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Where does Stoffel Vandoorne feature in McLaren’s future?

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Amid all of the speculation about McLaren’s driver line-up for the 2015 Formula 1 season, Stoffel Vandoorne appears to be something of a forgotten man. The Belgian has quietly gone about his business during his rookie GP2 season, currently ranking third in the championship with two wins to his name, but where does he feature in the future of his parent team, McLaren?

The seats at Woking are currently coming under a great deal of scrutiny ahead of Honda’s return as an engine supplier in 2015. This new partnership is intended to take both brands back to their glory days of the late 1980s; a much needed change for McLaren after two disappointing seasons.

The phenomenon that is silly season has a tendency to circle around one team or driver. In 2012, it was Lewis Hamilton. 2013 saw Kimi Raikkonen take a turn as the center of attention. This time around, it’s McLaren and Fernando Alonso who share the honors: will they or won’t they join forces for 2015?

Alonso does have a firm contract with Ferrari for next season, but the Spaniard is rumored to have an out clause if the team finishes lower than third in the constructors’ championship. With Williams hot on the Italian marque’s heels, this could yet be triggered. Then again, other paddock speculation has suggested that he may be set for a huge pay rise to commit to the team. Luca di Montezemolo simultaneously denied both stories earlier this week.

It is common knowledge that both McLaren and Honda want a big name driver to spearhead their joint charge. What is unclear is whether or not both parties are willing to wait until 2016 to secure this. Next year may be a bit too soon to get Alonso or Sebastian Vettel – who has apparently been subject to an “outrageously high” offer – on board. There will be exclusivity, but there may also be the unavoidable teething problems that come with any new partnership.

The Alonso-to-McLaren rumor is one that I, like many, have been following closely for some time. Earlier this year, I confidently said that I was 95% sure that he wouldn’t race for the British team in 2015. I’m now a little less sure following conversations in the paddock, but if I had to put my money on a line-up at Woking for next year, it would still be for the same again: Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen.

Beyond that? Who knows. However, Vandoorne will be hoping to make himself a firm part of the future of McLaren.

Like Magnussen, Stoffel is a McLaren junior that has been nurtured by the team for some time. The Belgian has impressed in every series that he has raced in, finishing second in last year’s Formula Renault 3.5 championship behind – of all people – Magnussen. For a rookie campaign, it was very impressive, but instead of gunning for glory in 2014, McLaren opted to move him across to GP2.

Vandoorne made a sensational start, winning on his debut in Bahrain, and has put in a number of impressive performances since then. When he claimed that win in Sakhir, many of the top figures at McLaren – Ron Dennis, Eric Boullier, Sam Michael – came down to the podium to congratulate him. Clearly, his stock within the team is high.

So surely the plan must be to replace Button with Vandoorne when the Briton opts to retire? It really does depend on how McLaren sees its future with Honda. Would it be worth spurning one of its proteges, either Magnussen or Vandoorne, for a few years with Alonso? Or a longer term deal with Vettel? Or perhaps even Valtteri Bottas? According to two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen, the Finn is also in McLaren’s sights.

It’s the issue of having ‘too much talent’ (if such a case exists). Last season, Sergio Perez was dumped by McLaren after just one season. Then-team principal Martin Whitmarsh tried to soften the blow by saying that if the team had three seats, there wouldn’t have been a problem. Checo has since gone on to Force India, and told us that the move was a ‘blessing in disguise’ earlier this year.

McLaren and Honda will need to sit down and decide the direction in which they want to take the team. Is it worth gambling on a big name to throw away a young and talented driver?

Whatever the team’s future, be sure to keep an eye on Stoffel Vandoorne. He has the makings of something very special.

Sergio Perez: Force India can give leading F1 teams ‘a hard time’ in 2017

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22:  Sergio Perez of Mexico and Sahara Force India waves before unveiling the VJM10 car during the Sahara Force India Formula One team launch at Silverstone on February 22, 2017 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sergio Perez is confident that Force India can give the leading teams in Formula 1 “a hard time” in 2017 as it looks to build on its best-ever constructors’ championship finish last year.

Perez led Force India’s charge to P4 in the teams’ standings in 2016 as it finished behind only Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.

The team launched its new car for the 2017 season, the VJM10, at Silverstone on Wednesday, and Perez is confident that it can give Force India the chance to hassle F1’s established front-runners.

