Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Renault Driver Decision, Romain Grosjean, More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Renault Driver Decision, Romain Grosjean, More

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    With Felipe Massa and 2009 world champion Jenson Button resolving their futures over the Italian Grand Prix weekend, Formula One is waiting for Renault to make the next move in the driver market.

    The yellow team are expected to make significant progress under the new regulations in 2017 and, as such, have been linked to a number of drivers eager to further their careers with a full-blown factory operation.

    But with no outstanding candidates emerging, Renault have decided to delay a decision on their 2017 lineup as they continue to search for a driver who can lead them for years to come.

    Renault lost that driver approximately 12 months ago, when Romain Grosjean decided to leave Team Enstone and gamble on the brand-new, Ferrari-affiliated Haas outfit.

    Despite claiming a number of strong results at the beginning of the campaign, that gamble seemed to have failed when Grosjean was overlooked by Ferrari, who decided to retain Kimi Raikkonen for 2017.

    The Frenchman remains hopeful that his chance to climb onto the Prancing Horse's saddle will come eventually, but he has admitted his current position at Haas does not guarantee him a future with Ferrari.

    Another contender for a 2018 Ferrari seat is Sergio Perez, who has rebuilt his career since leaving McLaren almost three years ago.

    Having registered four podium finishes in less than three seasons, the Mexican has found a home at Force India and has lifted the lid on the success of the Mercedes customer team.

    Elsewhere, Carlos Sainz Jr. has outlined why this weekend's Singapore GP will be a pivotal race in Toro Rosso's season, while Williams' technical boss Pat Symonds has commended Red Bull for helping to devise the 2017 regulations.

    Here's this week's roundup.

Renault Set to Delay Decision on 2017 Driver Lineup

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    Renault team principal Frederic Vasseur has revealed the team are prepared to wait as long as possible before finalising their 2017 lineup as their search for a lead driver continues.

    The Enstone-based outfit are set to be among the most active teams in the transfer market, with current drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer facing uncertain futures.

    One of the seats is likely to be filled by Mercedes protege Esteban Ocon—who spent the first half of 2016 on loan to Renault before joining Manor—with managing director Cyril Abiteboul recently telling Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper the Frenchman's links to Mercedes would be no obstacle to a deal.

    But a number of drivers including Valtteri Bottas, Felipe Nasr—who is seeking help from the Brazilian government to secure a switch to Renault, per Brazilian publication O Globo (h/t Sky Sports)— and Sainz, who already has a valid contract with Toro Rosso for 2017, have been linked to the second seat.

    In August, Vasseur told the official F1 website how Renault are searching for a "super-motivated" driver who is "capable of leading a team," suggesting the team would make a decision "at the beginning of September."

    But he has now admitted the team are happy to wait to identify the right candidate, revealing Renault are hoping to sign a driver with the leadership skills of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

    Vasseur told Motorsport.com's Roberto Chinchero, as passed on by Jonathan Noble:

    There is no deadline, we can do it one week before [the pre-season test in] Barcelona next year.

    For sure, we are probably more focused on young drivers than old ones or more experienced drivers, because we have a mid-term project. I would like to be able to find the drivers of 2020, not the one of 2010.

    And if you have a look at the junior [drivers], every single weekend the situation is moving and changing. If you look at the experienced ones, it is not changing, they have delivered in the past and you know exactly what they are able to do, and their skills.

    But if you look at the juniors, they are improving or not, they have a new opportunity or not—look at Esteban—and I think it makes sense for me to take time to decide.

    At one stage I will have to take a decision for sure, I know, but to postpone the decision or to avoid the pressure to take a decision is a good position.

    The driver has to be a catalyst of the system, capable of motivating the guys. Behind him he has 1,000 guys on the chassis and engine.

    If a driver through motivation is able to extract a little bit more from everybody, then he will be a huge success. The more you move forward [up the ladder] in racing series, the more these skills are important.

    It is why I was immediately convinced in F3 that Vettel would do the job because he was already in the position to do this in F3.

    To bring everybody around him, to convince everybody at the team and so on. For sure, in F1, you need to have this attitude.

