Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Carlos Sainz Jr., Haas' Driver Decision, More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Carlos Sainz Jr., Haas' Driver Decision, More

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    Carlos Sainz Jr. signed a contract to remain with Toro Rosso shortly before this season's Austrian Grand Prix, but the questions surrounding his Formula One future are yet to stop.

    Talk of a potential swap deal with Renault, which would see the Red Bull B-team trade one of the most exciting talents on the grid for a cheaper engine supply in 2017, has polluted the paddock since Silverstone.

    And almost three months later, those rumours just won't go away.

    But Toro Rosso have finally moved to stop the speculation, insisting Sainz will not be allowed to leave at the end of 2016.

    As with Sainz, we all thought Haas' plans for 2017 were set in stone, with the American team seemingly happy to retain both Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez for a second season.

    Confirmation was expected to be made soon after the Italian GP, yet an announcement is still to be delivered, with Haas—having attracted plenty of interest from other drivers—now admitting they will delay a decision on their lineup.

    McLaren-Honda are one team perfectly happy with their 2017 plans, having finally found a way to place Stoffel Vandoorne in one of their cars.

    Promotion to a race seat was a long time coming for the Belgian, whose reward for winning the GP2 feeder series in 2015 was to be banished to the Japanese Super Formula category, and Vandoorne has outlined why 2017 represented his last chance of racing in F1.

    Elsewhere, Ferrari have declared themselves happy with their post-reshuffle technical structure, while Valtteri Bottas has identified the one factor that could decide the battle for fourth between Williams and Force India.

    Here's our latest roundup.

Toro Rosso Won't Let Carlos Sainz Jr. Leave for Renault in 2017

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    Toro Rosso have insisted they have no interest in allowing Sainz to join Renault in 2017 despite persistent speculation that a deal could go ahead.

    Sainz has impressed since arriving on the grid at the beginning of 2015, but with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen both established at Red Bull, it is unlikely the Spaniard will earn a promotion from Toro Rosso for the foreseeable future.

    Ahead of July's Austrian GP, Toro Rosso confirmed Sainz had signed a new contract to remain with the Red Bull B-team for next season, but the driver continues to be linked to a move to Renault, who are searching for new drivers for 2017.

    As reported by Autosport (h/t Eurosport), it emerged over the British GP weekend that Toro Rosso—who will revert to Renault power from 2017—could swap the 22-year-old in return for a cut-price engine deal, although Sainz dismissed the rumours as "a joke."

    And Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost believes Red Bull, having invested so much in Sainz's career to date, will not allow him to join a rival outfit.

    He told Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde and Roberto Chinchero:

    Carlos has a contract with Red Bull, and I don't think Red Bull will let him go to another team considering the investment it has made during his career since the first steps in single-seater.

    Today he is a high-level professional, and I see no reason why he could be let go. Toro Rosso needs Carlos: he's fast, talented, and in 2017 we will need a driver of his level.

    The identity of Sainz's 2017 team-mate remains a mystery, with GP2 championship leader Pierre Gasly in contention to replace current driver Daniil Kvyat, who became the first driver to be demoted from Red Bull earlier this season.

    Tost has again hinted that, ahead of the major 2017 regulation changes, Kvyat would be his preferred option for next year

    He told the same source:

    There will be a noticeable change: wide tyres, new aerodynamics, and for a team like Toro Rosso it will be important to have at least one experienced driver. The ideal would be two.

    It will be important to have an experienced driver like Sainz, then we'll see if Daniil Kvyat or Pierre Gasly will be alongside him. I see no other solution.

    Over the recent Italian GP weekend, Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko told Sky Sports' television coverage how Toro Rosso's 2017 lineup will not be finalised until mid-October at the earliest.

Haas 'Not in a Big Hurry' to Announce 2017 Lineup as Driver Decision Delayed

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    Haas have admitted they are not in a rush to confirm their 2017 driver lineup, as doubts over the future of Gutierrez continue to grow.

    While lead driver Grosjean is almost certain to remain with the team for a second season, Gutierrez appears to be fighting for his F1 career having failed to score a point in 2016 thus far.

    The Mexican, who has frequently criticised the team in public throughout the season, recently told Motorsport.com's Luis Ramirez and Elizalde that while he would be happy to "continue" with Haas in 2017, he is considering "other interesting opportunities."

