Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Fernando Alonso, Renault and More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Fernando Alonso, Renault and More

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    Fernando Alonso will miss a Formula One race for the second season in succession after being ruled out of this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix.

    The two-time world champion survived one of the most spectacular accidents of modern times at the recent Australian GP, but despite walking away from the wreckage of his McLaren-Honda, the Spaniard has been declared unfit to compete at the Sakhir circuit.

    One driver's disappointment is another's opportunity, however, and Alonso's absence will see the highly rated Stoffel Vandoorne make his long-awaited F1 debut in Bahrain.

    When Alonso was last ruled out of a grand prix, Kevin Magnussen was the one chosen to replace him. But the Dane is now racing in the bright-yellow colour of Renault, who have returned to the F1 grid in 2016.

    The French manufacturer enjoyed a solid enough start to the season in Australia, but racing director Frederic Vasseur has insisted the Enstone-based team must improve their qualifying pace.

    Manor, meanwhile, are hopeful of improving in every area following a winter of change, with Dave Ryan explaining why he was left with mixed feelings after the first race of 2016.

    Like Alonso, Mark Webber suffered a number of frightening accidents over the course of his F1 career, and the former Red Bull driver has bemoaned the way F1 has allowed itself to walk into an accident with the sport's handling of the elimination-style qualifying format.

    Closing our latest roundup is Pat Symonds, a major contributor to Alonso's consecutive championship triumphs a decade ago, who has questioned whether the teams have too much influence on F1's rules and regulations.

Fernando Alonso Ruled out of Bahrain After Australian Grand Prix Crash

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    Fernando Alonso has been declared unfit to race in this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix following his spectacular crash in the season-opening race in Australia, it has been confirmed.

    The two-time world champion collided with the rear-left wheel of Esteban Gutierrez's Haas at Turn 3 in the early stages of Australian GP, sending Alonso's McLaren-Honda rolling into the gravel trap, where it came to a rest upturned against a crash barrier.

    Although the Spaniard emerged relatively unscathed from the wreckage, the 34-year-old later admitted the accident was the biggest of his career, per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, with a McLaren spokesman telling Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper Alonso's seat was cracked in the incident.

    In the buildup to the Bahrain weekend, the Sun's Ben Hunt claimed Alonso's participation in the race was far from guaranteed, with the after-effects of his crash in pre-season testing in 2015—which saw him spend three days in hospital before missing the Australian GP with concussion—complicating the matter.

    And on Thursday, the FIA confirmed Alonso will take no part in the Bahrain GP. In a statement, the governing body said (via Sky Sports' William Esler):

    Following an examination undertaken this morning at the Bahrain International Circuit Medical Centre, it has been decided that McLaren Honda F1 Team driver Fernando Alonso should not take part in this weekend's Bahrain GP.

    Two sets of chest CT scans were compared and it was decided that there was insufficient resolution of the signs to allow him to compete on safety grounds.

    A repeat chest scan has been requested before the Chinese Grand Prix and the results will be considered before allowing him to race there.

    McLaren's official Twitter account has confirmed their 24-year-old reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne, who won the GP2 feeder series in 2015, will make his grand prix debut in place of Alonso this weekend.

    The Belgian did not test the team's MP4-31 car over the winter, but he has an outstanding record in Bahrain having won the GP2 feature race in 2014 and '15. Vandoorne had been in Japan preparing to test his Super Formula car, but he tweeted he is "looking forward" to his F1 debut and vowing to do his "very best for the team" before boarding a plane for Bahrain

    In a post on his official Instagram account, Alonso explained how he "tried until the last minute to race in Bahrain" but admitted he had faced "hard" days "after such an impact." The two-time world champion added he will "try to help" Vandoorne to "make the most of the weekend."

Renault Hope to Improve Qualifying Pace After 'Unexpected' Race Performance

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    Renault racing director Frederic Vasseur has admitted the team must improve their performance in qualifying conditions after a surprisingly strong start to the 2016 season in Australia.

