Following Romain Grosjean’s move to 2016 newcomers Haas F1, a major vacancy has arisen at the Lotus team. The Enstone outfit may have lost one of the sport’s finest talents, but say they have a number of “tasty” options to replace Grosjean at Lotus.
Palmer, a GP2 champion, is the team’s current reserve driver and admitted recently that it will likely be ‘racing or nothing’ for him in 2016. The British driver has been handed a number of practice outings by the team this season, emphasising their faith in him, and has performed well without necessarily raising eyebrows. His success in F1’s feeder series last year highlighted his ability to qualify well as well as his tactfulness in wheel-to-wheel combat. Added to that, Palmer brings some much-needed funds, although this may not prove the deciding factor should Renault complete their prospective takeover.
“I’m enjoying what I’m doing. Having not been in F1 before, to drive the car as often as I have has been great, and to be involved in a team you learn a lot,” Palmer told Autosport.
“But having done one year of it, I feel I wouldn’t be learning a huge amount by doing another year doing the same thing with the same team. I’m flat out for racing next year. There’s a chance. It just depends on the outcome of a lot of things.”
In a recent poll conducted on my Twitter account – @GPRightNow – 31% of fans backed Palmer to succeed Grosjean, more than any other driver. It has to be said, however, that a line-up comprising the erratic Pastor Maldonado and a rookie may not prove the most attractive option for the returning Renault.
Having been controversially ousted from Toro Rosso at the end of the 2014 campaign, Vergne enjoyed a successful maiden season in Formula E. He secured 3 podium finishes and 3 pole positions last year but would surely sideline plans to continue racing in the series should an opportunity to return to F1 arise. The 25-year old remains Ferrari’s test driver, putting him very much in contention for the seat alongside Grosjean at Haas – who will essentially become the Scuderia’s B-team.
From a marketing perspective, Renault may well be in the market for a French driver and with three years of experience already under his belt, Vergne seems the ideal candidate. He proved very much a match for Daniel Ricciardo during their time as team-mates and the Aussie’s recent success at Red Bull suggests Vergne could too be a hit in a truly competitive car. Indeed, he was very much under consideration to replace Mark Webber at the Milton Keynes outfit and felt he was wrongly denied the graduation from the junior team, only to find himself out of the sport altogether a year later. A move to Haas remains on the cards, but the prospect of a Lotus drive could prove all too inviting.
Magnussen, like a certain Lewis Hamilton, made his F1 debut with McLaren in 2014. The Dane’s rookie year was solid if unspectacular, and he certainly did enough to warrant another year with the Woking outfit. Unfortunately for him, Fernando Alonso was available and McLaren, after months of deliberation, opted to retain Jenson Button to partner the Spaniard. Magnussen, known in the F1 community as ‘K-Mag’, was thus forced to spend the season on the sidelines as the team’s reserve driver but for an outing at the Australian GP, where he deputised for the injured Fernando Alonso. Relative to his fellow candidates, the 23-year old may be a little ‘rusty’.
With Button and Alonso seemingly locked-in for another year at the struggling McLaren, and what looks to be a two-horse (or, more fittingly ‘Prancing Horse’) race for the remaining seat at Haas, a move to Lotus/Renault appears the only route back into the sport for 2016. Should he miss out, he may be forced to explore other avenues and join the long list of great talents denied a true chance to prove themselves.
Another McLaren protégé, Vandoorne has dominated the GP2 series this year and leads by 108 points with just 3 rounds remaining. The Belgian youngster has been touted as a future World Champion, and could go head-to-head with Magnussen, his ‘team-mate’ of sorts, for this highly sought-after seat with the Enstone team. If he fails to gain promotion from the feeder series, he will become the fourth consecutive GP2 champion to fail to earn an F1 seat for the following year.
Frédéric Vasseur, boss of the ART team which Vandoorne currently races for, will reportedly be a key part of Renault’s return to F1 as a works’ team. Perhaps Vasseur will urge the squad to sign up the youngster, having seen first-hand what he is capable of. Prizing the hot prospect away from McLaren, however, will no doubt be tough.
19-year old Esteban Ocon, now a GP3 winner, is a part of Mercedes’ driver development programme and has been mooted as a potential candidate. Even Fernando Alonso has been linked with a shock return after a miserable year with McLaren, having won both of his titles whilst racing for Renault. Don’t bet on it.
Who do you think Lotus will select? Let us know in the comments!