By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – McLaren’s split from Honda, and new partnership with Renault, looks imminent and the rumor mill is grinding faster as Formula One embarks on an Asian swing of races starting in Singapore this weekend.
Multiple sources told Reuters that negotiations had progressed as expected and official confirmation was likely within days.
The cracks in the McLaren-Honda partnership have been evident for months, with former champions McLaren chafing at engine problems that have left them ninth in the 10 team championship.
Media reports over the weekend that Toro Rosso driver Carlos Sainz is set to move to Renault in 2018, and maybe even before, have further fueled speculation that the deal is done.
The Spaniard’s move would be part of a general agreement that will see Honda take their engines to Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso, whose Renault supply would then become available for McLaren.
McLaren need a more competitive engine to satisfy sponsors and retain the services of Spain’s double world champion Fernando Alonso, whose contract expires at the end of the season.
Spanish media and online reports said Sainz – a young talent long coveted by Renault – was set to move to the French manufacturer team as a sweetener for Toro Rosso terminating their engine contract.
Some suggested Sainz could be in yellow overalls as soon as Malaysia, the race after this week’s Singapore Grand Prix, if Renault dispense with the services of Britain’s Jolyon Palmer, who has yet to score a point in 13 races.
That in turn would free up a place at Toro Rosso for Pierre Gasly, the winner of last year’s GP2 championship, who has been waiting for an opening at the Red Bull junior team.
“I know there are a few things going on at the moment,” motorsport.com quoted the Frenchman, who is racing Super Formula in Japan, as saying. “We will see in the next couple of days what will happen.
“For me, it will be amazing. It (Formula One) has been my dream and I’ve been working really hard to get there.”
The website also quoted him saying he hoped to be in Malaysia, but the driver later denied that on Twitter.
“Just said I was hoping to drive for STR soon mate, never mentioned Malaysia,” he replied in response to a comment by NBC Sports’ F1 reporter Will Buxton. Sainz, Renault and Toro Rosso were saying nothing.
Spanish media, focused mainly on Alonso’s future, reported that Honda had informed McLaren they were willing to switch to Toro Rosso and that Alonso was negotiating for a one-year extension.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)