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

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJuly 28, 2016

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

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    As one of the finest drivers of his generation, Fernando Alonso would dearly love to fight for the Formula One title once more.

    But with his McLaren-Honda team still not quite strong enough to compete for major honours, the two-time world champion is, like the rest of us, taking much interest in the battle between Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

    Rosberg was the overwhelming favourite to claim the 2016 crown after victories in each of the opening four races gave him a 43-point championship lead, but Hamilton has taken just two months to turn that large deficit into a six-point advantage.

    And Alonso is backing his former McLaren team-mate, who he believes is among the most difficult drivers to race alongside, to win a fourth title this year.

    Ferrari were expecting to end their eight-year wait for a world championship in 2016, but their bad season has become much worse following the inevitable but sad departure of technical director James Allison.

    Allison had been strongly linked to a return to the Enstone, England-based Renault team earlier this season, with the confirmation of his exit from the Prancing Horse opening the door for that switch to be made.

    Another paddock figure likely to leave his position before the end of 2016 is Daniil Kvyat, who has spent the last two months fighting to save his F1 career.

    The Russian's place on the grid has been in serious jeopardy since his seat swap with Max Verstappen ahead of the Spanish GP, although it was unclear whether Toro Rosso would retain him alongside Carlos Sainz Jr. for next season.

    However, it has emerged Red Bull have decided to release Kvyat at the end of the year after the 22-year-old's struggle to regain his form in a low-pressure environment.

    One driver who is going nowhere for now is Rio Haryanto, who has been handed a stay of execution with Manor for this weekend's German GP.

    Closing our latest roundup is Romain Grosjean, who has vented his frustrations with the brand-new Haas team following a difficult race in Hungary.

Fernando Alonso Backing Former Team-Mate Lewis Hamilton to Win 2016 Title

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    Alonso believes former team-mate Hamilton is well set to secure a fourth world championship in 2016 after taking the lead of the drivers' standings for the first time this season.

    After clinching his third title in 2016, Hamilton endured a seven-month winless streak as Mercedes team-mate Rosberg began the year with four consecutive victories between the Australian and Russian grands prix.

    Having returned to winning ways in Monaco, the British driver has now won five of the last six races and is now six points ahead of Rosberg having trailed the German by 43 just two months ago.

    Per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has predicted the title battle between Hamilton and Rosberg, as in 2014, will come down to the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP.

    But Alonso believes the quick turnaround could have a potentially decisive affect on the mindset of both drivers, telling Spanish radio station COPE (h/t Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde and Jose Carlos de Celis):

    Hamilton is in a good position.

    He has the momentum coming from behind and in this sport, when you are coming from behind and you can catch the leader, you have something extra.

    And it's the opposite for the driver who was leading and had a bit advantage: they catch you, they overtake you and you go into a mini crisis.

    So even though they are close on points, now Hamilton looks stronger and a better contender.

    Alonso's spin at Turn 9 in Hungarian GP qualifying led directly to the latest flashpoint between the Mercedes drivers, with Rosberg securing pole position after Hamilton was forced to ease his pace for double-yellow flags.

    The two-time world champion admitted the incident brought back memories of an incident between Alonso and Hamilton at the same venue in 2007, when the Spaniard was penalised for blocking his then-McLaren team-mate in the pit lane.

    He told the same source:

    Yeah, it reminds me of things as well. Let's say Rosberg doesn't have an easy teammate.

    In that sense [Hamilton is] very strong on track, very fast, he never makes a mistake.

    And off the track he has significant influence. Good luck to Rosberg with that (laughs).

    He can't make a mistake anywhere because apart from being one of the best in the world, he can feel the pressure off the track as well.

    According to Sky Sports' Simeon Gholam, Alonso also told COPE it will be "very difficult" for McLaren-Honda to record a podium finish this season, even admitting the team "still wouldn't deserve" a top-three result in their current state.

    However, racing director Eric Boullier has suggested McLaren's MP4-31 chassis is now at least equal with Ferrari's SF16-H, per Noble.

    That view appeared to be supported by Sainz Jr., who has admitted McLaren's rate of development in the first half of 2016 has been "a bit worrying" for their competitors, per Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper.

