Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Jolyon Palmer, Kevin Magnussen to Haas, More
Behind the wheel of a slow, unpredictable and at times evil car, Jolyon Palmer has endured a difficult debut season in Formula One in 2016.
Renault's understandable focus on the future has almost made the team forget the present, with Palmer and team-mate Kevin Magnussen effectively weaponless, making up the numbers toward the rear of the field.
But the British driver will have the opportunity to prove his true worth in 2017, having been awarded a contract extension.
After recovering well from a shaky start to the season, Palmer will argue he is fully deserving of a new deal, but it would be slightly more accurate to suggest he secured Renault's second seat by default.
After missing out on their main targets, it was thought the race to partner new signing Nico Hulkenberg had come down to a straight fight between Magnussen and Esteban Ocon, who started 2016 as Renault's reserve driver before joining Manor.
Yet both drivers have left the team dangling, with Magnussen signing a contract to join Haas after running out of patience with Renault and Ocon close to replacing Hulkenberg at Force India.
Indeed, Palmer could be even considered a stop-gap signing, giving Renault time to assess their options before pursuing a high-profile, superstar driver for 2018.
And arguably the best driver of the lot could soon be available, with Jo Ramirez expressing his fear that Fernando Alonso could walk away from McLaren-Honda if the team's struggles continue under the new regulations in 2017.
Closing our latest roundup is four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who has refused to change his style despite being criticised by his Ferrari boss.
Jolyon Palmer 'Over the Moon' After Securing 2017 Renault Seat
Palmer has expressed his delight after agreeing a deal to remain with Renault for the 2017 season.
After being promoted from a reserve role at the end of last year, Palmer endured a difficult start to life as an F1 driver, failing to even start his second race in Bahrain, finishing last in China and crashing on all three days of running in Monaco.
However, the 2014 GP2 champion has improved noticeably as the season has progressed and scored his first-ever F1 point with a 10th-place finish in October's Malaysian Grand Prix.
As reported by Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble and Roberto Chinchero, Renault had intended to partner Hulkenberg with either Magnussen, Palmer's 2016 team-mate, or former reserve driver Ocon for next season.
But with Ocon set to replace Hulkenberg at Force India and with Magnussen close to sealing a move to Haas, Palmer has been offered a reprieve.
And Palmer has vowed to come back bigger and better in 2017, telling the team's official website:
I’m over the moon to be racing with Renault Sport Formula One Team for a second season and I can’t wait to reward the team’s faith in me on track. Having worked out of Enstone since 2015 I can fully appreciate the development of the infrastructure this year. This means I share the excitement of the team looking to 2017 and our new car. For me, it’s been a steep learning curve driving in Formula 1 and I know that I am performing better than ever, and that there’s still more to come. There is tremendous drive and enthusiasm in Enstone and Viry looking to next year and I am honoured to be part of this.
Renault chairman Jerome Stoll welcomed the news of Palmer's contract extension, suggesting the partnership between the British driver—who provides around £8 million in personal sponsorship, per the Telegraph's Daniel Johnson—and Hulkenberg will drive the team forward in 2017.
He told the Renault website:
Jolyon has shown his hunger to develop with us as the team grows and we have been impressed with his increasingly strong performances on track as the season has progressed. We are confident that the combination of Jolyon and Nico Hulkenberg offers a very promising driving force to meet our goals. Jolyon understands the team’s spirit and motivates everyone he works with. The line-up of Jolyon and Nico harnesses the benefits of continuity and fresh blood. I am sure that having Nico as a team-mate will help push Jolyon to greater achievements.
Having scored just eight points this season, Renault are expected to make considerable progress under the new regulations in 2017, when changes to the bodywork and the introduction of wider tyres will make the cars several seconds per lap faster than the current models.
And with the controversial engine-token system being abandoned at the end of this year, team principal Frederic Vasseur has revealed Renault are working on a "completely new" power unit for 2017.
