season. If more are used, grid-drop penalties apply.
Each unit is split into six elements—the internal combustion engine (ICE), turbocharger, MGU-K, MGU-H, energy store and control electronics. The official F1 website states the manner in which penalties are imposed as:
The first time a fifth of any of the elements is used, a ten-place grid penalty will be imposed. A five-place grid penalty will then be imposed the first time a fifth of any of the remaining elements is used. Likewise, the first time a sixth of any of the elements is used, a ten-place grid penalty will be imposed, and so on.
Based on FIA information published during the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, a full new power unit for Daniel Ricciardo would contain his sixth ICE, fifth turbocharger, fifth MGU-K, fifth MGU-H, third energy store and third control electronics.
The total grid drop would come to 25 places (10 for the ICE and five each for the turbocharger, MGU-H and MGU-K).
A new unit for Daniil Kvyat would contain his sixth ICE, fifth turbocharger, third MGU-K, third MGU-H, third energy store and third control electronics. His grid penalty would be 15 places (10 for the ICE, five for the turbocharger).
If they only take new ICEs, each will receive a mere 10-place grid drop.
But at a circuit like Monza, where Red Bull are not expected to be strong, even this could see them start 19th and 20th.
Renault Planning to Deploy All 12 Upgrade Tokens at Once; Benefits for 2016?
Renault appear set to spend their entire remaining stock of power unit development tokens on a single, large upgrade as they seek a late-season boost to their teams' competitiveness.
The team are yet to spend any of the 12 tokens they saved from their original 2015 allocation of 32. Speaking to F1i's Nicolas Carpentiers, Renault Sport F1's director of operations Remi Taffin said:
At the start of the year, either you go for major upgrades or smaller ones. We came to the conclusion that the latter option can actually prove too costly, while the former gives you more time to focus on really bringing more performance. So that’s the option we picked.
Regardless of whether we have it in Russia or later, this needs to be a significant improvement, something that has to immediately impact the lap times.
Renault's continued struggles in 2015—after a hugely disappointing 2014—have seen their relationship with primary partners Red Bull crumble. In late August, Sky Sports reported on rumours the Austrian team had served notice to cancel their existing deal at the end of the season.
The outlet added Mercedes could step in to supply Red Bull with engines instead.
Though it seems somewhat curious Renault didn't spend their upgrade tokens as early as possible, holding onto them this long has turned out to be a very smart move—from a purely selfish point of view.
By saving the upgrade until the latest possible moment, Renault have given themselves much longer to work on the improvements. In theory at least, the longer one spends perfecting something, the better it turns out—and the less likely it will need changing again in the forthcoming winter development phase.
A stop-gap fix bolted on in May or June might have been worth a couple of tenths to Red Bull, but Renault would have needed to spend some of 2016's upgrade tokens to make it better still.
A properly thought-out, researched and designed upgrade with only a few races go will not have that problem.
Renault will therefore have a much stronger base on which to work on their 2016 engine—which, it seems, will only be powering their own works team.
And they'll even have Red Bull to test it for them in the final few races of year.