F1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Max Verstappen to Red Bull, Kimi Raikkonen and More
Max Verstappen's rapid rise through the ranks of Formula One continued on Thursday morning when the teenager was promoted to Red Bull Racing.
Little more than a year after making his grand prix debut at the age of 17, Verstappen will represent the four-time world champions from next weekend's Spanish Grand Prix after Red Bull decided to punish Daniil Kvyat for his Russian GP crimes by sending the 22-year-old back to Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Verstappen's graduation to Red Bull is likely to be good news for Kimi Raikkonen, who has already seen off one of the prime candidates for his seat at Ferrari.
After clinging onto his place in F1 at the end of an inconsistent 2015 campaign, this season was expected to be the 2007 world champion's last in the pinnacle of motorsport.
But Raikkonen has indicated he would be willing to remain at Ferrari in 2017 while admitting his future is not in his hands.
With Stoffel Vandoorne pushing for a promotion to McLaren-Honda for next season, Jenson Button may also find he has little control over his future.
Having survived two successive retirement sagas in 2014 and '15, the 2009 world champion will be left with no option but to retire at some stage, but it has been claimed Button could be set for a surprise move back to the place where it all began.
Elsewhere, the FIA's Charlie Whiting has explained what F1 is aiming to achieve with its pursuit of increased cockpit-safety measures, and Renault has explained why it wants to continue to supply engines to Red Bull in 2017.
Could a little va-va-voom power Verstappen to his first world championship next season? That discussion, we think, is for another day.
For now, here's this week's roundup.
Max Verstappen to Replace Daniil Kvyat at Red Bull for Spanish Grand Prix
Max Verstappen will replace Daniil Kvyat at Red Bull from next weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, the team have confirmed.
Kvyat was widely criticised following a poor performance at last weekend's Russian GP, where he finished a lowly 15th after hitting Sebastian Vettel twice in quick succession on the opening lap, punting the Ferrari driver into retirement.
As reported by Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, Red Bull had been "evaluating what to do" in response to Kvyat's implosion and—as well as simply issuing a warning that a repeat performance will not be tolerated—an instant seat swap with Verstappen had "emerged as one of the options being considered."
And on Thursday morning, the team's official website confirmed Verstappen's promotion alongside Daniel Ricciardo as well as Kvyat's return to Red Bull B-team Toro Rosso, where he will be partnered by Carlos Sainz Jr.
Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, told the same source:
Max has proven to be an outstanding young talent. His performance at Toro Rosso has been impressive so far and we are pleased to give him the opportunity to drive for Red Bull Racing.
We are in the unique position to have all four drivers across Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso under long term contracts with Red Bull, so we have the flexibility to move them between the two teams.
Dany will be able to continue his development at Toro Rosso, in a team that he is familiar with, giving him the chance to regain his form and show his potential.
Per his official website, Verstappen thanked Red Bull for offering him "an amazing opportunity," stating he "cannot wait" for the "special moment" of racing the RB12 car at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Kvyat's future had come under scrutiny in the immediate aftermath of the Russian GP, with F1 journalist James Allen reporting Red Bull had already decided to replace him with Verstappen at the end of 2016 in any case.
As noted by Noble, a return to Toro Rosso—with whom he made his grand prix debut two seasons ago—is set to offer Kvyat an opportunity to "regain his confidence" and "rebuild his reputation" in a reasonably competitive car ahead of his probable departure from the Red Bull family in 2017.
Kimi Raikkonen Open to Remaining at Ferrari Beyond 2016
Kimi Raikkonen has hinted he would be open to continuing with Ferrari in the 2017 season but has admitted his future is not in his hands.
For the second year in succession, Raikkonen—whose current contract is set to expire at the end of 2016—is likely to hold the key to the driver market, with the likes of Daniel Ricciardo thought to be in contention to partner Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari from next season.
Raikkonen has generally struggled since his return to the Prancing Horse at the beginning of 2014 and was regarded as fortunate to retain his seat at the end of last year, when Ferrari were strongly linked to Williams driver Valtteri Bottas.
Following the team's switch to Raikkonen's favoured push-rod front suspension for 2016, however, the 2007 world champion has made a respectable start to the current campaign, claiming podium finishes in the opening four grands prix.
Five months short of his 37th birthday, Raikkonen—without a race win since the 2013 Australian Grand Prix—is the oldest driver on the current grid but has suggested he would be willing to continue his F1 career in 2017.
Per ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson, he said:
I have a contract until the end of this year so who knows what will happen next year, but I wouldn't be here if I didn't enjoy what I do. Obviously I have a passion for racing but many things are not in our hands.
We can only try to do our best and then see what the future will bring. We go race by race. I'm sure at some point this year, latest next year we will know.
F1 journalist James Allen has reported Ricciardo "would be the first choice" to replace Raikkonen.
However, Ferrari's reluctance to "destabilise" Vettel's position in the team following the Australian's strong performances alongside the German at Red Bull in 2014 means Raikkonen may be offered a lifeline.
Jenson Button 'Very Nearly Joined' Williams for 2016, Claims F1 Commentator
McLaren-Honda's Jenson Button could yet make a surprise return to Williams in 2017, with F1 commentator David Croft suggesting the 2009 world champion came close to joining the team at the end of last season.
As McLaren endured their worst season in 35 years in 2015, Button was linked with a return to the team with whom he began his F1 career in 2000, with BBC Sport's Andrew Benson reporting the Grove-based outfit regarded him as "a leading candidate" to take Valtteri Bottas' seat if the Finn replaced Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari.
