Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Renault's Jolyon Palmer, Pascal Wehrlein, More
Jolyon Palmer enhanced his chances of remaining on the Formula One grid in 2017 by scoring the first point of his career in the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Having made steady progress throughout his debut season, Palmer was deserving of his 10th-place finish at Sepang, but with Renault desperate to sign a star driver for next year, a single point may not be enough for him to save his skin.
Palmer has pleaded with the team to offer him another chance in 2017, explaining why he will be a more rounded performer next season.
Another driver who is yet to resolve his future is Pascal Wehrlein, who despite enjoying a highly impressive rookie campaign is still without a firm plan for 2017.
Wehrlein seemed set to remain with Manor for a second season, but having recently admitted he could be left with no option but to leave the backmarkers at the end of 2016, the German is relying on Mercedes to help him find a home.
Carlos Sainz Jr. appears to be very much at home at Toro Rosso, having rejected an approach from Renault to commit to the Red Bull B-team for 2017.
With no driver spending more than three seasons with Toro Rosso in the team's 10-year history, however, the Spaniard already has an eye on the future and has reiterated his desire to join a front-running outfit in 2018.
Judging by the ferocity of his team-radio messages in recent months, you would be forgiven for assuming Romain Grosjean is already looking for a way out of the Haas team he signed for 12 months ago, but the Frenchman has reassured the team that his comments over the radio are harmless.
Closing our latest roundup is the fallout surrounding Lewis Hamilton's Malaysian GP engine failure, with Red Bull taking credit for the Mercedes driver's blowout.
Jolyon Palmer Promises to Come Back Stronger for Renault in 2017
Palmer has said he will be a "more complete" driver in 2017 if Renault decide to retain him for a second season.
Renault are almost certain to sign Mercedes protege Esteban Ocon for next year, but the identity of their second driver remains unclear, with several names in contention.
Per German publication Auto Motor und Sport (h/t Sky Sports), Renault intend to drop both Palmer and team-mate Kevin Magnussen for 2017 and are actively pursuing Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg—who have valid contracts with Toro Rosso and Force India, respectively—as well as Williams' Valtteri Bottas.
Should the team be unable to land any of their main targets, however, it is possible one of their current drivers will be offered a reprieve.
As reported by a print edition of F1 Racing magazine, Magnussen—with two points finishes in 2016—"has generally proved to be the quicker of the two, but the team have been unimpressed by what is perceived to be his lackadaisical attitude, compounded by a number of errors at key moments."
They were also irritated by Magnussen's "two major crashes caused by what were viewed as unnecessary mistakes" in third practice in Canada and during the race in Belgium, which saw cars written off.
The same source added Renault always planned to offload Palmer after a single season, but the team have been impressed by his commitment and work ethic having recovered from an uncertain start to the season and proved he is capable of matching the Dane for pace.
And after scoring the first point of his career in Malaysia, Palmer has vowed to come back bigger and better in 2017, telling Sky Sports' Johnny Herbert:
The main thing for me is to be judged compared to Kevin because he's in the same car. Early on I'd say he had the upper hand, it's fair to say, but after the first third of the season we've been very, very close.
I want to be with Renault [in 2017] and I know that if I am we'll have a more competitive car. I've learned a lot this year, it's been tough. But I think I'm driving not too bad overall, maybe with a few too many mistakes, but I'm a rookie and I think that's to be expected over the course of a 21-race year.
Next year, if I come back, no doubt I will be more complete because I will have learned from the mistakes that I've made.
Per the same source, team principal Frederic Vasseur admitted Renault have been impressed by Palmer's progress over the course of 2016, stating: "Jo is improving, step by step. He is doing a good job."
As reported by Motorsport.com's Valentin Khorounzhiy, Magnussen has revealed he is willing to wait an extra two weeks for Renault to decide their 2017 lineup, adding he has had "good positive conversations" about extending his stay with the team.
After claiming consecutive points finishes for the first time this season in Singapore and Malaysia, Vasseur has challenged Renault to get both cars in the points before the end of the season, telling Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper the team must continue to make progress in each race.
According to Sky Sports' Ted Kravitz, an apparent power struggle between Vasseur and managing director Cyril Abiteboul could see the former leave the team in the near future having only joined Renault at the beginning of 2016.
Pascal Wehrlein 'Confident' Mercedes Will Help Him Remain in F1 in 2017
Wehrlein has said he is confident of remaining on the F1 grid in 2017, despite recently hinting he could be forced out of Manor at the end of this season.
The German has excelled in his rookie campaign in 2016, producing a number of impressive qualifying performances and scoring the team's first point in more than two years with a 10th-place finish in July's Austrian GP.
