F1 2015’s silly season is proving to be a let down, but who could yet spice it up?


Maybe we’ve been spoiled in recent years.

Maybe we’ve become accustomed to at least one World Champion jumping ship to a rival team in all of the past three seasons.

But whichever way you look at it, Formula 1’s silly season in 2015 has been a complete letdown.

For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon that is silly season, it can be defined as “the period in which every available driver on the F1 grid (or outside of the sport) is linked with every available seat”.

It lasts until the grid is completed and every team has set its line-up in stone, and ordinarily unfolds like a set of dominoes falling. One driver moves, another takes his place, thus freeing up a seat, and so on.

It happened in 2012 when Lewis Hamilton chose to leave McLaren. It happened in 2013 when Mark Webber announced he would be retiring (although ultimately moving into the FIA World Endurance Championship with Porsche for 2014), and when Ferrari dropped Felipe Massa to re-sign Kimi Raikkonen.

It happened in 2014 when Sebastian Vettel announced he would be leaving Red Bull, moving to Ferrari in place of Fernando Alonso, who returned to McLaren after seven years away.

And so we come to 2015. It was a silly season with much promise that largely revolved around Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen.

In the middle of July, reports in the Italian press claimed that Ferrari had struck an agreement with Williams to sign Valtteri Bottas for 2016 as Raikkonen’s replacement, sending the rumor mill into overdrive.

Williams appeared to have a number of options if they needed a replacement. Nico Hulkenberg from Force India? Jenson Button from McLaren? Romain Grosjean from Lotus? Felipe Nasr from Sauber? GP2 driver Alex Lynn? The possibilities were endless.

Ultimately, Ferrari stuck with Raikkonen for 2016 in spite of his so-so form this season. On his day, the Finn remains a fearsome competitor, and – perhaps more importantly – retaining him gives the Italian marque effective control of the 2017 driver market.

Nevertheless, there was still the possibility for change on the grid. Hulkenberg had been linked with every seat going, including one at the new Haas F1 Team (talks were held), only to confirm earlier this week that he had signed a new two-year deal with Force India. Sergio Perez revealed today that he is also likely to stay on for 2016, with a new contract set to be announced soon.

It’s only September, and silly season is already fizzling out. Ferrari, Williams and Sauber have officially confirmed their line-ups for 2016. Mercedes won’t make any changes and doesn’t need to make an official announcement. Force India looks set to be the same again. Red Bull is unlikely to make a change, as is Toro Rosso.

So can anyone spice up silly season in the coming months?

The situation at Lotus is certainly worth monitoring. The team is struggling financially, but is close to being rescued by French manufacturer Renault, which is keen to return to F1 with a works operation for the first time since 2010.

Given Romain Grosjean’s good form and links with Renault, the Frenchman would unquestionably be retained. The same cannot be said of Pastor Maldonado, though, whose backing from Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA is unlikely to be as valuable to Renault as it is to Lotus.

Should Renault opt to drop him, there are a number of options, but most of them are outside of F1. If a top-line driver is desired, the team could follow Ferrari’s example and stick with their current driver before taking advantage of the open market for 2017 when most of the grid is available.

Manor is in a class of its own for silly season. Basically, whichever driver is willing to stump up the most cash will get the nod. That said, both Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi have been quietly impressive at the back this season, so there’s no reason why they would not be kept on.

Haas’ number one target was Hulkenberg, suggesting that ‘plan a’ was for him to partner Esteban Gutierrez, who is understood to be closing in on one of the seats. As such, we can safely assume that there is just one drive on offer there now, for which Jean-Eric Vergne is the favorite.

If Haas is keen on an American, then Alexander Rossi appears to be the leading candidate after a strong season in GP2. IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden’s name keeps being banded about, but due to the new FIA superlicence rules is unlikely to stand much chance.

That only leaves McLaren. McLaren is the team that now is the main focus of silly season.

Or, more precisely, Jenson Button is now the main focus of silly season.

Button came close to exiting McLaren at the end of last year when the team signed Fernando Alonso from Ferrari. The Spaniard’s arrival left the team with two options: ditch Button or ditch Kevin Magnussen. Button was saved (only just), leaving Magnussen to take up a reserve role with the team for 2015.

Button signed a one-plus-one year contract with McLaren, giving the team an option on his services for 2016. As a result, we’re in the same position again. This time around though, there are three drivers in the running.

Magnussen may have spent a year in the background for McLaren, but he is still highly rated by the management at Woking. The Dane impressed in his debut F1 season under difficult circumstances, and remains a serious contender for the seat.

The third driver involved is Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren’s other bright young protege. After being told to remain in GP2 for 2015 and win it “as a boss” by racing director Eric Boullier, Vandoorne is on course to do exactly that. He leads by over 100 points, and should wrap the title up in Russia next month.

So who do McLaren plum for? Button, the experienced head? Magnussen, the driver who deserves a second chance? Or Vandoorne, the driver banging hard on F1’s door?

Whoever the team picks, it will have ramifications on the rest of the grid. Both Magnussen and Vandoorne want to be in F1 next year. McLaren may try and slot either into a seat elsewhere on the grid, but the early announcements have made that an impossibility. Could Manor be an option?

Should Vandoorne get the nod, then Magnussen will be left with a tough decision to make: sit it out and wait for Alonso to move on, or cut ties with McLaren after being leapfrogged in the junior pecking order. He could be a contender for the Haas seat in the event of the latter.

For Button, it is hard to see a future in F1 for him should McLaren choose to drop him. As Mark Webber told MotorSportsTalk last week, the FIA World Endurance Championship is a very lucrative option, and a factory drive would be attainable for Button.

Silly season has been a let down in 2015. Perhaps it is therefore fitting that McLaren is now the team to watch in the driver market.

With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

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France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”