Boullier: McLaren intends to keep Button for 2016

2 Comments

McLaren racing director Eric Boullier has revealed that the team intends to retain Jenson Button for the 2016 season alongside teammate Fernando Alonso.

Button’s future with the British team has come under scrutiny in recent weeks thanks to the presence of junior drivers Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne, who both have strong cases for a seat in 2016.

Button came close to losing his seat at the end of last year when McLaren signed Alonso from Ferrari, but it was Magnussen who was ultimately dropped to make way for the Spaniard.

As a result, with the driver market for 2016 becoming increasingly sewn up and defined, attention has turned to McLaren and its dilemma with Button, Magnussen and Vandoorne.

Speaking in Friday’s press conference at Monza, Boullier said that the team planned to race with Alonso and Button once again in 2016 whilst also finding seats for Magnussen and Vandoorne, with the latter seemingly bound for the 2015 GP2 Series championship.

“As far as we are concerned, McLaren have only two cars, only two race seats and we have two world champions and we intend to keep them so far,” Boullier said.

“We expect the four of them to race. It’s a luxury problem to have four good drivers. Kevin and Stoffel are very good.

“Both of them we expect to race in F1 and if we can’t accommodate them at home, we will do our best to make sure they can race next year.”

Boullier may intend to see all four of the McLaren drivers on the grid in 2016, but it may be easier said than done given the scarce number of available seats remaining.

Force India confirmed earlier this week that Nico Hulkenberg will remain for next season, and with Sergio Perez expected to be announced in the next fortnight, another team has been filled for 2016.

As such, the only seats that appear to be on offer for the McLaren drivers are at Lotus, Manor or Haas.

In Lotus’ case, a takeover from Renault appears to be on the cards in the near future, and it is unclear whether the French manufacturer would be willing to support the young drivers of a rival team.

Haas is in a similar position given its close ties with Ferrari, which look set to see at least one of the Italian marque’s reserve drivers secure a seat with the American team for its 2016 debut.

As such, the only team that could realistically offer a seat to Magnussen or Vandoorne is Manor, but with little chance of scoring points or moving up the grid in terms of pace, this may prove to be an unattractive option for either driver.

Although McLaren may intend to retain Button, until a final decision is made and a formal announcement emerges, speculation about the 2009 world champion’s future will only continue to circulate.

Rahal determined to regain winning touch in 2019 IndyCar season

Photo by Shawn Gritzmacher, INDYCAR
INDYCAR
Leave a comment

AUSTIN, Texas – Graham Rahal entered the room with a smile on his face and a chip on his shoulder.

It was IndyCar “Media Day” and Rahal wasn’t happy with the way last season went at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He was less happy with the fact some aren’t considering him a serious threat in 2019. He playfully chided with one media outlet for failing to mention his team as one to watch in 2019.

“We use that as motivation to show everybody how we are viewed,” Rahal said. “We are here to win.”

Rahal just turned 30 in January but is entering his 13thseason in big-time Indy car racing. He entered the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he was just 17. He missed his high school prom because he was racing at Houston.

“That was the luckiest day of my life,” Rahal said. “I didn’t have to go to the prom. It doesn’t get any better than that.

“Plus, I got my second career podium that weekend.”

Rahal drove to victory in his very first race in the combined IndyCar Series in the 2008 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He was hailed as the “Poster Boy of Unification” and a future star. What followed was a seven-year drought before he captured his second-career win in a thrilling race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

He won two races in 2015, one in 2016 and two in 2017. He was expected to contend for victories and possibly the championship last year but struggled through a disappointing season and finished eighth in the standings.

“I’m looking forward for chance this year,” Rahal said. “Last year was a tough one for me and for the team. I’m looking forward to what my new engineer, Allen McDonald, has done so far. He is an accomplished engineer and brings a different mindset to our program this year from what we had last year. He and (fellow engineer) Eddie Jones are very close friends and that will help us from the standpoint they are on the same page.

“We needed a bit of life brought back to the team.”

Rahal believes his challenges are to get everything in order before the season starts. The team has defined the areas where it was lacking in 2019. The team needed to improve in research and development after starting behind last season.

“I’m excited for what I see, and I know in the end it will all pay off,” Rahal said. “It’s just a matter of when.

“There is a lot to be excited about for us. We are in a great position as a team. We have great sponsorship and that will allow us to push forward and do the things we need to do.”

Rahal believes at 30, he has a long time ahead of him to win races and championships and maybe even the Indianapolis 500. In order to reach those goals, however, Rahal’s team needs to regain the competitive level he displayed prior to last year.

“We’ve been fortunate to win six times,” Rahal said. “A lot of people come into this sport and never win. I fully recognize there is no reason we can’t win a lot. I don’t care what anybody writes, what anybody thinks – I really feel that when it comes to race day, we perform better than 99 percent of the other people out there.

“As a team and for myself, we have to qualify better. If we can qualify better, we’ll be a thorn in everybody’s side. We know the rear of our cars just aren’t good enough. When we need to find that extra tenth or two, it’s just not there but absolutely, we want to win.

“I don’t come here year after year to just drive around. Our sponsors don’t invest in us year after year to not see us win. We feel that. But our cars aren’t good enough and we know that.”

Rahal believes the team has identified the problems with the setup of its car. It has a deep engineering staff but hasn’t had a chance to develop the damper program and other important areas that provide a competition setup.

Takuma Sato, the winner of the 101stIndianapolis 500 when he was with Andretti Autosport, scored the team’s only victory in 2018 with a win in the Portland Grand Prix. The two are back this year and have built a respect for each other.

“He’s a good guy,” Rahal said of Sato. “Other than Helio Castroneves, Takuma is probably the happiest man on the planet. He’s a great guy and fits in well with our organization. We pride ourselves on being a family and he fits in extremely well to that.

“We need to do a better job for him as a team. He won a race last year, but we can both do better to win with both cars.

“The Andretti cars are the best right now and the Penske cars will be good. We have a lot of space to close up on those two teams but hopefully, we can do it.”