Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, McLaren & More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2015

Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, McLaren & More

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    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    The Japanese Grand Prix began with the paddock expecting Jenson Button to call time on his 16-year career, but it ended with Fernando Alonso's Formula One future up in the air.

    The hot potato that is retirement was passed freely around the McLaren-Honda garage at Suzuka, highlighting just how far one of the most sacred teams in the sport's history have fallen.

    At various stages over the weekend, both Alonso and Button gave the impression that they no longer wanted to be part of a project they were desperate to lead just 12 months ago.

    But despite their unhappiness with their employer's lack of competitiveness, both men look set to remain at McLaren in 2016 after Alonso reiterated his commitment to the cause and Button went head-to-head with the team's most senior figure and won.

    Nico Rosberg, meanwhile, went head-to-head with his team-mate at Suzuka and lost, with Lewis Hamilton claiming his eighth win of the season and equalling three-time world champion Ayrton Senna's tally of career victories.

    It seemed his failure to capitalise on a rare pole position offered yet more evidence that Rosberg is unlikely to win a title of his own, but Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has explained why the German lost out to Hamilton at the start.

    With Renault's return edging ever closer and news of a potential adjustment to the 2016 calendar, here's this week's roundup.

Fernando Alonso Will Stay at McLaren-Honda Despite Suzuka Outburst

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    Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press

    Fernando Alonso has insisted he will remain a McLaren-Honda driver next season, despite venting his frustration with the team's lack of competitiveness in the Japanese Grand Prix.

    One of the most volatile personalities in Formula One, Alonso, a man accustomed to fighting for race wins and world championships, has spent much of the season toward the rear of the grid, scoring points on just two occasions in the first 14 races.

    Honda's troublesome power has been at the root of McLaren's struggles, but Alonso has remained loyal to his employers, only openly criticising them over team radio during the Canadian GP.

    At Honda's home race, however, the Spaniard let rip.

    As he told McLaren's official website on Saturday, Alonso completed "probably the best lap of my career around Suzuka" in qualifying, but that—with inadequate machinery at his disposal—only translated into 14th place on the time sheets.

    In the early stages of the race, he forced his way into the point-scoring positions but—again, due to his underpowered engine—was unable to prevent faster cars from overtaking him, eventually finishing 11th.

    As heard over the FIA television feed, Alonso berated the team over the pit-to-car radio as he tumbled down the order, claiming it was "very embarrassing" to be passed so easily and comparing Honda's V6 turbo power unit to an engine used in GP2, F1's feeder series.

    In July, Alonso told Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde of his desire to race in other categories of motor-racing, admitting he was falling out of love with F1. And after the Suzuka race, when asked whether he would be on the grid in 2015, Alonso told BBC Sport, "I don't know," raising doubts over his future in the sport.

    However, in a series of posts on his official Twitter account (h/t Motorsport.com), Alonso has reiterated his commitment to McLaren, stating:

    Today was our third-best result of the season! We keep working hard.

    When we are fighting in groups it is difficult, we all want to win. And sometimes our team radio gets played, but it should be private chats.

    No one should have any doubt that I have three years with McLaren and my career in F1 will end with this team, hopefully winning everything.

    In April, Alonso told MailOnline's Jonathan McEvoy of his desire to end his career at McLaren, although it is worth remembering he told Autosport's Sam Tremayne in 2012 how he wanted to finish his career as a Ferrari driver, only to leave the Italian team two years later.

Jenson Button Now Set to Remain at McLaren in 2016

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Jenson Button's reluctance to share any details about his future plans in the FIA press conference at the Japanese Grand Prix felt like a missed opportunity.

    According to the Telegraph's Daniel Johnson, Button's eagerness to "bow out on his terms" had encouraged him to bring an end to his 16-year F1 career at the end of the 2015 season, and his silence seemed as though he was merely delaying the inevitable.

    But it is increasingly evident Button's unwillingness to give anything away was not due to any commercial or confidentiality reasons, but because he simply, at that point, wasn't sure what he was going to do in 2016.

    And having looked set to walk away just a week ago, it seems Button is going nowhere.

    After the Japanese GP, McLaren chairman Ron Dennis claimed both Alonso and Button, whom he admitted to treating poorly, will both remain at the team next season, telling BBC Sport's Andrew Benson:

    We have two drivers. We want both of them in the team and it is as simple as that. We will have a winning team.

    Jenson has a two-year contract. It has an option to stop. I told Jenson—probably too late—that we have no intention of exercising the option.

    I told him on Thursday, probably I should have told him on Tuesday.

    In a separate Telegraph article, Johnson claims Dennis has "agreed to give Button the full pay rise due in his current terms," which will see the 2009 world champion's salary rise from £8 million to £12 million for 2016, and informed Button that he will drive for the team.

    Sky Sports' Mark Hughes, meanwhile, believes the rumours of Button's retirement were all part of a "poker" game between the 35-year-old and Dennis, who initially intended to exercise the contractual option and then negotiate a fresh, "cheaper" deal with Button.

    But the fear of losing Button, Hughes suggests, has forced Dennis to blink first.