    The news of Renault's delay is unlikely to impress Magnussen, who, despite scoring the team's only points of 2016, has found his future come under threat due to "a perceived lackadaisical attitude," according to a print edition of F1 Racing magazine.

    During the summer break, the Dane urged Renault to make a decision "as soon as possible," per Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde and Jamie Klein. 

    Following the recent Italian GP, Magnussen told Autosport (h/t Eurosport) the team informed him they would clarify his future in time for this weekend's Singapore GP.

Romain Grosjean Admits Haas Drive Does Not Guarantree Future Ferrari Seat

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    Grosjean has acknowledged his status as a Haas driver will not necessarily guarantee a future switch to Ferrari, despite the link between the two teams.

    When the 30-year-old took the decision to leave Lotus—who were on the verge of being purchased by Renault—for the new Haas team, it was widely assumed he was putting himself in a position to join Ferrari, who have a close technical partnership with the American outfit, in the coming years.

    Despite claiming two top-six finishes in Australia and Bahrain, Grosjean was overlooked for a switch to Ferrari, who opted to retain Raikkonen as Vettel's team-mate for 2017.

    According to Crash.net, Grosjean recently said he still has ambitions of representing Ferrari, explaining he would be happy to remain with Haas for a second season to enhance his chances of joining the Prancing Horse.

    But the 10-time podium finisher has admitted Ferrari will ultimately pick the best man for the job when they come to change their driver lineup.

    When asked if he believes the door is still open for him to eventually join Ferrari, he explained, per Autosport (h/t Eurosport):

    I think it is. But the idea of coming to Haas was not with an eye on Ferrari.

    I felt Renault would have the year they are having, that it would be very difficult.

    On the other hand there was an American team coming to Formula 1 and I thought if I can be there and make it successful, it's going to be huge in the US.

    I was more than thinking, 'If I go to Haas they've got a Ferrari engine so I can go to Ferrari.'

    Ferrari will take the driver that suits them best, it doesn't matter if they come from Haas or anywhere else.

    So the best you can do is keep doing a good job, show you're consistent, try to get the car faster and always be there when they need you. ...

    When I signed I knew it was a great opportunity for my career, my life and I'm very happy here.

    Of course, I want to be world champion and that's why I'm racing—I've won every single series so far.

    I don't want to finish my career thinking, 'Oh, I missed that one,' but for that you need a team with a world champion car.

    So yes, one day I want to do that, but there's no rush.

    I'm 30, and the decision of Ferrari makes sense because they want continuity with the change of rules [for 2017].

    I feel good. I've felt welcome from day one, I feel like I can play a big role in the team, gain more experience and enjoy more good times.

    Per the same source, Grosjean admitted he was disappointed to discover Raikkonen had signed a contract extension with Ferrari, but he insisted he is committed to leading Haas to bigger and better things—including a podium finish and even a potential grand prix victory—in the future.

Sergio Perez Believes 'Good Structure' Key to Force India Success

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    Perez believes the togetherness shown by Force India has been key to the team's success in recent seasons.

    The Silverstone-based outfit were restricted to just one top-three finish in their first six seasons since Vijay Mallya rebranded the struggling Spyker operation at the end of 2008, but the team have claimed four podiums since the Mexican joined at the beginning of 2014.

    Alongside Nico Hulkenberg, Perez guided the team to a best-ever finish of fifth in the constructors' standings last season, with Force India just three points behind Williams in the fight for fourth in the 2016 championship.

    Perez is convinced the team's apolitical approach has been instrumental in their rise to prominence. He told Motorsport.com's Darshan Chokhani:

    It is the structure of the team. I think the people, technically, we have very good people. There are no politics in the team so people are allowed to do their job.

    It makes a massive difference in the environment of the team. Everyone is working to be better as a team and that is a key to it.

    I think when you have big teams with a big amount of budget and a big amount of people, it is a nice thing to have. But it can very easily work against you.

    It is important to have a good structure with good people and we have very key people in each role, who do their job properly and that makes a massive difference in the team, having good team bosses.

    Perez told the same source how Force India's ability to identify and resolve their early-season issues with tyre degradation was "a massive key" in their recovery from a slow start to the campaign, when they scored just 13 points in the opening five races.

