Magnussen headlines Renault return

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.

Alonso to miss Australian GP

Fernando Alonso will miss the first weekend since his Formula One debut in 2001 with news that the Spaniard has pulled out of the season opening Australian Grand Prix.

Alonso, who suffered concussion when he crashed in mysterious circumstances on the final day of the first Barcelona test on February 22 and was subsequently hospitalised for three nights, was advised by doctors.not to participate at the risk of aggravating the injury.

The following statement issued through McLaren summarises the outcome, “Fernando’s doctors have recommended to him that, following the concussion he sustained in a testing accident at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on February 22nd, for the time being he should seek to limit as far as is possible any environmental risk factors that could potentially result in his sustaining another concussion so soon after his previous one, so as to minimise the chances of second impact syndrome.”

The 33-year old instead hopes to be fit to resume in time for the second event at Malaysia from March 27-29.

Kevin Magnussen will thus return to the race seat he held in 2014, though having enjoyed only two days running in the troublesome MP4-30 at the final test, the Dane will have his work cut out. However, the event will hold fond memories for the 22-year old – he finished second on his debut last season, following Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification.

Irrespective of the official explanation and its’ reassuring undertones, that the episode has been deemed severe enough for Alonso to miss a Grand Prix will lead to inevitable theorising regarding the true nature of the Spaniard’s welfare.

An ERS-inflicted electric shock and strong winds have been discussed as logical causes of the accident, with reports of Alonso suffering amnesia symptomatic of the former, though many have speculated that an underlying medical condition explains the lack of transparency offered by all parties.

One wild theory is that Alonso is in no hurry to return to the cockpit as long as McLaren continues to flounder, and is happy to allow others – such as Magnussen, to endure the short-term pain, whilst the outfit is on record that they don’t expect to be competitive until the European season commences in May.

Much has been made of the notion that Alonso-McLaren re-coupling being a marriage of convenience. The Spaniard continues indeed to be linked to a 2016 Mercedes berth as Lewis Hamilton remains in negotiation over a new contract. Team principal Toto Wolff has admitted that Alonso is next on the list should the parties fail to agree to terms. As long as McLaren continues on their current trajectory and Hamilton is yet to put pen to paper, the rumours will continue.

The Australian Grand Prix will be poorer for Alonso’s absence, but his health is the primary concern, and with a little convalescence, the Spaniard will hopefully mark his return sooner than later.

For its’ part, McLaren will now field an identical line-up as twelve months’ ago. On that occasion, they enjoyed a belated double podium. This time around, one surmises that witnessing both cars – if not either, greeting the chequered flag would be considered a success.

McLaren confirms Alonso return, Button retention

Formula One’s worst-kept secret has at last been realised, with confirmation that Fernando Alonso is rejoining McLaren.

The Spaniard will spearhead the Woking squad’s renewed collaboration with Honda, whilst Jenson Button has been retained, following much deliberation over the Briton and his 2014 team-mate, Kevin Magnussen.

Alonso returns to McLaren seven years after his sole, acrimonious 2007 campaign, having failed to add to his 2005 & 2006 titles throughout his five-year Ferrari tenure.

Button – the 2009 World Champion, will embark on his sixth campaign with the outfit – his sixteenth in the sport, with the line-up mirroring Ferrari in boasting a champion on either side of the garage.

The result of this announcement is a combined 500 Grands Prix in experience. Taking into account McLaren’s recent campaigns, coupled with the conclusion of a two-decade partnership with Mercedes in favour of Honda, the decision can’t be frowned upon.

Ron Dennis – utilising his finest, infamous Ronspeak, remarked “we now have by an order of magnitude the best driver line-up of any current Formula 1 team.”

It’s certainly a more compelling notion than Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen on the basis of their most recent campaigns and immediate prospects of flourishing in the abyss which Maranello currently represents.

There will be those who claim that Kevin Magnussen is desperately unlucky, that the Dane might be – he was until recently viewed as a certainty to stay on next season, yet it may just transpire to be the best outcome.

It takes time for relationships – regardless of history, to blossom. The McLaren-Honda combination which dominated the sport a quarter of a century ago bares no relevance to today. There are no guarantees that the initial McLaren-Honda output will yield an improvement on the MP4-29.  A second campaign for Magnussen at the wheel of a handful could have been detrimental to his long-term prospects, on a personal and prospective employer level.

His retention as a test and reserve driver could be perceived as a token gesture, but the reality is that he’s a solid chance to regain a race seat in 2016. Button could well be content that the extra season his second unexpected reprieve has granted, and decide the time is right for a WEC switch. As for Alonso – he’d never depart McLaren after one season, surely? Yet, it did happen last time, so…

Ostensibly, the issues which plagued the Spaniard’s initial stint at Woking have been addressed to a manageable degree otherwise he’d never have made the return which appeared so inconceivable just months ago.

Whether this entails Ron Dennis taking a step back from day to day operations of the racing division once more, or whether both individuals have agreed to let not past differences affect the future vision for restoring McLaren to glory, will be known in relatively short order.

Pending Caterham’s presence on the grid in 2015, the line-ups for all confirmed outfits is now set.

MERCEDES: Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg

RED BULL Renault: Daniel Ricciardo, Daniil Kvyat

WILLIAMS Mercedes: Valtteri Bottas, Felipe Massa

FERRARI: Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Räikkönen

McLAREN Honda: Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button

FORCE INDIA Mercedes: Nico Hülkenberg, Sergio Perez

TORO ROSSO Renault: Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz (Jr)

LOTUS Mercedes: Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado

SAUBER Ferrari: Marcus Ericsson, Felipe Nasr