Vasseur told Motorsport.com's Noble how Renault must produce a new engine if they are to close the gap to the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari, having reached the end of their development of their 2016-specification powertrain.
He added the new engine is close to meeting the team's expectations for next season.
Kevin Magnussen to Join Haas on Multi-Year Deal
Magnussen will partner Romain Grosjean at Haas in 2017 after agreeing a deal to join the American team, it has emerged.
Having spent 2015 on the sidelines, the Dane returned to F1 with Renault at the beginning of the year after complications between the team and Pastor Maldonado's personal sponsors led to the Venezuelan's departure.
Behind the wheel of the underpowered and undeveloped R.S.16 car, Magnussen has generally struggled during his comeback year, but he is the highest-scoring Renault driver in 2016 having claimed points in Russia and Singapore.
As reported by a print edition of F1 Racing magazine, however, the 24-year-old's "perceived lackadaisical attitude" and several unforced errors—including his costly crashes in Canada and Belgium—had left Renault doubting his ultimate potential, with the team openly flirting with other drivers for 2017.
Magnussen had frequently expressed his frustration with Renault's delay in announcing their driver decision, with Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper reporting the he was seriously considering a firm two-year offer from Haas—with no requirement to provide personal sponsorship—over the Mexican GP weekend.
According to F1 journalist Tobi Gruner, Renault had offered Magnussen a one-year deal, but his apparent desire for long-term security has seen him sign a contract with Haas until the end of 2018.
Magnussen is widely admired at Haas, with team owner Gene Haas telling the official F1 website how he would have signed the Dane for 2016 had he been unable to lure Grosjean from Renault, then competing under the name of Lotus.
It is unclear how Magnussen's arrival will affect the future of Esteban Gutierrez, who is to be released having failed to score a point for Haas this season.
Over the Mexican GP weekend, Gutierrez told an FIA press conference of his confidence of remaining on the grid in 2017.
However, with places at Haas, Renault and Force India now taken, Manor and Sauber—with whom he competed for two seasons in 2013 and '14—represent his only options as he attempts to keep his F1 career alive.
Esteban Ocon Set to Replace Nico Hulkenberg at Force India for 2017
Ocon is set to race for Force India in 2017 after the team identified the Frenchman as Hulkenberg's replacement.
As reported by Autosport (h/t Eurosport), Hulkenberg's surprise switch to Renault for 2017 had created a vacancy alongside Sergio Perez, with a number of drivers—including Ocon, Palmer, Pascal Wehrlein and Felipe Nasr—all in contention at one stage.
After a series of meetings with team principal Vijay Mallya, Force India have opted to sign Ocon for next season, with a deal close to being completed.
Ocon, who won the GP3 feeder series in 2015, had been widely expected to race for Renault in 2017 after being loaned to the team from Mercedes at the beginning of this year, but his mid-season move to Manor to replace Rio Haryanto brought him back into the Mercedes family.
Given Force India's strong links to the Silver Arrows, who have powered the Silverstone-based outfit since 2009, Ocon and Wehrlein were the overwhelming favourites to join Force India, with both Mercedes proteges testing for the team across last year.
According to F1 journalist James Allen, the team concluded Ocon had greater potential than Wehrlein, with deputy team principal Bob Fernley recently telling F1i.com's Chris Medland how Force India's decision would be influenced by their previous testing experiences with the main contenders.
Having recently admitted he would be content to remain with the backmarkers for 2017 per Autosport (h/t Eurosport), Wehrlein is now almost certain to spend a second season with Manor, where he could be partnered by Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly.
According to a print edition of Autosport magazine, Red Bull adviser Dr. Helmut Marko has held discussions with Manor owner Stephen Fitzpatrick with a view to finding Gasly a place on the 2017 grid after the Frenchman missed out on a Toro Rosso seat to Daniil Kvyat.
Meanwhile, Fernley has told Motorsport.com's Cooper the battle for fourth place in the constructors' championship between Force India and Williams is too close to call ahead of the final two races of 2016, with the teams separated by just nine points.