When Ferrari confirmed Raikkonen's contract extension ahead of last August's Belgian GP, Williams announced new deals for Bottas and Felipe Massa at the following round at Monza before Button's stay at McLaren was finalised a month later.
With Stoffel Vandoorne, the 2015 GP2 champion and McLaren's current reserve driver, making an assured F1 debut in April's Bahrain GP, Button is likely to face a fight to retain his seat alongside two-time world champion Fernando Alonso for 2017.
And Croft believes Williams could offer Button a chance to extend his F1 career, telling Sky Sports:
Jenson very nearly joined Williams at the back end of last year.
You could speculate that that was the case, that Williams kept their options open and didn't take Valtteri's [option] up. It wasn't until Jenson was announced as a McLaren driver that Valtteri was then announced as a Williams driver.
He's out of contract, Felipe Massa's out of contract and Williams will be looking at their driver line up.
If Red Bull have a problem with driver line-up, Stoffel is the other problem for McLaren. They've invested in him, they've developed him into a fine driver and they know that he would do well.
Fernando doesn't make way because he's got a year to go. Does Jenson make way? It's something they've got to weigh up a little later in the season.
But Williams will be keeping tabs on Jenson.
In February, Williams chief technical officer Pat Symonds told Autosport's Lawrence Barretto the team will continue to "prioritise" the development of their car over a "superstar signing," joking Williams "may not eat for a year" if they had to accommodate a big-name signing.
The former Benetton and Renault technical chief added that Bottas and Massa are "perfect" for Williams, insisting he would still keep both drivers even if he could choose from anyone on the current grid.
Charlie Whiting Believes Junior Categories Will Follow F1's Lead with Safety
F1 race director Charlie Whiting believes junior categories will follow the sport's lead when it comes to increasing cockpit safety, but he has insisted such devices must be affordable.
After Ferrari evaluated the "halo" concept in pre-season testing, Red Bull trialled their open-canopy "aeroscreen" in practice at last weekend's Russian GP, where Daniel Ricciardo completed an installation lap with the device fitted to his RB12.
Although there remain doubts whether F1, often regarded as the pinnacle of open-wheel, open-cockpit motor racing, should experiment with enclosed cockpits, it is increasingly likely that either the halo or aeroscreen will be implemented on a full-time basis, potentially as early as 2017.
And Whiting feels other single-seater categories—as with safer crash helmets, wheel tethers and HANS devices—will also adopt cockpit-safety concepts if F1 moves in that direction.
Per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, he said:
I know costs shouldn't really come into it, but with safety devices you have to be realistic. There must be a way of doing this thing in a sensible way.
Trickling down to GP2, GP3, and Formula 3, it's inevitable. Just like when the current crash helmets were introduced, it was for Formula 1 drivers only.
Then little by little, these very expensive helmets became cheaper and cheaper. It cascades down. It was the same with the wheel tethers. The same has happened with those.
Where there is the opportunity to make large numbers of them, it can be done in a more sensible way. The cascading down into other formulae I think would be inevitable.
According to Autosport's Lawrence Barretto, Whiting explained the FIA is trying to find a balance between trying to make F1 cars "look dangerous without being dangerous," responding to fears that clumsy-looking devices could harm the appeal of F1.
Whiting added that driver extraction is "quite an important factor" in any decisions to adopt increased cockpit-safety measures, confirming Ricciardo was made to perform a "jump out test" before taking to the track with the aeroscreen.
In a separate Motorsport.com article, meanwhile, championship leader Nico Rosberg told Noble the "haters" should "get over" concerns over the aesthetic appeal of such devices, arguing "all the drivers are up for it."
Renault Hopeful Red Bull Will Agree New Engine-Supply Deal for 2017
Renault racing director Frederic Vasseur has expressed his desire for the French manufacturer to continue supplying engines to Red Bull beyond 2016, suggesting the four-time world champions can set "a benchmark" for his outfit.
After several years as a power-unit supplier, Renault has returned to the F1 grid in 2016 following its purchase of the Lotus team at the end of last year.
The French company has had a technical partnership with Red Bull since 2007, but Renault's lack of progress under the V6 turbo regulations saw the relationship between the two parties turn sour across 2014 and '15.
In an effort to distance themselves from Renault, Red Bull are competing with powertrains under the branding of timepiece manufacturer TAG Heuer this season, with Aston Martin's Andy Palmer suggesting the team could switch to Honda power from 2017, per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble.
In April, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told the official F1 website how he was impressed by the "progress" made by Renault, suggesting the company's full-time return to the sport has "only increased" its "determination and urgency."
And Vasseur believes it is essential that Red Bull remain Renault customers as the Enstone-based team seek to re-emerge as a major force.
In a separate Motorsport.com article, he told Noble:
To be honest, I think it is the best thing that could happen to Enstone. It is very important to have a benchmark.
So far we know that Red Bull is one of the best chassis on the grid and it is important for us to know exactly where we are, and what will be the target in the short term view.
To be honest I will push as much as I can for it to stay like this.
Per the same source, Vassuer dismissed the suggestion that having Red Bull as a yardstick would put excess pressure on Renault, with Noble reporting "internal discussions have already taken place inside Renault to green light efforts to conclude a new Red Bull deal" ahead of the new engine-supply deadline in June.
Meanwhile, Autosport's Lawrence Barretto has reported Sauber—whose official Twitter account has confirmed their absence from the first in-season test of 2016—will compete with Ferrari's upgraded power unit at the upcoming Spanish GP, with Haas yet to decide whether they will follow suit.