    Having secured assured third-place finishes in Monaco and Azerbaijan, he added: "To look back and see the season we have had, the podiums with great racing, it has been a really, really strong year."

    Meanwhile, Force India have welcomed Liberty Media's recent takeover of F1, with deputy team principal Bob Fernley telling Motorsport.com's Cooper "you could end up having the best of both worlds" by having Bernie Ecclestone working alongside the new owners.

    "To me it has very, very exciting potential," he said.

Carlos Sainz Jr. Expects Singapore GP to Shape Rest of Toro Rosso's Season

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    Sainz has admitted this weekend's Singapore GP could be Toro Rosso's last chance of scoring points in 2016 as the team's power deficit worsens.

    The Red Bull B-team enjoyed a strong start to the season, scoring points in all but two of the first 11 races, but they have failed to add to their tally in the last three events in Germany, Belgium and Italy.

    Toro Rosso's underdeveloped, year-old Ferrari power unit is at the heart of their loss of form, with a failed aerodynamic upgrade package—including a new front wing, floor and brake ducts—adding to their problems, per Motorsport.com's Giorgio Piola and Matt Somerfield.

    In an effort to understand the issues with their update, Toro Rosso have been running different programs on the cars of Sainz and Daniil Kvyat in recent weeks, according to Autosport (h/t Eurosport).

    And with the tight and twisty Singapore circuit set to favour the STR11 chassis, Sainz has urged the time to decide on a particular direction to extract the most from the weekend.

    Per the same source, he explained:

    I cannot complain about the handling.

    There is still a lot of analysis going on to see if we revert, if we don't revert, we keep going like this.

    Now it's important for Singapore to take a direction, to commit to it and make sure the whole weekend of Singapore we surround one set-up, one aerodynamical package.

    This could be our last clear chance of scoring points this season.

    The Spaniard added Toro Rosso's performance in Singapore will offer a clue regarding how the team will perform for the rest of the season, explaining he will be "very worried" if their struggles continue at the Marina Bay circuit.

    He said: "I would be expecting a very tough second half of the season and we'll be praying for rain. But if we are top 10 or close in Singapore then we can be optimistic then at least we are not going to battle for P16 at all the races."

Pat Symonds Praises Red Bull for Impact on New-for-2017 F1 Cars

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    Symonds has praised Red Bull's impact on shaping the new-for-2017 regulations, suggesting next season's cars will look "great."

    F1 will change significantly next year, when tweaks to the bodywork and aerodynamics—as well as the introduction of wider tyres—will see the cars lap several seconds per lap faster than the current models.

    As reported by a print edition of F1 Racing magazine, both the FIA and Red Bull submitted proposals for the next-generation cars, with the four-time world champions' idea gaining most support among the rulemakers.

    Symonds, Williams' chief technical officer, is one of the chief architects behind the new rules and believes Red Bull should be commended for producing fashionable cars that will not look "retro" or "futuristic."

    He told Autosport (h/t Eurosport):

    I do think the cars look nice.

    When we first started talking about the 2017 cars, I was worried because there was this real drive for a retro look.

    A retro look wouldn't have done anything.

    But I really pat Red Bull on the back for doing a great job in styling the car because what they did was take away what the Strategy Group had asked for and they really styled it.

    They started with this premise that we want the car to look like it's going fast even when it's stationary and I thought yeah, that's a really nice way of expressing it.

    They've come up with something that looks great.

    When you see the physical model in the windtunnel—and windtunnel cars never look particularly attractive—I think they are good-looking cars.

    The car is wider, it does have wider wheels and tyres, the rear wing is wider and lower.

    The front wing is swept back a bit, the front wing is wider, as the car is, but its has a bit of a sweep on it.

    The front of the sidepods have a bit of a sweep on them, the rear wing endplates lean back a bit.

    They have this look of being dragged by the air. I like it.

    Symonds' comments come after Sainz—having received a sneak peek of Toro Rosso's new chassis—told Autosport (h/t Eurosport) the 2017 cars look like they belong in "another category," suggesting they are exactly "what F1 needs."