Jo Ramirez Fears Fernando Alonso Will Walk Away from McLaren-Honda in 2017
Ramirez has warned McLaren-Honda will lose Alonso if the team do not return to winning ways in 2017.
After enduring their worst campaign in 35 years in 2015, McLaren have improved considerably this season—scoring more than double the amount of points than at this stage 12 months ago—but are set to finish no higher than sixth in the constructors' championship.
McLaren have long targeted next season's major regulation changes as an opportunity to return to competitiveness, with chairman Ron Dennis telling BBC Sport's Andrew Benson how they will be the team to end Mercedes' dominance of F1.
Without a world championship since 2006, Alonso has frequently warned he will retire from F1 if the new-for-2017 cars are not to his liking, telling Spanish radio station Cadena Ser (h/t Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde) he takes little enjoyment from modern F1.
And Ramirez, who was McLaren's team coordinator between 1984 and 2001, fears the team will drive Alonso away if they do not make a significant step forward next season.
He told Spanish publication AS (h/t F1i.com's Phillip van Osten):
It's still painful.
McLaren's evolution is good but it's too slow. They're losing sponsors and will lose Alonso as well. It cannot be otherwise. He is a winning driver and he has to win.
I don't think he will endure more than next year. I do believe that's his limit. ...
I think this year they should already have been on the podium. Of course it's possible to fight for the title, but I think it's difficult. But they have to do everything possible, because I think next year is McLaren's last chance.
I think they have a lot to improve because do you know what? It's not all the fault of the engine. The engine is still not good, but I don't think it's the best chassis in the world.
So they have to work together, McLaren and Honda, as if they were a single team, and keep Alonso.
Dennis recently provided an update McLaren's preparations for next season, telling Sky Sports how Honda's 2017-specification engine is being tested on the dynamometer, while McLaren are also making good progress with the development of their new chassis.
Over the Japanese GP weekend, Alonso told an FIA press conference the progress McLaren have made over the course of 2016 will have no effect on their prospects for next season.
Sebastian Vettel Won't Change Approach Despite Ferrari Criticism
Vettel has said he will not alter his approach despite Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene's recent suggestion that he should concentrate solely on driving the car.
After a strong first year with Ferrari in 2015, when his three victories in Malaysia, Hungary and Singapore guided the team to second place in the constructors' standings, Vettel has endured a difficult second season at the Prancing Horse in 2016.
The German is without a grand prix win with two races of the season remaining having been restricted to just six podium appearances, with Ferrari sitting a distant third in the championship.
Arrivabene recently appeared to criticise Vettel's work behind the scenes, telling Sky Italia (Sky Sports' James Galloway) how the four-time world champion is trying too hard to mirror the work of Michael Schumacher, his boyhood idol who won five consecutive titles with Ferrari between 2000 and 2004.
The Italian also cast doubt over Vettel's future with the Prancing Horse, revealing the 29-year-old must prove he deserves a contract extension with the team beyond 2017.
According to Autosport (h/t Eurosport), Vettel has defended his way of working, suggesting the experience he has gained over the years means it is only natural that he is attempting to lead the team as much as possible.
When asked to compare his role at Ferrari to his status at Red Bull, he said:
It's very different. When I joined Red Bull, I was 21 years old.
I have a bit more experience now, so it's a completely different situation.
When you grow up, you build a certain experience and you're able to see the bigger picture.
It changes also your mind and your perspective of things—if I can see I can help somewhere.
In the end I'm here to drive the car but also here to help.
Per the same source, Vettel leaped to the defence of Arrivabene, whose position has come under threat as a result of Ferrari's disappointing season.
The German said the team principal is "doing a very good job," adding: "The way I see it, he has a lot of responsibilities and he is pushing very hard and working a lot, so you can't take that away from him."
However, Vettel warned Ferrari may require some time to challenge for world championships once again, citing Red Bull and Mercedes as examples of how long it can take to build a title-winning team.