Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Lance Stroll to Williams, McLaren-Honda, More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Lance Stroll to Williams, McLaren-Honda, More

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    The Italian Grand Prix was one of those weekends when the racing got in the way of the rumours in the Formula One paddock.

    It all started on Thursday afternoon when Felipe Massa—one of the most popular figures on the current grid—announced his retirement from F1 at the end of 2016.

    The Brazilian's impending departure has created a vacancy alongside Valtteri Bottas, and it was initially thought Felipe Nasr would be replacing his compatriot for next season.

    But it appears Williams are eager to unearth their own answer to Max Verstappen, with teenager Lance Stroll already agreeing to race for the team in principle.

    Two days after the Massa bombshell came the news from McLaren-Honda, who finally confirmed Stoffel Vandoorne will replace Jenson Button in one of the more predictable moves of silly season.

    But nobody could have predicted the agreement that will see Button remain with the team for another two years, with the 2009 world champion explaining why he may yet return to racing in 2018.

    On the morning of the race, it emerged GP2 driver Pierre Gasly could replace Daniil Kvyat in time for the Singapore GP, but this was later denied by Red Bull before arguably the biggest story of the lot came to light.

    With the news that CVC Capital Partners is on the verge of selling F1 to the Liberty Media Corporation—and potentially ending Bernie Ecclestone's leadership of the sport—here's our post-Italian GP roundup. 

Lance Stroll Now the Clear Favourite to Replace Felipe Massa at Williams

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    Stroll has emerged as the leading candidate to replace Massa at Williams for the 2017 season, it emerged over the Italian GP weekend.

    After much speculation over his future, Massa formally announced his retirement from F1 on the eve of the Monza race, with Williams searching for a new team-mate for Bottas for next year.

    Sauber driver Nasr, who held a reserve role with Williams in 2014, was initially regarded as the favourite to replace Massa, with Sky Sports reporter Ted Kravitz suggesting the Brazilian's relationship with the team could see him fill the vacancy.

    But Stroll, who left Ferrari's young driver scheme to become Williams' development driver at the end of last year, is close to completing a deal to race for the team in 2017.

    According to's Adam Cooper, several sources have suggested a deal "has already been agreed in principle" for the 17-year-old—who is currently leading the European Formula Three standings—to graduate to a race seat provided he qualifies for an F1 superlicence.

    Following his success in other junior categories, Stroll only needs to finish third in the F3 championship to be guaranteed a superlicence when he turns 18 in October, with the Canadian's backers feeling he has already "done enough" to jump straight from F3 to F1.

    Stroll's father—billionaire investor Lawrence, who owns the Prema GP2 team—was present at the Italian GP, with F1 journalist James Allen revealing the youngster has participated in a number of private tests in a 2014 Williams car in preparation for a potential F1 debut.

    Although a Williams deal is likely, Cooper noted that Stroll may yet join fellow Mercedes customers Force India depending on the future of Sergio Perez who, despite signing a 2017 contract, may yet leave the team.

    In June, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff backed Stroll to progress to F1, explaining to's Rene Fagnan that "his maturity and his intelligence are going to take him far."

Stoffel Vandoorne Will Remain with McLaren-Honda 'For Some Time'

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    McLaren-Honda chairman Ron Dennis has insisted Vandoorne will remain with the team for a long time to come after the Belgian's promotion to a full-time seat was confirmed at the Italian GP.

    After qualifying at Monza, McLaren confirmed "an innovative three-driver strategy" for 2017 and '18, which will see Vandoorne race alongside Fernando Alonso next year as Button enters semi-retirement.

    Vandoorne, who won the GP2 feeder series in 2015, is widely regarded as a potential world champion and enjoyed a highly impressive F1 debut in April's Bahrain GP, where he scored the team's first point of the season while deputising for the injured Alonso.

    McLaren have a mixed success rate when it comes to promoting youngsters from their junior driver academy, with Lewis Hamilton winning his first world championship in his second season of F1 in 2008.

