Getty Images

Renault F1 team rocked as Vasseur leaves before new season

Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) – A few weeks away from proudly unveiling its new car for the 2017 Formula One season, French manufacturer Renault now has to find a new team principal after the departure of Frederic Vasseur on Wednesday.

Vasseur left his role after one season, with Renault saying the decision was by mutual consent. No further information was given as to who will replace the Frenchman, but Renault will give full details of its plans when the new car is unveiled on February 21 – the earliest confirmed date so far of any team.

Until then, the team will be run by Renault Sport Racing’s president Jerome Stoll and managing director Cyril Abiteboul.

Renault withdrew as a works’ team from the constructor world championship after the 2009 season, and made its comeback last year after agreeing to take over Lotus. Vasseur played a key part in the relaunch and rebuilding of the team.

Renault finished a modest ninth in the constructors’ standings with Dane Kevin Magnussen scoring seven points and British driver Jolyon Palmer getting one.

With new engineers set to come on board and experienced German driver Nico Hulkenberg joining from Force India, hopes were high for this year. Hulkenberg even spoke of his ambitions the day before Vasseur’s departure.

“At Renault the next few years will be about turning a participant into a real contender – one that makes use of the advantages of a manufacturer in the best way possible to achieve the racing success of the past,” the 29-year-old Hulkenberg told the F1 website on Tuesday. “And believe me, we will.”

But it will be without Vasseur, who has spoken of clear differences of opinion over strategy.

“There was too much different vision in the management of the team, so it makes sense for me to leave,” Vasseur told Motorsport.com on Wednesday. “If you want to perform in F1, you need to have one leader in the team and one single way. If you have two different visions then the result is that the work inside the team is slow.”

However, Renault is confident that Vasseur – who enjoyed success in the GP2 and GP3 series with the Art Grand Prix team – will take on a different role “sometime in the future.”

F1, which is introducing sweeping rule changes for next season designed to make cars faster and races more exciting, has been hit with a spate of departures.

Paddy Lowe, who was the technical brains of Mercedes in his role as executive director, left on Tuesday. In Lowe’s time at Mercedes, the British-based team won both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles every year from 2014 to 2016.

Lowe is reportedly set to join Williams F1 with former Ferrari technical director James Allison set to replace Lowe.

In November, Ron Dennis, the veteran chairman and chief executive of the McLaren team, was forced out following a boardroom dispute – bringing to an end his 36-year stay with the British team. He was replaced by American Zak Brown, an ex-F3 racer who founded the motorsport marketing company JMI in 1995.

The 20-race F1 season starts on March 26 in Melbourne, Australia.

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.