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

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJune 9, 2016

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

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    With concerns over whether a significant increase in downforce levels will hinder the spectacle of Formula One, several members of the paddock are dreading the 2017 regulation changes.

    But Fernando Alonso is excited about the opportunities they will bring, with the two-time world champion suggesting the new rules will offer F1 a chance to regain its popularity, allow his McLaren-Honda team to realise their potential and help him to decide his future in the sport.

    2017 is also likely to be an important year of the career of Pastor Maldonado, who is hoping to return to F1 after losing his seat at Renault in February.

    The Venezuelan recently revealed he is holding discussions with a number of teams over a potential comeback and has expressed his confidence that he will find a place on the 2017 grid, while admitting he is working on a backup plan.

    A potential destination for Maldonado could be Sauber, who have struggled financially for several years and have been forced to manage current drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr following the pair's clash in the Monaco Grand Prix.

    After a promising debut campaign, Nasr has made a disappointing start to 2016 and has admitted he may seek a change of scenery for next season.

    Nasr's performances in the early months of this season have probably hurt his chances of securing a return to Williams, where he held a reserve-driver role two years ago.

    The British team have generally struggled at slow-speed venues since Nasr made five free-practice appearances in 2014, but head of vehicle performance Rob Smedley has rejected the idea that Williams need to alter their design philosophy.

    Closing our latest roundup is Christian Horner, who has explained why Red Bull have exceeded expectations over the opening six races.

Fernando Alonso Believes 2017 Crucial for F1, McLaren-Honda and Own Future

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    Fernando Alonso believes the major 2017 regulation changes will provide Formula One with an opportunity to address the current negativity surrounding the sport, suggesting the new rules will determine his own future.

    With the introduction of larger tyres and revised aerodynamic regulations, F1's rulebook is set to be rebooted next season, when cars are hoped to be several seconds per lap faster and produce more exciting racing than the current models.

    Substantial rule changes normally have the effect of reshaping the competitive order, and McLaren-Honda chairman Ron Dennis recently told BBC Sport's Andrew Benson of his hope that the team can return to race-winning contention in 2017, having failed to win a grand prix since November 2012.

    Alonso will enter the last season of the three-year contract he signed to join McLaren at the beginning of 2015 and, in March, he told Spanish television station TVE (h/t ESPN F1's Nate Saunders) how he was "quite curious" to sample the 2017-specification cars before making any decision regarding his retirement.

    And the 34-year-old—who is expected to benefit from Honda's revised turbocharger and new ExxonMobil fuel at this weekend's Canadian GP, per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble—has outlined his belief that the regulation changes will offer F1 a chance to enhance its popularity.

    He told ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson and Kate Walker:

    It's very important. It's an important season for McLaren, for this project and I think also for Formula One because in the last couple of years there was a lot of negative feedback about Formula One.

    We changed the engines, we changed the TV agreements with some paid TV so there is less spectators. We have less noise from the cars. So there were a lot of negatives coming to Formula One. So next year I think it's an important year for the sport. [...]

    In my case it's no different, it's an important year. I have next year also a contract with McLaren, and yeah we'll wait to see how these cars feel, how attractive they are from a driver point of view and then make the decision on my future—if I stay in the contract or I look for some other challenge.

    Per Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde, Pirelli chairman Marco Tronchetti Provera has predicted the new-for-2017 tyres will be "amazing" for F1, adding they "look powerful" and provide a "very attractive" challenge for the Italian manufacturer.

    As reported by Noble, meanwhile, the FIA has released more details surrounding Alonso's accident at the season-opening Australian GP, which forced the Spaniard to miss the following round in Bahrain.

    The report has revealed Alonso collided with the rear of Esteban Gutierrez's Haas car at a speed of 305 kilometres per hour at Turn 3 of the Albert Park circuit, with the two-time world champion experiencing peak forces of 46G during the accident.

Pastor Maldonado Has 'A Good Chance' of Returning to F1 in 2017

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    Pastor Maldonado has provided an update on his efforts to secure a return to F1 in 2017, revealing he has "a good chance to come back."

    The Venezuelan was expected to partner Jolyon Palmer at Renault this season, but complications between his personal sponsor and the team saw Maldonado replaced by former McLaren driver Kevin Magnussen in February.

    At the time, Maldonado's manager Nicolas Todt told Reuters' Alan Baldwin how the 31-year-old would "try to bounce back in 2017," and Maldonado recently told Autosport (h/t Eurosport) he was holding discussions with multiple teams with a view to returning to the grid next season.

    Although Maldonado is confident of a comeback, he has revealed he is evaluating potential fallback options—including the World Endurance Championship, the DTM, IndyCar and Formula E—but is reluctant to switch to NASCAR.

    And he is taking inspiration from the likes of Magnussen, Force India's Nico Hulkenberg and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, who all returned to F1 after taking time out.

    According to Autosport (h/t Eurosport), he said:

    We are working for a plan B because you never know in F1.

    I have a good chance to come back but as a professional, we need to have a plan B.

    We are looking around as there are many interesting series in Europe, even in the USA which is an alternative.

    [...]

    When decision came out, it very late and it was game over for this season. It was February already.

    I was looking around a bit and I got some good chances but not what I wanted in terms of teams and other series.

    It's difficult being a winning driver here to go to suffer in other series.

    At the time it was not the end of the world as I've seen many other drivers in the same conditions, Magnussen was one and Hulkenberg was one.

    Even Kimi was one of them in the same conditions and they are back and back even stronger.

    Per the same source, Maldonado discussed his work with Pirelli, whom he is helping to develop the new-for-2017 tyres this year. He explained it is "important" to have such "a great chance" and "a big responsibility."