    In August, team principal Guenther Steiner insisted Haas would not delay the announcement of their 2017 lineup, suggesting a decision would be made shortly after the Italian GP on September 4, per Motorsport.com's Elizalde and Jonathan Noble.

    Almost a month on from the Monza race, however, Steiner has admitted the team are now willing to bide their time, revealing Haas have attracted interest from a number of drivers.

    He told Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper:

    We will be ready when we are ready, put it this way. We're not in a big hurry, so we'll just take our time. ...

    I think we've created a little bit of interest driver-wise, which is a compliment. A few people are speaking to us who maybe a year ago thought, 'Why should I go there?.'

    The driver market is not very big with Felipe [Massa] and Jenson [Button] going, so there's a demand there. It's a good thing for the young drivers, we get some fresh blood in it, and some people can shine.

    Still people look around. Everybody thought that if one made the move, everything would happen, but nothing happened. It's very strange.

    Ferrari junior driver Charles Leclerc, who replaced Gutierrez in practice sessions in Britain, Hungary and Germany, has been regarded as a potential replacement for the Mexican in 2017.

    But while Steiner was impressed by the Monaco native's FP1 outings, he believes it would be more beneficial if Leclerc were to spend at least one more year in one of F1's feeder categories.

    He told the same source: "He's too young, in our opinion. He's very good, but I think it's better to do another season in either GP3 or GP2. I have no say in his career, it's [his manager] Nicolas Todt, and I think he agrees with me on that one."

Stoffel Vandoorne Felt 2017 Was His 'Last Chance' to Graduate to F1

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    Vandoorne has admitted he was relieved to secure a McLaren-Honda race seat for next season, suggesting 2017 represented his last chance to reach F1.

    The Belgian was unfortunate to be denied a promotion to McLaren at the end of 2015, when he became the most successful driver in the history of the GP2 feeder series—a category conquered by the likes of Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Hulkenberg and Grosjean in years gone by.

    Following their worst season in 35 years, McLaren opted to retain Jenson Button alongside Fernando Alonso for 2016, sending Vandoorne to the Japanese Super Formula series.

    At the Italian GP, McLaren announced an "innovative three-driver strategy" for 2017, which will see Vandoorne promoted to a race seat as Button moves to an ambassadorial role with a view to returning in 2018.

    Vandoorne, who first joined the team's young-driver scheme in 2013, has revealed he was frustrated to miss out on a McLaren seat 12 months ago and felt 2017 was a pivotal year in terms of his F1 prospects.

    He told the official F1 website:

    It is a big relief that finally in 2017 I will be a fully-fledged Formula One driver—that McLaren-Honda is giving me that opportunity. I have spent so much time with this team already and had a lot of success already in the junior series. The team has really been preparing me for Formula One for years—and now we both want to get rewarded. ...

    I don't know what discussions were going in behind the scenes, but I remember a year ago when I was finishing GP2 that, of course, there were a lot of rumours around that I might get the drive already for 2016. Alas it didn't happen back then, but yes, I remember all the hype surrounding it. And to be honest I was a little disappointed at the beginning—it was a tough moment for me to understand that F1 would have to wait another year. But I kept my head cool and won the last two GP2 races that season and actually broke the record in that series. I knew it was best to give the answer on the track. Sure, time is always pressing in a driver's career, so I knew it had to be next year—as it was probably my last chance of getting to F1.

    Per the same source, the 24-year-old insisted he will feel no "extra pressure" with Button lurking in the background in 2017, insisting he has a "long-term deal with McLaren," who he believes are "on the rise" ahead of next season's major regulation changes.

    However, Button has warned Vandoorne that he will be under pressure in 2017, telling Sky Sports' Matt Morlidge it can be "tough" to represent a team of McLaren's stature and partner a driver of the calibre of Alonso, still widely regarded as the most complete driver of his generation.

    Meanwhile, Honda boss Yusuke Hasegawa has revealed the Japanese manufacturer has "built up" its factory in the British town of Milton Keynes, which will allow it to supply a second team in the future, per Autosport (h/t Eurosport).

