Kevin Magnussen has secured a return to the Formula One grid, the Dane completing the line-up at Enstone as Renault marks their return to factory status.
The 23-year old has usurped Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, whose PDVSA backing has dried up following five seasons on the grid at Williams and Lotus. Though the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix victor has already confirmed that he will not compete in the category this season, he hasn’t dismissed a return to the grid in 2017.
GP2 outfit former ART Team Principal Frederic Vasseur has been installed as Racing Director at the operation known officially as the Renault Sport F1 Team, whilst Bob Bell returns to the fold as chief technical officer.
A striking black livery was unveiled at the launch, though a final scheme is set to appear ahead of the opening race at Melbourne next month.
2014 GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer’s impending debut has been ratified, the Briton rewarded for his reserve driver efforts last season. The 25-year old has been afforded a rare opportunity with a works outfit, though expectations will be lower than customary on account of the whirlwind nature with which the Renault return has eventuated.
Esteban Ocon has been handed the reserve driver role following his time in the Mercedes development programme.
Magnussen’s sole outing across any category throughout 2015 came with his erstwhile employer McLaren. On that particular occasion – the curtain raising Australian Grand Prix, the Dane, deputising for a recuperating Fernando Alonso, suffered the ignominy of failing to reach the grid, setting in motion Honda’s inglorious return campaign to the sport.
Further ignominy came when the Dane’s services were terminated by the Woking operation via phone on his 23rd birthday, invoking Ron Dennis’ infamous remark that Magnussen “did not behave as he should have.” If his Melbourne outing represented the capture data to compliment this sentiment, it amounted to a raw deal.
Great expectations were thrust upon Magnussen following his third place, which ultimately amounted to second following the disqualification of Daniel Ricciardo, on his debut at the 2014 Australian GP. This proved to be the watermark of his campaign, a lacklustre MP4-29 ensuring the Dane.languished in the midfield for the balance of the season.
Outscored 55 points to 126 by team-mate Jenson Button, Magnussen nevertheless expected to be retained for 2015. That he was snubbed in favour of the Briton alongside a returning Fernando Alonso following a painfully protracted process was a bitter pill to swallow.
The Dane forwent a full-time IndyCar berth to substitute for the Spaniard at Melbourne. With the benefit of foresight, Magnussen must have surely wished that he had settled for the former.
Just as it seemed that he may have been lost to Formula One forever, a lifeline has emerged
Having scaled back its’ commitments in acrimonious circumstances at the conclusion of 2009, following the fallout from the events of the Singapore Grand Prix ‘crashgate’ the year prior, Renault returned to its’ true calling – engines.
Four consecutive constructors’ titles gleaned between 2010 and 2013 in unison with Red Bull vindicated the decision.
The irony is that both, though more so the former, were so focused on their successful trajectory that each was exposed as a day late and a dollar short with the introduction of turbo ‘power units’ ahead of the 2014 season. Three victories, the only wrested from Mercedes grasp, was the result, a far cry from the lofty heights of the fourteen achieved in 2013.
Far worse was to beckon. A ceaseless war of words between the company and the energy drinks giant blighted the 2015 campaign, as a resurgent Ferrari cast Renault further down the pecking order. Reliability issues were all too frequent, its’ blushes spared only by Honda’s non-existent presence.
Tired of the persecution and feeling unloved for their sizeable contribution to the aforementioned golden era, the bigwigs at Viry Chatillon were compelled to take decisive action, and thus, reacquisition of the Enstone operation.
However, it took such a long period for confirmation to come, that the outfit is well behind the curve for their return campaign which commences in seven weeks’ time. The 2016 challenger was equipped to run with Mercedes power, the task to marry the Renault power unit to the well advanced chassis is not ideal.
Thus, Magnussen must remain patient in 2016, and anticipate frustration as Renault feels its’ way back into the game following six seasons away from the coalface. Time is on his side, and if Renault’s three-year plan to reach the top, as they did in their previous tenure is realised, he is at the right place at the right moment.
One individual who does not count time on his side is Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard will be monitoring developments with an eager eye. Marking the tenth anniversary of his second and most recent title, the 34-year old is bound to become restless if his 2016 season is as fruitless as his return campaign with the Woking outfit.
A return to the scene of his glories following too many near misses to recall would represent a romantic notion. Much water has to pass under the bridge until this can be contemplated.
For now, we should be pleased to witness another manufacturer’s presence on the grid, as well as a driver worthy of their place.