    However, Kevin Magnussen was demoted to a reserve role at the end of his rookie campaign in 2014, despite registering a podium finish in his debut race.

    But Dennis is convinced Vandoorne will racing for McLaren for years to come. Per's Cooper, he stated:

    Of course it's a contract that you would expect, it provides us with an opportunity for a long and successful relationship, but really his destiny is in his own hands.

    I'm pretty sure—I believe as do the management, the shareholders, the engineers—that you'll see Stoffel in the car for some time. ...

    The enthusiasm that Stoffel has when he comes to the race, he's really plugged in. He's not going through the motions, he is really understanding what's going on with the car, understanding what's going on with the engineering and the development.

    Inadvertently, he really impresses everybody, because he really wants to know, he really wants to understand.

    And I can assure you there are a lot of drivers on this grid who don't have the same attitude or the same level of professionalism. As a result of that they don't get the results.

    Per's Jonathan Noble, Mercedes boss Wolff has welcomed McLaren's decision to promote Vandoorne, referring to the 24-year-old as an "exceptional" talent who—along with Verstappen, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon—could define the next generation of F1.

Jenson Button Explains Decision to Step Back from F1

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    Button has outlined why he has decided to walk away from F1 for 2017, admitting he is desperate for a break from the sport.

    The British driver has become one of the most recognisable figures in F1 since arriving on the grid in 2000, but Button's future has been the subject of much speculation in recent years, with the 2009 world champion surviving two retirement sagas in 2014 and '15.

    The familiar questions surrounding his future re-emerged this year, but rather than heading into retirement, Button has agreed a new two-year contract with McLaren-Honda, which will see the 36-year-old take a year off racing in 2017 with a view to returning in '18.

    Explaining why he has agreed to the unique deal, Button told Sky Sports F1:

    Next year I'm going to be doing a lot of what I want to do. I've lived my whole life on Bernie's schedule basically and in the summer break I had such a nice time with friends and family and I really need that right now.

    I need to do the stuff that I haven't been able to do for the last 17 years, so I'm looking forward to doing that in 2017. I will also be keeping current in terms of fitness and spending time in the simulator, I will be an ambassador for the team, I'll be coming to grands prix and helping direct the team in the right direction.

    You know, it's great being a driver because obviously you give good feedback, but when you're from the outside looking in, it's also very useful. And the team have an option for me to drive in 2018. ...

    I spoke to Ron in Spa and we discussed it and, basically, both of us looked at each other and just laughed and just said, 'This is actually the perfect idea.' I can go away, have a year doing whatever I want to do but still doing a bit of work for the team and either come back fresh and excited about returning to Formula One, or not.

    I can carry on doing what I was doing for most of the year in 2017, so to be fair it's a great position for the team having two world champions and also the young talent of Stoffel. It gives them lots of options for the future and it's also pretty exciting for me as well. ...

    [Retirement] is a terrible word and I'm definitely not doing that! ...

    It's a nice feeling. I mean, it's always a really tough decision to not race in Formula One because this has been my life. Ever since I've been an adult, I've been a Formula One driver, so it's a massive change in my life, but this is definitely the right balance to have.

    Obviously, my fans are going to find it a bit weird, this decision, but hopefully they understand where I am right now and there's always the possibility that I'll be racing in 2018 when this is a winning car.

    Button's revised deal has been interpreted as a ploy to keep McLaren's options open if Alonso—who recently told an FIA press conference he will retire if he dislikes the upcoming regulation changes—leaves the team at the end of 2017.

    But Dennis has denied the deal is "designed to be an insurance policy on anything," per Autosport (h/t Eurosport).

    Meanwhile, deputy team principal Claire Williams has revealed Williams "would have loved" to sign Button, who made his F1 debut with the team in 2000, telling Sky Sports' William Esler how F1 is losing two "legends" of the sport following the announcement of Massa's retirement.

