Word on the beat, February 2021

Rumour, gossip and news from the F1 paddock

Fernando Alonso
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The McLaren team has raised $185m new capital by selling an initial 15 per cent share to MSP Sports Capital,
a consortium of American sports investors. This stake is set to increase to a possible 33 per cent by the end of 2022. This makes the race team less reliant on the fortunes of the McLaren Group, which has been suffering a tough financial time amid the pandemic.

Fernando Alonso, pictured, and controversy are rarely far apart. His being allowed to take part in the Abu Dhabi “young driver test” as part of his familiarisation process in returning to F1 with Renault caused upset with rival teams. The FIA cleared the 39-year-old double world champion — who had tested a 2018 Renault for four days the previous month — to take part with the 2020 car in a test that is otherwise for drivers who have competed in fewer than two world championship races. This was justified on the grounds of cost saving. The ruling also allowed Sébastien Buemi to take part for Red Bull and Robert Kubica for Alfa Romeo. Racing Point and McLaren, without contracted young drivers, had elected not to take part in the test and were furious that Renault was testing with its 2021 driver. Ferrari, meanwhile, was using the Alonso precedent to push to be allowed to run its new driver Carlos Sainz in the test, to aid his familiarisation.

Mercedes reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne was disappointed at being passed over in favour of George Russell as Lewis Hamilton’s stand-in for the Sakhir Grand Prix. The Belgian posted on social media: “Obviously, I’m disappointed. Having spent the year travelling to all F1 races and dedicating so much time, physical training, commitment… it hurts! But I respect the choice of putting George in the car. He has been one of the standout drivers and he fully deserves this opportunity.”

Mick Schumacher clinched the FIA F2 title at the Sakhir Grand Prix weekend. He will be a Haas F1 driver for 2021 alongside fellow F2 graduate Nikita Mazepin. Schumacher’s closest title rival and fellow Ferrari Academy driver Callum Ilott will be the Italian team’s test driver. Third place in the F2 Championship, Yuki Tsunoda, has been confirmed as a 2021 AlphaTauri driver, replacing Daniil Kvyat.

On each of the three days of the season finale at Abu Dhabi, Fernando Alonso demonstrated the 2005 Renault R25 with which he won his first world title.
He did not hang around. His best lap was 1m 39.9sec — a second faster than the fastest lap of this year’s race, ironically set by Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault.

F1’s new engine formula may start a year early, in 2025. Planned to be smaller, 50 per cent cheaper, lighter but still hybrid. The timing is politically tied into the freeze of the current engine.

The Abu Dhabi season finale was Chase Carey’s last race as CEO of F1 before retirement. Former Ferrari team principal and Lamborghini boss Stefano Domenicali takes over next year.