    After their late takeover of the Enstone-based Lotus outfit, which was not formally announced until last December, Renault had been expected to make an underwhelming start to the campaign upon the French manufacturer's return to the F1 grid.

    Despite their limited expectations, the team performed well in Australia with debutant Jolyon Palmer finishing just outside the points in 11th and Kevin Magnussen recovering from a first-lap puncture to claim 12th.

    Renault's competent display in the race made up for the disappointment of qualifying, when Palmer and Magnussen escaped elimination from Q1 before becoming the first drivers to drop out of the second segment, starting 14th and 15th, respectively.

    Although Vasseur, formerly of the ART Grand Prix operation in the junior single-seater categories, has declared himself happy with the team's start to 2016, the Frenchman believes enhancing Renault's qualifying form is a priority, telling Autosport's Ben Anderson and Ian Parkes:

    We can be satisfied with the beginning.

    We managed to get both cars to the end, the pace was good, the last stint for Kevin was a good one, and Jolyon was in the top 10 for 75 per cent of the race.

    To be on the [race] pace with Force India was perhaps unexpected, so we can be very happy with our pace, but we know we have to improve on the qualifying pace now.

    Overall I cannot be satisfied because we did not score points, so we have to look forward. We know we have a lot of work to do.

    At least the signs are encouraging, and the result will push everyone in the team for the next race.

    Per the same source, Vasseur revealed "updates are in the pipeline" for the team, claiming Renault "have a lot of work to do" on both the power unit and the R.S.16 chassis.

    Meanwhile, Renault managing director Cyril Abiteboul has claimed the team intend to return to winning ways in the 2018 season, per F1i.com's Chris Medland.

Manor Confident of Climbing Up the Pecking Order

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    Dave Ryan, the Manor racing director, has insisted the team are capable of improving their position in Formula One's pecking order despite a disappointing Australian Grand Prix.

    The perennial backmarkers underwent a change of identity over the winter, with the likes of Ryan and former Ferrari personnel Pat Fry and Nikolas Tombazis arriving along with a deal to switch to the all-conquering Mercedes power units.

    At the beginning of pre-season testing, technical director John McQuilliam told Manor's official website the new MRT05 was already "the best car" the team have produced since arriving on the grid as Virgin Racing at 2010, but the renewed optimism was followed by familiar results in Australia.

    Rio Haryanto and Pascal Wehrlein were rooted to the back row of the grid at Albert Park, and although the latter benefited from a strong start to the race, the German ultimately finished a lap down in 16th as his team-mate retired due to a technical problem.

    Per Autosport's Lawrence Barretto and Ian Parkes, Ryan has admitted that while the team "expected" to be at the rear of the field, they felt a "very respectable position" of around 14th was possible in the race.

    Despite his disappointment with the Australian GP result, the former McLaren employee is encouraged Manor—who entered administration in late 2014—are no longer cut adrift at the back of the grid, telling the same source:

    We're in a great position, a far better position than we have been in the past.

    There is a big desire to do well and resource available to improve in lots of areas.

    We know the areas where we are weak, we know the areas we need to work on, but you can't go down the shop and buy it.

    You have to either create it in house or invest a lot of time looking for the right solutions. They are not quick fixes, but I recognise them.

    We can see exactly where we need to invest time and money to improve our processes, and we couldn't do that in the past.

    The team has done a fantastic job just to be around given everything that happened.

    Now, we have to improve, we have to earn a right to be here. We know that.

    After the Australian GP, Wehrlein told Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper "quite big tyre degradation" is currently preventing Manor from realising their potential, insisting "the pace is there" when that issue is resolved.

Mark Webber Bemused by Qualifying U-Turn After Australian GP Disaster

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    Mark Webber has revealed his surprise regarding F1's decision to persevere with the elimination-style qualifying format at this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix following the widespread criticism of the structure in Australia.