Hot Engine Cost Nico Rosberg at Start of Japanese GP, Say Mercedes

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Mercedes have claimed an overheating power unit resulted in Nico Rosberg's average start in the Japanese Grand Prix.

    The German claimed his first pole position since May on Saturday at Suzuka, giving Rosberg a strong chance of securing his first grand prix victory in three months.

    Rosberg, however, was beaten off the line by Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who quickly put his car alongside and held the inside line into Turns 1 and 2, where he ran Rosberg out of road, allowing Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas to take second and third place, respectively.

    And Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has explained the higher temperature of Rosberg's engine cost him dearly at the start of the race, telling Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble:

    The initial getaway was good for both cars. Nico had a little bit of an issue with a hotter power unit and when it kicked in after a couple of seconds, he didn't have same power as Lewis.

    It was showing up on the formation lap. I haven't got an explanation yet but there was definitely a slight drop in power due to a temperature related issue.

    We don't know yet if it was down to the driver, but it affected him the whole race—and definitely affected him in the fight at Turn 1 and Turn 2.

    As we noted after the race, Hamilton's decision to ease his pace at the end of the formation lap and leave Rosberg sitting alone on the grid seemed like a pre-meditated plan to ensure the German's car lost tyre temperature and—with no air to cool his power unit—increased engine temperature.

    Per the FIA TV feed, Rosberg was instructed by Tony Ross, his race engineer, to hold back to manage his engine temperatures, which were "causing damage," while attacking Bottas in the first stint.

    The problem may also explain why the German was unable to pull away from Vettel after reclaiming second place in the final stint, finishing just 1.886 seconds ahead of the Ferrari driver, per the official F1 website.

Renault's Takeover of Lotus Edges Closer

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Renault's return to Formula One as a full-scale works operation has moved a step closer after a "letter of intent" was signed by the French manufacturer and the owners of the Lotus team.

    Lotus have been hindered by financial problems this season, to the point where the very existence of the team who began life as Toleman—and won world championships as Benetton and Renault over the last two decades—was cast in doubt.

    The black-and-gold team have been embroiled in several humiliating situations in 2015, having been denied their allocation of tyres at July's Hungarian Grand Prix and facing the prospect of their cars being impounded at the Belgian GP, as reported by Autosport's Ian Parkes and Dieter Rencken.

    Per Sky Sports' James Galloway, Lotus were denied access to their hospitality unit at the Japanese Grand Prix, forcing F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone and fellow teams to intervene and feed their employees.

    After Romain Grosjean's third-place finish at Spa-Francorchamps, trackside operations director Alan Permane told Sky Sports' William Esler how this has been "the worst season we have had financially," claiming the team would "welcome (Renault) back with open arms."

    While Renault have been in discussion regarding a takeover for some time—F1 journalist Anthony Rowlinson claimed "sources" suggested the deal was "done" at the beginning of September—there had been no official news until now.

    But a statement released via Renault Sport's official website has confirmed the purchase is well and truly on. It read:

    Renault Group and Gravity Motorsports S.a.r.l., an affiliate of Genii Capital SA, are pleased to announce the signature of a Letter of Intent regarding the potential acquisition by Renault of a controlling stake in Lotus F1 Team Ltd.

    The signature of this Letter of Intent marks Renault’s first step towards the project of a Renault Formula 1 team from the 2016 racing season thereby extending 38 years of commitment of the brand to world’s premier motorsport championship series.

    Renault Group and Gravity will work together in the coming weeks to eventually turn this initial undertaking into a definitive transaction provided all terms and conditions are met between them and other interested parties.

    Renault last competed in F1 as a manufacturer team in 2010 and have since existed as an engine supplier, providing Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso with V6 turbo power units in 2015.

2016 Season Set to Begin in March After All

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    In May, the organisers of the Australian Grand Prix announced the traditional season opener would be held on April 3 in 2016, three weeks later than usual.

    Although that would have marked the latest start to a campaign since 1988, and initially implied the first race would be staged at another venue, it soon became clear that this was part of F1's plan to create a more condensed schedule.

    Transforming an F1 season from a marathon to a sprint, however, has proven too good to be true, with Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper claiming Bernie Ecclestone is now pushing for an earlier start to 2016, which could play havoc with the teams' pre-season preparations.

    Per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, Ecclestone could push the Australian GP back by two or even three weeks to March 20, the "likely" option at this stage, or March 13.

    One date that is not under consideration, though, is March 27, with the organisers of the Melbourne event reluctant to stage the race on an Easter weekend when many locals—staff and spectators—"leave town."

    Andrew Westacott, the CEO of the Australian GP, has been quoted by Fairfax media (h/t Motorsport.com) as stating: "It's not a problem. We'll conduct the race on whatever date suits the requirements of the global F1 calendar except Easter. Otherwise, we're open-minded. We're not assuming anything at this stage, but scheduling the F1 Australian Grand Prix over the Easter weekend is not acceptable."

    Should the Albert Park race move to March 20, there will be—unless other events are also switched in sync with Australia—a three-week break until the Chinese GP, currently scheduled as the second race of the 2016 campaign.

    So much for this shorter, snappier F1 season...

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