Red Bull Insist Daniil Kvyat Will Complete 2016 with Toro Rosso

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    Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko has dismissed speculation that Toro Rosso will replace Kvyat with Gasly ahead of the upcoming Singapore GP, insisting the Russian will spend the rest of 2016 with the team.

    Kvyat's future has been uncertain since he became the first driver to be sent back to Toro Rosso from Red Bull in May, with GP2 championship leader Gasly emerging as the man most likely to replace the two-time podium finisher for 2017.

    Ahead of the Italian GP weekend, Gasly told's Jamie Klein and Oleg Karpov he would give up the chance to win the GP2 title if it meant he could race for Toro Rosso before the end of 2016.

    As reported by's Noble, Gasly appeared on Spanish television station Movistar before the race and revealed a Renault representative had told him he would be replacing Kvyat after the Italian GP.

    He said: "Twenty minutes ago they told me, 'Yeah, you are going to drive in Singapore.' Really? Let's hope it's true. But in the end I need to see Helmut."

    When asked whether the rumour was true, Marko told Sky Sports' television coverage of the race: "It's absolute rubbish. Kvyat will have his chance to recover, and we won't make any decisions before mid-October [on] who will have the seat next year in Toro Rosso."

    Per Autosport (h/t Eurosport), Marko later expanded on his comments, admitting he didn't think Gasly would be "so stupid to make such comments" and insisting it "wouldn't be fair" to drop Kvyat given the amount of "bad luck" he has suffered in recent weeks.

    Kvyat stressed the importance of talking "about everything behind closed doors," telling the same source: "I'm just doing my job, enjoying what I'm doing and I love what I'm doing."

    Via his official Twitter account, Gasly clarified the comments he made to Movistar, writing: "Better to make it clear now, never said I would replace Daniil in Singapore, just said that I hope to get my opportunity in F1 ASAP."

Liberty Media Takeover of F1 to Be Completed Within Days, Say Reports

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    A deal to sell Formula One to the Liberty Media Corporation is just days away from being completed, it has been reported.

    According to's Noble, Liberty Media has been holding discussions with current majority shareholders CVC Capital Partners for several months, with an agreement now close to being finalised.

    Per Noble, a report by German publication Auto Motor und Sport on qualifying day at the Italian GP revealed "the first of two tranches of payments in the $8.5 billion deal is expected to go through on Tuesday."

    Should that occur, it is thought that CVC—which currently owns a 35.5 per cent stake in the sport having taken over F1 in 2006—will quickly announce its exit from F1.

    If the takeover is completed, it will raise questions over the future of F1 chief executive Ecclestone, with Noble suggesting Liberty owner John Malone "may want other people in charge of the sport."

    During Channel 4's television coverage of the Italian GP, former team boss Eddie Jordan revealed Ecclestone could be replaced in time for the next race in Singapore on September 18.

    As reported by the Telegraph's Daniel Johnson, however, Ecclestone dismissed the reports of the takeover as "bulls--t," with CVC chairman Donald Mackenzie adding: "I would be very surprised if there was any announcement this week. As far as I am aware, Bernie is going nowhere. Nothing has changed."

    Meanwhile, Autosport (h/t Eurosport) has suggested the sale to Liberty Media is still far from guaranteed as the group is still facing "competition from other interested parties."

    They are said to include "RSE Ventures, an investment firm run by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who is working in tandem with a Qatari consortium, and another as yet unnamed private equity firm."

    "The belief is CVC would be willing to accept a down payment, in the region of $5 billion, for an initial 20 per cent stake, with an option for any buyer to purchase the remaining shareholding," the report added.

    On Ecclestone's future, the same source suggested the 85-year-old could remain in charge for "at least a handover period" before being replaced by Chase Carey, the 21st Century Fox vice-chairman and a former business partner of Malone.

    Alejandro Agag, the current chief executive officer of the all-electric Formula E racing series, and American businessman Zak Brown may also be involved.



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