    On the company's progress with its V6 turbo power unit, Hasegawa added that Honda's engine is now "a little bit better" than the 2015-specification Ferrari used by Toro Rosso but remains some way behind Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes in terms of power output.

Ferrari 'Perfectly Fine' After Midseason Reshuffle, Insists Maurizio Arrivabene

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    Maurizio Arrivabene is convinced Ferrari are back on the right track following their technical reshuffle at the halfway stage of 2016, and he insists the team do not need to add to their workforce.

    After failing to win any of the first 11 races of the season, Ferrari announced technical director James Allison had been replaced by engine expert Mattia Binotto on the eve of July's German GP.

    Although they are yet to secure that elusive victory, the team have improved considerably since the summer break, with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen both finishing in the top five in Italy and Singapore.

    The loss of Allison has led to speculation that Ferrari could be on the verge of a recruitment drive, with Motorsport.com's Franco Nugnes suggesting Toro Rosso technical director James Key is a potential target.

    Over the Singapore GP weekend, meanwhile, Motorsport.com's Noble reported Paddy Lowe—one of the men behind Mercedes' astronomical success since the beginning of 2014—had attracted interest from Ferrari. 

    However, Arrivabene has maintained Ferrari don't need to make any marquee signings, insisting their current workforce is more than capable of delivering results.

    Per ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson, he said:

    We're perfectly OK with the people that we have. The atmosphere today in Maranello is very good. We have the right people with Mattia and the people who are working with Mattia.

    They just need to continue to keep up this kind of atmosphere, to look forward to next year, keeping an eye on this year also and eventually to work in peace. That means, without pressure. It's exactly what they are doing and I have nothing to add. So we don't need to add anyone.

    I said many, many times that we are perfectly fine.

    Mattia is doing a good job, we are OK as we are, and we don't need anyone else. Mattia is our technical director where before James was our technical director, now it's Mattia with all the organisation that is in place.

    We have explained about the organisation many, many times. What more do I need to add?

    Per Autosport (h/t Eurosport), Arrivabene revealed his satisfaction with Raikkonen's return to form, suggesting the Finn is "showing he was not a world champion for nothing" having claimed eight top-six finishes in the last nine races.

    As reported by Motorsport.com's Chinchero, Ferrari will introduce a range of aerodynamic upgrades at this weekend's Malaysian GP as they continue their pursuit of Red Bull for second place in the constructors' championship.

Valtteri Bottas Feels Lack of Tyre Understanding Has Hurt Williams in 2016

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    Bottas believes Williams' failure to extract the most from their tyres has been behind their disappointing performances this season.

    After comfortably finishing third in the constructors' championship in 2014 and 2015, Williams sit fourth—a point behind fellow Mercedes customers Force India—ahead of the final six races in 2016.

    Ahead of the Singapore GP, Williams announced the signing of former Ferrari engineer Antonio Spagnolo, who will lead the team's "restructured Tyre Performance Group to better understand and exploit both theoretical and practical aspects of tyre performance."

    According to Motorsport.com's Noble, Bottas has welcomed the signing of Spagnolo, admitting the team's ability to resolve their tyre issues could be decisive in their battle with Force India.

    He said:

    There have been a few races where we definitely haven’t optimised in terms of our calculations for the tyre life, and so on.

    Definitely we have not been in top four of the teams in terms of understanding the tyres, and if we want to be there at the end of the championship, we need to be there in all the areas—especially with the tyres.

    Some other teams being better [at understanding tyres] has definitely cost us a lot of points this year, but we know it and we are working on it. ...

    Even some races where we felt the cars were very equal in terms of pace or even we were slightly better, somehow [Force India] managed to get a better outcome of the race.

    Hockenheim was a good example. The calculations we made in terms of strategy didn’t match the reality.

    Per the same source, head of performance engineer Rob Smedley added Spagnolo—an "extremely clever guy"—can help the team in an area where they are "deficient."

    Smedley also stressed the need for Williams to create a medium- to long-term research-and-development plan to help Williams, who are "still actively recruiting," to progress to "the next level."

    "It is not about maximising what we have got, it is looking where the next area of performance is, and he will help us do that along with his group," he added.

    Per Autosport (h/t Eurosport), Smedley has warned it would be a "huge mistake" for Williams to focus too heavily on Force India as their championship fight intensifies.