Racing director Dave Ryan recently told Autosport (h/t Eurosport) Manor are hopeful of retaining both Wehrlein and fellow Mercedes protege Ocon for next season, but the German raised questions over his future by suggesting it may be difficult to stick with the team if drivers with "big financial backgrounds" emerge.
However, Wehrlein, who has declared himself happy with his debut season, has expressed his belief that Mercedes will find a place for him on the 2017 grid, telling Autosport (h/t Eurosport):
My feeling is that first of all I'm confident.
I'm a Mercedes driver and they are all happy with me.
I know that they will do what they can, and they will find the best option for me next year, so I'm not concerned about next year—which is good.
I have showed some good results this year and everyone is happy, but as you know Formula 1 is not always so easy.
Let's see what happens, but I'm confident and I'm happy with the season so far, and with both teams—Manor and Mercedes.
The biggest target [for 2016] was to learn as much as possible because it's my first year in Formula 1, my first year in single-seaters for three years.
It's quite a long time when you have to get used to the cars, even to the tracks because I did DTM and I think only Hockenheim, Budapest and Spielberg are Formula 1 tracks. Apart from that, every track is new to me.
So I had to learn about the car, the tracks, Formula 1, the tyres—I had never driven on the Pirelli tyres—and about how Formula 1 works.
As reported by Motorsport.com's Roberto Chinchero and Jonathan Noble, Wehrlein has asked Manor "for more time before he makes a commitment for next year" with the aim of filling a potential vacancy at fellow Mercedes customers Force India, who he represented in several test sessions throughout 2015.
With Sergio Perez confirming his contract extension after the Malaysian GP, Wehrlein's chances of joining Force India seem to hinge on the future of Hulkenberg, who "has been linked with Renault in recent weeks," but it is still possible he could follow Ocon to Renault for 2017.
As managing director Abiteboul told Motorsport.com's Cooper, Renault's "very good friendship" with Mercedes parent company Daimler is almost certain to see Ocon loaned to the team for next season.
If Wehrlein is left with no option but to leave Manor at the end of 2016, and a seat at Force India is unavailable, Renault could offer him a chance to keep his career alive by taking the unusual step of signing two Mercedes-backed drivers.
Carlos Sainz Jr. Determined to Join 'A Top Team' in 2018
Sainz has hinted he is prepared to leave the Red Bull family in order to meet his target of racing for a leading team in 2018.
The Spaniard has impressed since making his grand prix debut at the beginning of 2015, but with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen forming one of the strongest partnerships on the grid, he is unlikely to graduate to Red Bull in the near future.
Despite extending his contract with Toro Rosso ahead of July's Austrian GP, Sainz has been strongly linked with Renault in recent months, but he recently said he is happy to remain with the Red Bull B-team for a third season in 2017, per Motorsport.com's Noble.
However, the 22-year-old is determined to progress to a more competitive car in time for 2018, whether that is with Red Bull or elsewhere, and he has informed Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko of his ambitions.
According to Motorsport.com's Darshan Chokhani and Oleg Karpov, he explained:
I think Red Bull perfectly knows—2017, it's a tough year for me, it's the third year for me in Toro Rosso.
I think I could have, if options would have been open, I could have done a jump to Red Bull or any other team.
So, I think [Red Bull] perfectly know, I want to be in a top team in 2018, I think they perfectly know, I am already starting to be ready for that.
As long as they know and keep that in mind, I am OK to stay one more year in Toro Rosso.
I am contracted here Red Bull. The option [on 2017] has been executed. They have option on me until 2019 or 2020.
They can keep executing option on me, doesn't matter if it's Toro Rosso or Red Bull.
I had a conversation with Helmut and Red Bull, I have let them know that I am ready.
I need to rise one step in F1, I feel ready for it. They perfectly understand and they are with me in that area.
Prior to the announcement of Kimi Raikkonen's contract extension ahead of July's British GP, Sainz was linked with a potential move to Ferrari, with four-time world champion Alain Prost telling French outlet Minute-Auto.fr (h/t GrandPrix247.com) he would pick the Spaniard to partner Sebastian Vettel.
At the time, however, Sainz said winning the world championship with Red Bull is his "ultimate goal," per Sky Sports' Matt Morlidge.
Meanwhile, Toro Rosso are set to lose highly rated technical director James Key, who is being lined up to replace Pat Symonds at Williams at the end of 2017, when the former Renault engineer plans to retire from F1, according to German publication Auto Motor und Sport (h/t F1i.com's Julien Billiotte).