    Sainz added McLaren are now "definitely" ahead of Toro Rosso—who were widely regarded as F1's dark horses at the beginning of this season—in the competitive order.

Renault Lead the Race to Sign James Allison Following Ferrari Exit

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    Renault are the early favourites to re-sign Allison after the technical director's departure from Ferrari was announced on Wednesday.

    After spending five years with Ferrari in the early 2000s, Allison rejoined the Prancing Horse from Renault—then competing under the name of Lotus—in mid-2013 and was responsible for the SF15-T car that took Sebastian Vettel to three victories last season.

    However, Allison's contribution to Ferrari's 2016 program has been limited following the death of his wife in March, with Autosport (h/t Eurosport) reporting in June that the Enstone-based Renault team had made an approach to take the 48-year-old back to the UK.

    At the time, Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene dismissed the speculation over Allison's future as untrue and disrespectful, per ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson.

    But ahead of this weekend's German GP, Ferrari confirmed Allison's departure, with Arrivabene telling the team's official website: "The team would like to thank James for his commitment and sacrifice during the time spent together, and wishes him success and serenity for his future endeavours."

    Allison, who has been replaced by Mattia Binotto, told the same source:

    During the years I spent at Ferrari, at two different stages and covering different roles, I could get to know and appreciate the value of the team and of the people, women and men, which are part of it. I want to thank them all for the great professional and human experience we shared. I wish everybody a happy future with lots of success.

    As well as attracting interest from Renault, who he helped guide to two consecutive titles with Alonso in 2005 and '06, Allison—regarded as one of the brightest technical brains in F1—is likely to be on the wishlist of almost every British-based team in the grid, as noted by former F1 driver Martin Brundle.

    Per F1 journalist Peter Windsor, McLaren-Honda have also "made approaches" for Allison, adding Renault "would obviously love to have" him back.

    Meanwhile, Renault F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul has vowed Renault "will attack the teams ahead" after taking a "tangible step forward" in the Hungarian GP, where Jolyon Palmer was on course to score his first F1 point until a late-race spin, per Motorsport.com's Noble.

    Despite the underwhelming performances of Palmer and team-mate Kevin Magnussen in 2016, team principal Frederic Vassuer has insisted Renault are "very happy" with their drivers, who are "doing a strong, solid job and work very well within the team," per ESPN F1's Nate Saunders.

Daniil Kvyat to Be Dropped by Toro Rosso at End of 2016?

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    Kvyat is likely to be released by Toro Rosso at the end of the season after struggling to rebuild his reputation with the Red Bull B-team, it has been reported.

    After a scruffy season with Red Bull in 2015, Kvyat recovered from a difficult start to this year to secure the second podium finish of his career in April's Chinese GP, but he was demoted to Toro Rosso after hitting Vettel twice on the opening lap of the following race in Russia.

    As the first driver to be sent back to Toro Rosso from Red Bull, Kvyat was thought to be on borrowed time and admitted he was looking for "a change of the situation" and "help outside Red Bull" over the Monaco GP weekend, per F1i.com's Chris Medland.

    Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost offered his backing to Kvyat ahead of the European GP in Azerbaijan, insisting the Russian remains a "really good driver," but suggested he would have to "feel well" to be retained by Red Bull, per Motorsport.com's Noble.

    Having been outperformed by team-mate Sainz in the seven races since his return to Toro Rosso, making high-profile errors on race day in Monaco and Austrian GP qualifying, Kvyat is set to be discarded at the close of 2016.

    According to F1i.com's Phillip van Osten, Russian news agency Izvestia stated:

    Red Bull had hoped the return to Toro Rosso would embolden Kvyat, relieving the pressure on him.

    It was expected that he would score points regularly and become an example for Sainz. But in the last seven races, Daniil appeared very uneasy against his teammate, and the most recent setbacks seem to have finally convinced [Red Bull adviser] Helmut Marko to not renew the contract.

    Should Kvyat leave Toro Rosso, his seat will almost certainly be taken by Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly, who sits third in the 2016 GP2 standings after claiming two wins in F1's official feeder series.