“I think there’s plenty of reasons to be very hopeful that we can do the next step as a team,” Perez said.

“I think in the four years that I’ve been in this organization, I’ve never seen it so stable, everyone knowing their job.

“In none of the teams that I’ve been in Formula 1 I’ve seen this level of confidence, organisation, everyone doing their jobs. So I think we have plenty of reasons to be happy for a great year.”

Force India owner Vijay Mallya has targeted a move into F1’s top three, and Perez sees no reason why the team cannot achieve this.

“Last year we finished fourth, so I see no reason why we cannot improve that,” Perez said.

“As I said before, the base is very solid. There are plenty of reasons to be hoping for that. That means a massive year for us, but I think Force India will be the big surprise this year

“I really hope that we can improve. I’m really optimistic about the car, about the season, so I do hope. It’s easy to talk now, but I have a feeling that Force India has done a tremendous job over the winter.

“I’ve seen the way everyone has worked in the team. I’ve been in talks all the time. I’ve been in the factory many times. I see what the people are doing, they’re explaining to me how the car is working, how big was the development rate for us.

“There are plenty of reasons to feel we can have a good year.”

While he is yet to drive the VJM10 on-track, Perez said that the car feels significantly quicker on the team’s simulator following the introduction of new technical regulations for 2017.

“It’s a big step from last year to this year, we think four to six seconds in margin of how much quicker the car goes,” Perez said.

“So the amount of downforce that we’re going to be generating this year is huge. Just looking at the car, it looks impressive. I think I’m going to have to go back and keep training my neck!”

Perez will get his first taste of the VJM10 car on February 27 when pre-season testing begins in Barcelona, Spain.

Hamilton, Bottas to split Mercedes F1 test running daily in Barcelona

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Mercedes GP pose during the launch of the Mercedes formula one team's 2017 car, the W08, at Silverstone Circuit on February 23, 2017 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Mercedes has confirmed that drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will split each day of Formula 1 pre-season testing in Barcelona, taking alternate morning and afternoon sessions.

Hamilton and Bottas were on-hand to unveil Mercedes’ new F1 car, the W08 EQ Power+, at Silverstone on Thursday, as well as both completing a filming run behind the wheel.

The first extended running for Mercedes will come in Barcelona next week, with pre-season testing set to begin on Monday February 27.

As part of its launch announcement, Mercedes confirmed that it will split every day of running in Barcelona between Hamilton and Bottas, with each getting four hours in the car.

Bottas will be the first to test the W08 EQ Power+ publicly, taking it out for the start of testing on Monday, with Hamilton then getting his maiden run that afternoon.

Mercedes F1 Test Schedule

Monday 27 February
Morning – Valtteri Bottas
Afternoon – Lewis Hamilton

Tuesday 28 February
Morning – Lewis Hamilton
Afternoon – Valtteri Bottas

Wednesday 1 March
Morning – Valtteri Bottas
Afternoon – Lewis Hamilton

Thursday 2 March
Morning – Lewis Hamilton
Afternoon – Valtteri Bottas

Hinchcliffe, Wickens announce cool test ride swap (VIDEO)

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Longtime friends and Canadian countrymen James Hinchcliffe, 30, and Robert Wickens, 27, hatched a plan this offseason that will see the pair of drivers swap rides for a day.

Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, will get to drive Wickens’ No. 6 HWA AG Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM car in Vallelunga, Italy on March 17 after he makes his first IndyCar start of the new year at St. Petersburg on March 12.

Meanwhile Wickens will have the opportunity to sample Hinchcliffe’s IndyCar for the first time at Sebring International Raceway’s short course next week on February 28, and return to his open-wheel roots.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JANUARY 18: Robert Wickens of Canada in the pits during the 2nd official practice session at the New Zealand round of the A1GP World Cup Of Motorsport at the Taupo motorsport Park on January 18, 2008 in Taupo, New Zealand. (Photo by Ross Land/Getty Images)
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 18: Robert Wickens of Canada in the pits during the 2nd official practice session at the New Zealand round of the A1GP World Cup Of Motorsport at the Taupo motorsport Park on January 18, 2008 in Taupo, New Zealand. (Photo by Ross Land/Getty Images)

This test for Wickens will occur a day before SPM runs rookies Luis Michael Dorrbecker and Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani on March 1, in their maiden tests as well.

