Report: McLaren trying for Vettel or Alonso

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It’s no secret that McLaren would like a big name star to spearhead Honda’s return to F1 next year, and Eric Boullier is making both overtones and undertones that only a World Champion will do.

While both four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel and two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso are on the radar, prying either driver from their respective contracts at Red Bull (2015) and Ferrari (2016), respectively, could be difficult.

Still, Boullier remains persistent and is keen on getting at least one of the two, even if it means waiting.

“We are still pushing and we will take the time we need. We don’t want to do a mistake – we have one shot and we don’t want to miss it,” Boullier told Autosport.

“McLaren is a top team, a big team, with a lot of history and we want to be back where we should be.”

Boullier also made waves during the Belgian Grand Prix weekend when he said he didn’t want to wait until the offseason to confirm McLaren’s 2015 lineup.

The team’s current lineup of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen have had their moments of brilliance this year, but like in 2013 (Button and Sergio Perez), neither’s been an all-star outside of perhaps one or two Grands Prix.

McLaren could, hypothetically, be in a situation as it has done in the past where it could sign either Vettel or Alonso for 2016 – a year out. It’s been able to do this in the past by signing Juan Pablo Montoya for 2005 at the end of 2003, and signing Alonso for the first time for 2007 at the end of 2005.

If that were to happen, that would already put its two 2015 drivers on notice before the season starts, but still give them enough time to prove themselves once more.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.