With experience chosen, youngsters Magnussen and Vandoorne face uncertain futures

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McLaren has gone for a lineup of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button for 2015, which produces the oldest lineup on the grid at a combined age of 67 (Alonso 33, Button 34 at the moment).

By contrast, Scuderia Toro Rosso’s combined lineup, aged 37, is only barely older than Button. Carlos Sainz is 20 and Max Verstappen is 17; both will be rookies in the 2015 Formula One season.

With that as an introduction, it brings us to McLaren’s own pair of youngsters – 2014 reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne and now, 2015 reserve and test driver Kevin Magnussen – and brings the question of what comes next for them.

Both the Belgian and a Dane face something of an uncertain F1 future, at least for 2015, with the Alonso/Button confirmation.

Magnussen being demoted is a rarity in modern F1, although it has worked out well for some drivers in the past.

Note Alonso began as a rookie with Minardi in 2001, took a year as Renault test driver in 2002 before replacing, ironically, Button in the team the following season when Button went to BAR-Honda. Felipe Massa took a similar path, racing with Sauber in 2002 and 2004 with a year as Ferrari test driver in-between in 2003.

But generally speaking, with testing days reduced in the current era of F1, you only get less than a couple weeks of running a year, at best. Other work is done via a simulator.

Magnussen can’t be thrilled at the demotion, and although he was named in the release in his new role and in the official picture, no quotes from him were issued.

Vandoorne, the GP2 star who finished second as a rookie this season and had potential to fit into McLaren’s future, was left off the release entirely. That’s a bit surprising considering he was the one tasked with running the interim McLaren MP4-29X1/H1 Honda chassis at Abu Dhabi last month, for its first official running.

While McLaren racing director Eric Boullier hinted at Abu Dhabi a second season of GP2 was likely for Vandoorne, Magnussen doesn’t have – nor would he want – that option.

As reserve, Magnussen could potentially race in another championship next season. Red Bull’s Sebastien Buemi undertook that option this year; he has driven to a World Championship in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Toyota.

In choosing experience, McLaren has two steady, dependable, reliable points scorers who are World Champions and should be good with engine development. But it does leave the question of the future beyond 2015 somewhat unsorted.

Either Magnussen or Vandoorne would be a reasonable prospect for McLaren’s future, and depending on whether Button stays beyond 2015, which is expected, the next question turns to whether either would be in line for a 2016 race seat.

Still, it’s difficult to find a road back to an F1 seat once you’ve been removed from one. Sergio Perez, dropped by McLaren this time last year, got lucky with another chance at Force India.

You hope this isn’t the end of the road for Magnussen, and you hope Vandoorne’s future still includes a shot. For now, Kevin’s still fighting, as he wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.

Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”