    But a move for 18-year-old Brazilian Sergio Sette Camara, who recently tested for Toro Rosso in the post-British GP test, should not be ruled out.

Rio Haryanto to Stay with Manor for German GP Due to 'Time Constraints'

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    Haryanto will make at least one more F1 appearance for Manor after agreeing to remain with the team for this weekend's German GP.

    As reported by Motorsport.com's Cooper, the contract Haryanto signed to race for Manor in 2016 only covered the opening 11 races of the campaign, with the Indonesian's sponsorship funds running dry after last weekend's Hungarian GP.

    With this weekend's Hockenheim race taking place just seven days after the Hungaroring event, however, "time constraints" and "logistical issues" have seen Haryanto retain his place alongside Mercedes protege Pascal Wehrlein for the foreseeable future.

    The month-long summer break between the German and Belgian grands prix will afford Haryanto and his backers the time they require to find a solution that will allow the 23-year-old to complete the season or allow Manor to identify a suitable replacement for the final nine races.

    Cooper noted that Manor reserve driver Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens, who participated in 19 grands prix for the team last year, are the leading contenders to inherit Haryanto's seat, with McLaren-Honda third driver Stoffel Vandoorne also emerging as a potential replacement over the Hungarian GP weekend.

    With Vandoorne likely to replace 2009 world champion Jenson Button next season, racing director Boullier hinted McLaren would be open to loaning the Belgian to Manor in order to provide the youngster with valuable grand prix experience.

    When asked about a potential deal in Hungary, Boullier told Sky Sports' television coverage: "As part of the McLaren-Honda family, if Manor would like to race him, we could maybe consider some experience this year. Maybe, but there is nothing true so far.

    "We would listen what they have to tell us, obviously, but no decision, just a discussion."

    Meanwhile, Wehrlein has admitted he is relaxed about his own future after Rosberg's signing of a two-year contract extension blocked him from graduating to Mercedes for 2017.

    Per F1i.com's Van Osten, the 21-year-old said he is "happy" for the Silver Arrows to decide his future, suggesting "it's too early to say anything" about his plans for next season.

Romain Grosjean Urges Haas to Resolve Problems After Frustrating Hungarian GP

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    Grosjean has called for the Haas team to address their problems with car balance ahead of this weekend's German GP after a frustrating race in Hungary.

    The Frenchman enjoyed one of his most convincing qualifying performances of 2016 in changeable conditions at the Hungaroring, where he came within 0.1 seconds of reaching Q3 for the first time this season.

    However, the team were unable to sustain their form on race day, when Grosjean slipped back to 14th place having struggled with the handling of the Ferrari-powered VF-16 chassis.

    After beginning the year with two top-six finishes in Australia and Bahrain, the former Lotus driver has scored points in just two of the last nine races as the team have tumbled to eighth in the constructors' standings.

    Although the latest series of back-to-back races has left Haas with precious little time to resolve their problems, Grosjean—who was also left disappointed with his tyre strategy in Hungary—has urged the team to show improvements at Hockenheim this weekend.

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

    A lot of things went away from me, with the most disappointing being the balance of the car, which was not good.

    The balance was absolutely nowhere, and that's what I want us to understand before next week.

    After qualifying it's difficult to know exactly what happened, but clearly something in the race didn't go as planned, and we had problems we shouldn't have had.

    We just need to analyse because the car was very much on the nose in high speed, and I had a huge amount of understeer in low-speed corners.

    So we just need to make sure all the maps are correct, there is not something pushing the car, with the front behaving as it should when we turn the wheel.

    That is where we are going to focus because it was very strange.

    We didn't have a good strategy as well, we were often in a lot of traffic, and it was absolutely impossible to overtake around the circuit.

    At the first stop I came out behind a Manor, and I lost a lot of ground; the second stop I came out behind [Felipe] Massa and [Daniil] Kvyat, and I lost a lot of ground there as well.

    That sometimes happens, you cannot always get it right.

    Per the same source, team principal Guenther Steiner acknowledged Haas were simply "outthought" by their rivals in Hungary, admitted F1's newest team are "still learning" in that regard.

    Steiner added Haas will strip Grosjean's car ahead of the German GP having failed to find "anything strange" during an initial inspection.