The same source added former Ferrari technical director James Allison has attracted interest from Renault, McLaren-Honda and Red Bull—whose chief technical officer, Adrian Newey, now holds a part-time role—since leaving the Prancing Horse in July.
Romain Grosjean Defends Team-Radio Comments to Haas
Grosjean has said his unflattering comments to Haas over pit-to-car radio are nothing personal, arguing he is simply displaying his passion to the team.
After starting 2016 with two top-six finishes in Australia and Bahrain, the Frenchman has endured a frustrating season with Haas, scoring just 10 points in the last 14 races and failing to even start the recent Singapore GP.
Grosjean has frequently criticised the American outfit and the VF-16 car over team radio, raising questions over his commitment to the newcomers.
But the 30-year-old, who also aired his frustrations with former employers Lotus during a difficult 2014 campaign, has reassured Haas his comments are harmless.
Per Motorsport.com's Cooper, he said:
Sometimes I've got a tendency to be too pushy and too passionate, but that's what the guys love.
When I crashed the car in qualifying in Singapore I came back and said, 'Sorry it’s going to be a lot of work tonight.' They said, 'We don’t care, we know you're out there, you're doing 120 per cent, and that's what we want to see.'
There’s nothing personal when I say the car is bad and so on. It's to put words on the feeling, which is not so easy to do.
It's like when you try something and it's disgusting, 'I hate it,' it’s not against the thing or the cook. It's just not your taste. But you need to put a word on the feeling. I'm passionate, I'm not a Finn who is very calm, I'm more a Latin guy.
It sounds like I'm an assh--e in the car, but in the end I'm a nice guy, or I think I'm a nice guy, and everyone knows it, and they know that if I'm pushing it's because I'm pushing myself, and I want to push everyone the same way.
I'm not coming here, being drunk three nights before, coming in the mornings, 'Ah, I’m going to do my job.' I'm coming here, I drank one night, but I've trained, I've rested, I've done my nutrition, I've done everything correct, and I want it to be 100 per cent.
As noted by Sky Sports' Kravitz, it emerged over the Malaysian GP weekend that Haas have ordered Grosjean to stop belittling the team over the airwaves.
And despite defending his comments, Grosjean has admitted he is making a more conscious effort to tone down his criticism.
"I've tried to back off, because it's playing on the TV and so on, and people who don't know me, they think it's wrong," he added, per Cooper.
Red Bull Take Credit for Lewis Hamilton's Malaysian GP Engine Failure
Red Bull believe Hamilton's engine failure in the latter stages of the Malaysian GP was a direct result of the pressure the team had exerted on the Mercedes driver.
After taking a comfortable pole position, Hamilton was on course to reclaim the lead of the drivers' standings after team-mate and title rival Nico Rosberg was hit by Vettel at the first corner.
However, Ricciardo and Verstappen—on an alternative strategy—kept Hamilton honest throughout the race before his engine failure on Lap 41 of 56, allowing Red Bull to claim a first one-two finish since November 2013.
It is thought Hamilton was in the process of building a gap that would allow him to emerge from the pits ahead of Verstappen at the time of the blowout, which according to Mercedes' official Twitter account was caused by a "big-end bearing failure."
But Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko is convinced his team triggered Hamilton's retirement, telling the official F1 website:
My guess is that we very likely forced him into that engine failure! We permanently put pressure on him, challenging his lead, as he knew he had to create a gap—and to go permanently full throttle was probably not the best thing for his engine. But even without him retiring we had some things up our sleeves—I will not say what—just that with both cars on different strategies we would have challenged him anyway towards the end of the race.
After the race, Mercedes technical boss Paddy Lowe appeared to blame Jenson Button for contributing to the engine failure, telling Sky Sports' television coverage how the McLaren-Honda driver wasn't responding to blue flags and that Hamilton was stuck behind him for almost two laps prior to the blowout.
In his Motorsport.com column, Williams driver Felipe Massa offered an insight into the emotions a driver experiences after retiring from the lead, having suffered a similar failure just three laps of the finish of the 2008 Hungarian GP.
The Brazilian, who went on to lose that year's championship by a single point to Hamilton, said:
[Things] like this are hard blows for a driver to deal with. It is not just the disappointment of losing a race, but there is also the knowledge that points have gone missing in the championship.
I remember the great sadness I felt at the time, because you know that you have done nothing wrong. But mechanical problems are a part of the sport.
Unfortunately you have to take these things into account.
Speaking in Thursday's FIA press conference ahead of the Japanese GP, however, Hamilton—who trails Nico Rosberg by 23 points with just five races remaining—said he hasn't been thinking about Malaysia, adding he has "a lot of other stuff going on."