Renault Formula 1 chief Cyril Abiteboul has called speculation Jolyon Palmer could be dropped for the next race in Malaysia “unfair”, stressing there is a contract in place until the end of the season.
Renault announced on Friday it had signed Carlos Sainz Jr. on loan from Red Bull for the 2018 season to partner Nico Hulkenberg, leaving Palmer without a seat for next year.
The 2014 GP2 champion has struggled to make an impact in F1, scoring just a single point in 32 races, and looks unlikely to remain in the sport next year.
Speculation has been rife that Renault was looking to get Sainz in the car as early as the Malaysian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time as part of the deal to sign him.
Palmer was adamant on Thursday that his contract was firm until the end of the season, and Abiteboul backed this up, hitting back at the speculation.
“The reality is that Carlos will be in the car in Melbourne in 2019. Referring to the situation of Jo, it’s a speculation that we – him and the team – have had to live with for… I don’t know how many races,” Abiteboul said.
“Frankly it’s really difficult on Jo, and a bit unfair on Jo and the team. To a certain degree, it maybe has had a negative impact on his ongoing performance.
“Right now, what I see is that we have a car that is capable of scoring points in Singapore. That’s the focus and we have an ongoing contract with Jo until the end of the season.”
Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost said he was “not aware” of any possibility of Sainz leaving early for Renault, despite having Red Bull youngster Pierre Gasly ready to make the step up if required.