The announcement in Austin that Jolyon Palmer will be one of the Lotus F1 drivers next year was something of a surprise. There are only three seats left (Gutierrez will be announced shortly at Haas) and so it is a buyer’s market and so one would expect teams to sit back and listen to all the tall tales of youngsters with $25 million to spend (and yadda yadda yadda…). Signing Palmer was, therefore, a little out of place. The only suitable explanation for this was that JP Jr has got the job because he was able to pay money up front, which helps the team to survive as it waits for the plodding process required as Renault takes over the Enstone team again. There is no real need to rush because Renault will not get anything much out of the rest of this year and so probably doesn’t want to pay for it. Once the season comes to a close I expect things to begin moving more quickly but again there is not much point in trying to rebrand the team for 2016 because that is going to be a rebuilding year and I suspect that the rebranding will not happen until 2017, when hopefully the team will be more solid and more competitive. It should by then have a stronger engineering staff, a new team principal (Bonjour Fréderic Vasseur), and at least one big name driver. If you can cast your mind back 15 years, you may remember that Renault bought Benetton Formula in March 2000, but it was not relaunched as Renault F1 until the start of 2002.
The team has lost Romain Grosjean to Haas and he is excited about the future. Haas is keen to promote F1 in the United States and will, no doubt, have noticed yesterday when the NASCAR calendar came out that the two schedules might allow Romain the chance to try a little stock car racing on the two road courses that NASCAR visits. The first is at Sears Point (aka Sonoma) on June 26, which is the weekend between the Baku European Grand Prix on June 19 and the Austrian GP on July 3. Similarly, he could appear at Watkins Glen on August 7, as this is a week after the German GP at Hockenheim on July 31. Having a Frenchman in NASCAR might sound a little like the movie Talladega Nights, but it would it be great publicity for both.
There is similar crossover potential with Juan Pablo Montoya testing a Porsche 919 soon in Bahrain. The American market is of key importance to Porsche and so it was logical that they try to find a big name known in the US. Montoya fits the bill not only because he has raced in IndyCar and NASCAR, but is also an accomplished sports car driver, having won the Daytona 24 Hours on three occasions (2007, 2008 and 2013) in Chip Ganassi-run prototypes.Montoya could fit Le Mans in between IndyCar races in Texas (June 11) and Road America (June 26).
The slot is available because one of this year’s winners, Nico Hulkenberg, will not be able to defend his vistory because a Formula 1 race in Baku, Azerbaijan. The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, which organises Le Mans, is furious at the scheduling, which it sees as a direct attack. I doubt Bernie gives a toss about Le Mans, but it a good way to slap the FIA in the head, because previously the federation insisted that the Le Mans weekend should be free of other major events.
Also worth watching is Kevin Magnussen’s Porsche test, as he needs a job in 2016 and a win at Le Mans would help him get back into F1 in 2017 if he cannot get a drive this year.
You might also watch out for Stoffel Vandoorne turning up in a Honda-powered car in the Super Formula in Japan, a good way to keep race-sharp while dove-tailing with his duties as McLaren’s test, reserve and simulator driver. That would ensure he is ready to succeed Jenson Button in 2017