Sauber's Felipe Nasr Assessing Several 'Options for 2017'

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    Felipe Nasr has hinted he may leave Sauber to progress his F1 career in 2017, revealing he has multiple "options" for next season.

    With six points finishes, including two top-six results, Nasr enjoyed a successful debut season in 2015 and helped Sauber to secure eighth place in the constructors' standings.

    However, the team's financial problems have prevented the Brazilian from building upon last season, with Nasr failing to finish higher than 14th in the opening six races and colliding with team-mate Marcus Ericsson at the recent Monaco Grand Prix.

    Nasr held a reserve-driver role with Williams in 2014 and was linked to a return to the British team in mid-2015, when Valtteri Bottas was rumoured to be in contention to replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari, per Italian publication Corriere dello Sport (h/t GrandPrix247.com).

    And the 23-year-old has admitted he may look for a move away from Sauber for 2017, telling Brazilian television station Globo (h/t Crash.net):

    Since I came into F1, I had many dreams I wanted to achieve—and I still do. I do not want to let my opportunities pass.

    I have good people working on it so that we can take the next step in considering all our options for 2017, even if it's too early for anything right now.

    However, I think that, from the middle of the year, we will start to know what options there are, but we have options—and more than one.

    Nasr's struggles with the handling of Sauber's C35 car in the early weeks of the campaign saw the Brazilian given a new chassis in time for May's Russian GP, with the driver "100 per cent convinced" there was a fundamental problem with his previous chassis, per Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde.

    However, team principal Monisha Kaltenborn has revealed a team investigation has found "nothing" wrong with the old chassis, telling the same source it is "very much possible" Nasr may use it again this season.

Williams Unwilling to Change Design Philosophy Despite Slow-Speed Struggles

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    Williams' head of vehicle performance Rob Smedley has insisted the team are unprepared to alter their design philosophy in order to be more competitive at slow-speed circuits.

    Since the V6 turbo regulations were introduced at the beginning of 2014, the British team—with the aid of the standard-setting Mercedes power units—have often excelled at high-speed venues but have frequently struggled at slower tracks and street circuits as well as in wet conditions.

    Williams' vices were highlighted at the recent Monaco Grand Prix, where Felipe Massa finished a distant 10th after the Brazilian and team-mate Valtteri Bottas failed to progress from the second segment of qualifying.

    But with the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve featuring several long straights, the team are expected to return to form at this weekend's Canadian Grand Prix, where they registered their first podium finish of last season.

    Having finished third in the constructors' standings in 2014 and '15, Smedley believes Williams should maintain their current approach and accept they are likely to struggle at high-downforce circuits.

    Per Autosport (h/t Eurosport), he explained:

    We always correlate well with the higher the speed of the circuit, the higher the average speed.

    That always plays into where we have developed this car and where we will continue to develop it.

    We think it gives us more benefit than developing down to efficiency levels of Monaco and Singapore, places like that.

    You have to accept when you come to places like Monaco, they are not going to be the prettiest places for Williams.

    But when we go to Canada, Silverstone, Austria, places like that, obviously we would hope to benefit to get nearer to the Ferraris and Red Bulls and take the challenge to them.

    Per the same source, Smedley added it was "good" to score a point in Monaco having been "a million miles away" from the top 10 in the 2015 event, when Bottas and a lapped Massa finished 14th and 15th, respectively.

Christian Horner Admits Red Bull Have Exceeded Expectations in 2016

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    Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has admitted the four-time world champions have exceeded their own expectations in the opening months of the season.

    After enduring their first winless campaign in seven years in 2015, Red Bull expected 2016 to be little more than "a transitional year," with Horner suggesting the team would become increasingly competitive as the season progressed, per BBC Sport's Andrew Benson.

    However, the Milton Keynes-based outfit have made a strong start to the season having won May's Spanish Grand Prix with Max Verstappen and secured further podium finishes in China and Monaco, where Daniel Ricciardo secured Red Bull's first pole position since November 2013.

    Ahead of this weekend's Canadian GP, Red Bull sit just nine points behind Ferrari in the race for second in the constructors' championship.

    Although Horner believes it is too early for Red Bull to emerge as a serious threat to reigning world champions Mercedes, who have won all but seven races since the V6 turbo regulations were introduced at the beginning of 2014, he is surprised by the extent of his team's resurgence.

    He told Autosport (h/t Eurosport):

    We didn't expect to be anywhere near as competitive as we have been in the first part of the year.

    In pre-season we felt we would be more competitive over the second half of the year, and I still believe that will be the case.

    What's surprised us is how competitive we have been since Melbourne, and the results we've had, notably in Barcelona where we beat Ferrari fair and square.

    So I don't think anybody could have expected the start to the year we've had, but we are definitely in the ascendancy, you can feel that, that buzz, within the whole factory. ...

    Our challenge is to try and close the gap to Mercedes, to take on the Ferraris when and where we can.

    To have achieved a victory already at this point in the year is certainly way beyond our expectations.

    It would perhaps be getting slightly ahead of ourselves to suggest we can push Mercedes in the championship given it the dominance it has enjoyed, even this year.

    But the target is obviously to close that gap down and attack them race by race.

    We've clearly a good engine now, and the chassis is just so strong, which is down to a great technical that has done a great job so far.

    Per F1i.com's Chris Medland, four-time world champion Alain Prost said Red Bull can "definitely" become "a big challenger" to Mercedes during the remainder of this season, suggesting there "will be some more improvement" made by engine supplier Renault, which introduced a major engine upgrade in Monaco.

    After Ricciardo debuted Renault's updated power unit in Monaco, Verstappen will use the new engine for the first time in Canada.

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