The cliff notes, “PG” version, of the idea is below.

“We were on the beach in Turks drinking… ginger ales… and we thought it’d be great to drive each other’s cars,” Wickens said in a video released today confirming the switch.

You can see a video of Wickens training at PitFit Training in Indianapolis, below.

Wickens was arguably one of open-wheel’s best prospects – perhaps even slightly higher rated than Hinchcliffe – as the two were growing in their careers. They’ve competed as teammates for Team Canada in the 2007-2008 A1GP season and as rivals, Wickens with Red Bull Forsythe Racing and Hinchcliffe with Sierra Sierra Enterprises, in the 2007 Formula Atlantic season. Wickens also made a couple later cameo appearances in North America thereafter before moving to Europe, supported by Red Bull, where he won the 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 World Series (a year after Hinchcliffe’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate, Mikhail Aleshin, did).

Despite being on Formula 1’s doorstep and testing with the Virgin team, he never got a proper chance at the series. Instead, he’s gone onto race-winning and championship-contending success with Mercedes in DTM.

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10: James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 ARROW Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 10: James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 ARROW Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Incidentally, both drivers were back in North America racing at the start of this year, in the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona. Hinchcliffe competed in the Prototype class for Mazda Motorsports while Wickens was in the Prototype Challenge class with Starworks Motorsport.

“You have to take it just as seriously as one of your own races,” Hinchcliffe told NBC Sports at the time. “It’s crazy how much effort goes into this. I really see that sort of month of May fever around all the IMSA teams when you pull up to Daytona for the month of January, so to speak, because you start at the Roar in the beginning, then thrash on the cars for two weeks and then you come back and do a 24-hour race.”

Now, the longtime friends will be putting in their first days in their new cars in a unique ride swap opportunity.

“This whole thing is something that Robbie and I have joked about for a long time because, frankly, we weren’t sure it was ever going to happen,” Hinchcliffe said. “We both had an interest in kind of sharing our series with each other, and we kept talking about it. We decided we were going to try and take a swing at it, talked to all parties involved and amazingly it all worked out.

“It’s just a cool story; you’ve got two kids that grew up racing go-karts in Ontario,” Hinchcliffe added. “Fast forward a decade and a half, and here we are both professional racing drivers. To be able to get to do this, and share it with each other, is going to be awesome.”

Jaguar pleased to support Massa’s FE test, kick-start season four testing

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 26: Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams in the garage  during final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 26, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Jaguar Formula E chief James Barclay was pleased to support Felipe Massa’s first Formula E test earlier this month as the team began its season four test cycle.

Massa previously expressed an interest in moving into Formula E before re-gaining his Williams Formula 1 seat for 2017, but continued to lay plans for his post-F1 days by testing for Jaguar three weeks ago.

The test saw Jaguar begin its season four on-track development, with 15 days of private testing permitted for all teams before the start of the new campaign in December.

“It was a really great opportunity,” Barclay told NBC Sports in Buenos Aires last weekend.

“Formula E asked us to support that, Felipe had expressed an interest so I’m really pleased we could support that. Great to give him the opportunity.

“He enjoyed it which was nice to be part of really. Obviously useful time for us in terms of our season four development as well.”

While Barclay remained coy about the extent of Jaguar’s testing looking to season four, he took heart from the fact that it had commenced running so early in the year.

“Well you can imagine there’s only so much we can say, but the point is that we started our season four development fairly early on, and our focus absolutely is on our performance this year,” Barclay said.

“One of the nice things is we have a longer lead time for season four for development. So the lessons we’ve learned from season three is really how we can apply that for season four.

“There aren’t a lot of test days, so we’re making the most of those. It’s one of those early tests that allows us to ratify where we’re going, nice to get under our belt at this stage.”

The test has led to suggestions that Massa could be in the frame to join Jaguar in Formula E for season four, but Barclay said it was too early to begin discussing its future driver plans.

“Felipe has a Williams Formula 1 drive,” Barclay said.

“We’re really happy where we are with Adam [Carroll] and Mitch [Evans], really early in our program at this point in time. Just nice to give [Massa] the opportunity to be honest.”

Jaguar enjoyed its strongest weekend in Formula E yet in Buenos Aires as Evans qualified seventh and flirted with the points, but the team remains at the foot of the teams’ championship three races into its debut season.