After a difficult start to the Formula 1 season, Jolyon Palmer has been warned by Renault that his seat is not safe and a replacement may already be lined up for the Briton.
26-year-old Palmer has yet to score a point in 2017 – his last was earned in Malaysia last year – while team-mate Nico Hulkenberg has taken all of Renault’s 18 points in his first season with Renault.
Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul recently told Autosport that “No one is safe in F1” when asked about Palmer’s performance in his second season with Renault.
“To a certain degree there are two questions. There is Jo, and there is a second driver. Right now my focus is on Jo. Jo has to deliver.
“What would happen then, I don’t want to elaborate on that, and even further, who would be stepping in, because that’s absolutely not the point for today. The fact is that Jo has a car which is a points-scoring car, and he has to enter into the points. Full stop.
“F1 is not an environment where anyone can say loudly, ‘I’m safe.’
“Right now I feel that it’s a bit almost unfair to Nico, who has to do a lot,” he said. “The team is clearly very dependent on [Hulkenberg].”
“What puts pressure on is not putting in good performances,” acknowledged Palmer in Canada.
“I am aware that the start of the year has been pretty disappointing. I am working hard and I am ready to turn it around.
“In terms of the rumours there have been rumours since my third ever race in F1 so it is nothing new for me.
“Of course, the way to stop it is to do well on track.
“It’s been a tough start to the year, there’s been some positives recently even if it doesn’t necessarily show on the results sheet,” he said.
Last year, Renault let Kevin Magnussen join Haas, retaining Palmer and signing Hulkenberg. There was talk of the team considering Esteban Ocon, the then-GP3 champion who is now scoring points at Force India.
Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr was also touted to join Renault, but he chose to remain at the Red Bull sister team instead in 2016.
If the outfit is to replace Palmer, who, there are a few possible candidates in focus for next season.
Russian Sirotkin is already a Renault F1 test and reserve driver with participation in simulator work and practice sessions in Russia and Spain this season.
The 21-year-old competed in the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans with SMP Racing in their LMP2 car and finished third in the 2016 GP2 (now F2) championship behind Ferrari development driver Antonio Giovinazzi and Red Bull reserve and champion Pierre Gasly.
Sirotkin has a clear ambition to gain a 2018 seat somewhere, and his promising single-seater form could help that.
But, with limited practice time for Renault and a lack of extensive race experience in 2017 so far, Renault may not want to risk taking a rookie in 2018 to compete in an already tough midfield battle.
There has been little speculation over Sirotkin’s future, which may be a sign in itself, but more significantly Renault stepped up his role for 2017 by giving him ‘third driver’ status.
“I try not to react to or talk about rumours,” Sirotkin said to Russian outlet Championat.
“Unfortunately Jolyon has not been able to show the results the machine is capable of, but he is also working hard and trying to make progress.
“So it would be bad for him if I get involved in any political games. We do our job, and I think the team is able to see the whole situation for itself.”
Current Formula E championship leader, 28-year-old Renault e.Dams driver Buemi, has an extensive and impressive motorsport CV.
Buemi won the electric championship in 2015 and competed in Toyota’s LMP1 entry at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, finishing ninth overall. The Frenchman has focused on endurance racing as well as FE this season, but his single-seater credentials are still growing.
Christian Horner said to Auto Motor und Sport in 2016 that Buemi would be taking part in further test sessions for Red Bull and Pirelli as well. The Red Bull Team Principal recommended Renault sign him last year.
“Buemi would be the ideal man for the team,” said Horner.
“He is fast, hardworking, has technical understanding and experience. You can call him at 3 in the morning, and he sits down in the simulator.”
The only obstacle is Buemi’s recent contract extension with Renault e.Dams, an obligation which keeps him with the FE team until 2019.
Pole Kubica put his first miles down in an F1 car since 2011 this year, having tested a 2012 Lotus-Renault at Valencia.
The 32-year-old tested a GP3 car and a Formula E machine before making his shock F1 return, but Renault told Sky Sports that the F1 outing was a “one-off”, while Kubica said he wanted a ‘proper comeback’.
“I had very good feelings straight away in the car and I had very good feeling from a fitness point of view,” said Kubica.
“Lately I have spent an awful lot of time and an awful lot of effort trying to prepare the best I can in case I will have the opportunity to drive an F1 car and I had a great day.”
“To know I can drive the car and I can drive the car on good pace and I can drive the car for an entire grand prix distance is something which makes me happy and proud.
“Once I have done this test I would like to test more. It doesn’t depend only on my side, but I will keep working and hopefully one day I will have a chance to go forward and step-by-step maybe have a proper comeback.”
Abiteboul downplayed the “speculation and rumours” to Autosport, however.
“I think in this present case we need to be a little bit careful, because we’re talking about an individual that we all love, with a fantastic image, and who has suffered a very difficult situation from a personal perspective.
“So I think I would ask on this occasion everyone to be a little bit careful. Yes, we have done that test, but we don’t want to create expectations in anyone’s mind, including Robert himself.
“At some point we’ll have to discuss our future line-up, that’s public information. We have a long-term contract with Nico, and a contract for 2017, and all of 2017, with Jolyon.
“But at some point we will have to review options. If by then, Robert becomes an option, we can have a look. As we speak, he’s not on the list.”
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