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Formula One Open Wheel

F1 Silly Season: Sainz to Renault, and More

The Formula 1 silly season volcano erupted into life ahead of this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix as drivers, teams, and engine manufacturers announced their plans for 2018 and beyond.

Realistically, September is the latest anyone could have left their decisions with plans underway for new chassis’ and the next campaign starting in six months’ time.

Sainz Goes to Renault

Carlos Sainz Jr. has been loaned to Renault for 2018 to partner Nico Hulkenberg.

He continues to be associated with Red Bull but will get an experience of how a manufacturer works for the first time. Sainz has only driven for Toro Rosso to date, claiming a career-best sixth four times.

“This choice is well-aligned with our mid-term strategic plans,” managing director Cyril Abiteboul said. “We feel that Nico and Carlos will complement each other on and off track and the combination should help us push forwards on the grid.”

The signing leaves Jolyon Palmer on the sidelines for now after over 35 events with the team. Rumors have also consistently linked Sainz with taking over Palmer’s seat for the next contest in Malaysia.

Palmer denied this in the press conference before the start of the weekend, saying, “I have a contract. I’ve got seven more races this year. There have been suggestions for the past 35 races that I might not be at the next one, or in the next few, so this is nothing new for me, it’s water off a duck’s back now. It’s the same, I think at probably most races this year it’s been the case and nothing has changed.”

McLaren Joins Up With Renault

Renault will power McLaren for the first time in its history in the next three seasons as the former constructors’ champions split with Honda.

It ends its time with the brand after three years. If the MCL32 does not claim a podium by the end of 2017, it will be the first time that McLaren has not finished in the top-three through a period with an engine manufacturer since the M7D Alfa Romeo-powered car in 1970.

The switch could also change the situation around Fernando Alonso’s future. The Renault engine has won in June with Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull, and Alonso has previously said that he wants to be back on the top step. The manufacturer was also the team that Alonso won a title for in 2005 and 2006.

There’s also discussion surrounding his options now being limited, despite previously being linked to a possible  Verizon IndyCar Series ride. However, the seat he was likely to have taken was filled at Andretti Autosport by Zach Veach. As a result, he could be back in F1 with just a possible one-off ride for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.

Alonso gave an update in Thursday’s press briefing, adding, “There are options everywhere. And they are all very good. You just need to be patient and wait a couple of weeks. The Indy 500 is together with Monaco, as we know, there is another one still to complete, so the triple crown is still ongoing at the maximum speed. I agree with the same thing [McLaren executive director] Zak [Brown] said: if I remain in F1 it’s because I believe I can win next year. So, that will ease the decision a lot because I will be in Monaco because I don’t want to lose any points. The plan is ongoing and very good news is coming.”

Toro Rosso Moves to Honda Power

As a result of McLaren’s switch, Honda is staying in F1 in the back of the Toro Rosso chassis as it moves away from Renault. It has a multi-year agreement to run the Japanese power units.

“It will be a question of adaption of our plans rather than a wholesale change and we are in the process of re-planning our design and production activities in conjunction with Honda to ensure that we both hit all our important deadlines,” technical director James Key said. “We will be working hard not to only re-design the power unit installation but also ensure that this has minimal or no effect on the ongoing development work for 2018.”

Sainz’s vacant seat could allow Toro Rosso to debut a new racer, with several options available. Red Bull reserve Pierre Gasly is winning in the Super Formula championship with a Honda-powered car, Sean Gelael took part in his first practice session for them in Singapore, and F2 and GP3 competitors Nobuharu Matsushita and Nirei Fukuzumi are both Honda-supported and working their way through the ladder system.

Kubica, Rosberg Start Working Together

Retired 2016 champion Nico Rosberg is continuing to be involved in motorsports as he tweeted that he is helping Robert Kubica with his future.

Kubica was one of the names in the frame for Sainz’s Renault seat after having three test sessions with them but is still waiting for an opportunity for a potential comeback.

The two of them may work perfectly as both have been in similar places before in their careers. The duo both burst onto the scene in 2006 and finished close in seventh and eighth in the drivers’ championship in the last season the Pole competed in in 2010. Kubica was then in the same bracket as Rosberg as someone who could do great things later before his rallying accident affected that.

EMAIL CAMERON AT @cpatersonf1@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Formula One Open Wheel

Kubica Among Those Announced for Hungarian Test

The next stage of Silly Season emerges in Hungary at the beginning of August as different racers jump into Formula 1 cars in an in-season test.

Robert Kubica will pilot the Renault R.S.17 car in his first taste of competitive machinery for six years, since driving the 2011 Lotus-Renault in pre-season.