    With less than a month until the beginning of the 2016 season, the FIA announced the F1 Commission had "unanimously accepted" a proposal to overhaul the qualifying format in an effort to enhance the spectacle of the races.

    However, the new system was heavily criticised at the Australian GP and the teams voted to revert to the previous knockout format, which was first introduced at the beginning of 2006, on the morning of the Albert Park race.

    But another U-turn followed, and the elimination-style format will continue for at least one more race after the F1 Commission failed to come to an agreement, as reported by BBC Sport's Andrew Benson.

    Webber claimed nine grand prix victories over the course of a 12-year career in F1, and the 2015 World Endurance Champion has reiterated his criticism of the elimination-style structure, claiming the format is too complicated and places too great an emphasis on the drivers in the midfield, rather than those fighting for pole position.

    He told MailOnline's Dan Ripley

    I thought we were leaving Melbourne in good shape with a decision to go back to a system which was working pretty well.

    But that’s not the case and we are back to the Melbourne scenario which even at its best it will struggle to equal what we had.

    For me the beef I've got is we are still focusing on the driver that’s on the bubble or the driver that’s slow trying to get into that session. Now with all due respect we are focusing on Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez or young Esteban Gutierrez, now that’s fine. But we've also got to be focusing on the laps the big boys are doing to form the first few rows of the grid.

    [...]

    When we switch a TV on it should be this is qualifying, who has the fastest lap time in the tank in terms of the driver pushing absolute commitment and do a phenomenal lap? And if you do can, you go a tenth quicker. I want to go back out and respond.

    And that was the problem in Melbourne, people couldn't respond as there wasn't enough tyres or enough time.

    Now we've gone way too far and drivers are pigeon holed and restricted into operational running times they don’t always want.

    Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team boss, was among the fiercest critics of the new format at the Australian GP and has predicted it will not be any more enjoyable at Sakhir, telling the team's official website "it's hard to see how it might be more entertaining for the fans this weekend in Bahrain."

Pat Symonds Fears Teams Have Too Much Influence on F1 Rules

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    Pat Symonds, the Williams chief technical officer, believes the teams have too much influence over new rules in F1, suggesting the competitors' self-interest has contributed to the sport's lack of direction.

    As well as facing criticism over the elimination-style qualifying format, F1's decision-making progress has been frequently questioned in recent weeks, with the Grand Prix Drivers' Association publishing an open letter referring to it as "obsolete and ill-structured."

    Per BBC Sport's Andrew Benson, F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone responded with a letter of his own, implying those within F1 act "with their very best intentions" rather than for the good of the sport itself.

    As one of the most experienced engineers in the pit lane, Symonds has played an active role in some of the biggest rule changes in modern times, but he believes power should be taken away from the sport's participants to ensure healthy competition in F1.

    According to Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, he said:

    I think you should ask Formula 1, rather than ask the teams. Part of the problem is that the teams are involved a little bit too much.

    The way I explained this to some sponsors was that if this was football and you said: "Right, we need some new regulations—let's ask the teams." If you have a team with a really, really crap goalkeeper and you say, "how wide should we make the goals," they will say, "Let's make them [this narrow]."

    You've got another team with an ace goalkeeper, they're going to say, "Well let's make them this wide." Teams aren't the people to ask. You ask what Formula 1 should do; well ask Formula 1 what they're going to do.

    If we had a solid direction, we, as the teams, would just follow it.

    Per the same source, Symonds added that while the current decision-making process is "not necessarily dreadful," the teams' power has led to "more and more polarised opinions," claiming the "stronger ones" always win in debates with their smaller competitors.

    Symonds is among those behind the major regulations changes planned for 2017, which appear to have hit another stumbling block with less than a year until their introduction.

    Motorsport.com's Franco Nugnes noted "the latest simulation data" of the 2017-specification cars shows they will be slower in a straight line and could subject the drivers to "a lateral force of 5.5G" around corners such as Turn 3 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, which is "at the limit of what F1 drivers have ever experienced."


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