Kevin Magnussen replaces Pastor Maldonado at Renault

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GUYANCOURT, France (AP) Former McLaren driver Kevin Magnussen was unveiled Wednesday as the new Renault driver for the 2016 Formula One season which will mark the return of the French carmaker to the sport.

Magnussen, who replaced Pastor Maldonado, will partner Britain’s Jolyon Palmer. GP3 champion Esteban Ocon was named as test and reserve driver.

The 23-year-old Magnussen joined McLaren in 2010 as part of the team’s young driver program. He was installed as a full-time driver for the 2014 championship and finished second in his debut at the Australian Grand Prix. He was dropped after one season following Fernando Alonso’s arrival from Ferrari.

Renault returned to F1 as a racing team after agreeing to take over Lotus, which had struggled with financial costs last season. Renault withdrew from team ownership after the 2009 season and has since served as a successful engine supplier, helping Red Bull win four successive championships.

“Since 1977, Renault has won 12 world championships titles and participated in more than 600 Grands Prix,” Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn said at the team launch. “Racing is an important part of our company’s culture and heritage.”

Renault also unveiled its new car at the ceremony, the RS16, which will be tested in Barcelona from Feb. 22-25. The model presented on Wednesday is mainly black with yellow touches but Renault Sport F1 president Jerome Stoll said its color might change before the start of the season in Melbourne next month.

“This is the car that will test at Barcelona in two weeks’ time. It is an elegant livery. Will it be black at Melbourne? Guess. You’ll see, but the elegance will remain the same,” Stoll said.

Between racing in its own colors and supplying other teams, Renault has claimed 168 race wins, 12 constructors’ world titles and 11 drivers’ championships since making its F1 debut.

Alonso, who struggled last season as McLaren failed to get to grips with its new Honda engine, won his two world titles driving for Renault in 2005 and 2006. Renault won the constructors’ championship in both years.

“F1 will be in pole position of our sporting activities,” said Ghosn. “The goal is to be on the podium within the next three years. We realize we are starting with a handicap, particularly with regards to the winner. But we are going to close the gap. We are not here to participate, we are here to win. It’s not going to happen in 2016, it’s going to take more time.”

Renault subsequently withdrew as a works’ team from the constructor world championship in 2010, switching to the role of engine supplier, but the return on investment in that role proved limited.

Renault previously indicated it felt the company hadn’t gained sufficient credit for its role behind the scenes – despite providing the engines that enabled Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull to win every title from 2010 to 2013.

Last season proved far more complicated and Renault considered withdrawing from the sport altogether after facing sometimes vitriolic criticism of its engines’ performance from Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

Horner, who watched with increasing frustration as Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes swept the drivers’ and constructors’ championship for the second season running, had a tense relation with Cyril Abiteboul, the managing director for Renault F1.

Magnussen was touted to race for the fledgling Haas F1 team, which instead plumped for French driver Romain Grosjean as No. 1 alongside Mexican Esteban Gutierrez.

Palmer is making his F1 debut. He is the son of F1 driver Jonathan Palmer, who raced in 82 GPs. The 25-year-old Palmer won the GP2 Series in 2014, wrapping up the title with three rounds to spare and securing a record points total.

He spent last year as the Lotus team’s test and reserve driver, driving in 13 Friday practice sessions.

AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin in Paris contributed to this report.

IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area.

The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full IndyCar season. The team showed improvement at Thermal, and Grosjean (who was fourth fastest on Day 1) said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”