He has been working in the last two months with tests at Valencia and Paul Ricard privately with its 2012 chassis to develop towards a possible return slowly. After these closed sessions with no publicized times, this will be the only occasion the public can gauge how the Pole is doing in his attempted comeback from rally injuries.

With this event days after the race, guesses can be made to how close Kubica gets to the times of regular racers Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer. Things like fuel load and the number of laps will have to be taken into account, but the F1 community isn’t shy about reading between the lines.

Kubica isn’t the only fresh face in the Enstone camp, with F2 racer Nicholas Latifi getting the first of the two days. Latifi took a maiden win last time out at Silverstone and currently places fourth in the F2 standings.

The Canadian could also be part of the discussions for a future seat as no driver has finished fourth at the end of the season and stayed in the GP2/F2 series since Mitch Evans in 2014. Just one of the last eight drivers finished top-four stayed on in 2015 and 2016.

For now, he is filling the criteria for constructors having to field a driver who has raced three times or fewer in the sport, as is Nobuharu Matsushita, who takes part at Sauber alongside previously-announced F2 rival Gustav Malja.

Malja takes the first laps on August 1 before handing the car over to the Japanese on the final day.

Matsushita is a member of the ART Grand Prix team – the one Sauber’s new team principal Frederic Vasseur led for many years. He is also a Honda junior – with the Swiss squad joining with the Japanese manufacturer in 2018.

“I am pleased that Nobuharu has this great opportunity,” Vasseur said. “He deserves the experience of his first test. Ever since his debut in F2 with ART, I have been following his progress closely, and have watched him advance his performance from year to year. With this test, he comes one step closer to his dream of becoming an F1 driver one day.”

Other competitive youngsters taking part will be Mercedes’ GP3 leader George Russell, Ferrari’s F2 title fighter Charles Leclerc, and DTM championship contender Lucas Auer at Force India. It is the second and final test during the 2017 season.

EMAIL CAMERON AT @cpatersonf1@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @PatersonCameron

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Formula One Open Wheel

Kubica Set For More Renault Track Time

One of the biggest questions on Formula 1 fans’ minds in recent years, ‘what could Robert Kubica have done in motorsports?’, could be a step closer to being resolved.

2008 Canadian Grand Prix winner Kubica will test the Renault E20 2012 car at the Paul Ricard track on an unconfirmed date as part of a continuing focus to find whether he can return to racing.

Kubica last competed in the sport in 2010 for the team after suffering a rally accident in early 2011 that damaged the right-hand side of his upper body.

Debates have been raised for some time about his condition and if he could return to single-seater racing competitively, especially in a small cockpit, but he took part in a session with the car at Valencia on June 6. He completed 115 laps before driving the machine at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England last weekend.

At the time of his crash, Kubica was rated in the same category as 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg as an up-and-coming star. He finished eighth in the Drivers’ Championship in 2010 with three podiums, just six points behind the German, alongside Felipe Massa on the list of best racers to not fight for the title.

His only racing since has been in the World Rally Championship between 2013 and 2016, collecting 14 stage wins.

Renault Sport Formula 1 Team

Initial Skepticism

When Kubica first sat back in the car, all signals coming from the day seemed to downplay any possibilities.

“I kept working hard, and a few years ago, I felt it was impossible,” Kubica said. “I have mixed feelings, I am proud with what I achieved today, but also it shows what I have lost. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I know one thing, after working for more than one year to prepare for this, I ran with good pace and consistency in difficult conditions.”

“This was a one-off event for Robert,” sporting director Alan Permane added. “His time with Renault was cut short so abruptly, and we perceived such a nice future with him. The team was in Valencia testing with Sergey Sirotkin, so it was the perfect opportunity to offer Robert a day in the car and contribute in our way to his recovery.”

“New Phase”

Managing director Cyril Abiteboul highlighted how his situation has changed since his first laps back in F1 machinery.

“Whilst the first day of testing at Valencia was no more than to let Robert get reacquainted with the feel of driving again, this second test will be to access his capabilities to return to the highest level of competition,” Abiteboul said. “This is a new phase in his personal and professional journey and we are proud to support him in the form of lending our infrastructure at Paul Ricard that is suitable for professional and non-professional drivers. There are still many hurdles for him to overcome, and he knows better than anyone else that only his performance will determine if he can one day return to being a professional driver.”

If Kubica came back at the start of 2018, his gap between starts would be 1079 days short of Jan Lammers’ record of 3767 days.

EMAIL CAMERON AT @cpatersonf1@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @PatersonCameron

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.