Carlos Sainz has reportedly inked a deal to join Renault – possibly as soon as the Malaysian Grand Prix at the end of the month – with the move set to trigger McLaren securing engines from the French manufacturer for 2018.
While news of McLaren’s efforts to exit its Honda partnership is still forthcoming, it would appear that the Woking squad has played a major role behind the scenes.
Sources have told the Motorsport.com website that Sainz’s switch from Scuderia Toro Rosso to Renault has been agreed as an incentive for the Italian team to end its Renault engine contract early, paving the way for McLaren to acquire the supply deal. It is likely that McLaren could have contributed financially to help buy out Sainz’s contract from Red Bull, which reportedly had a $6 million price tag.
Sainz has been linked to a move to Renault as long ago as the Austrian Grand Prix, where he was publicly chided by his Red Bull backers for expressing his frustration at being unable to move to a more competitive team. The Spaniard, backed by Red Bull since his early racing days, has raced for Scuderia Toro Rosso since making his Formula 1 debut in 2015, but finds his path to the senior Red Bull Racing team blocked while the Milton Keynes squad has Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen locked into long-term contracts.
With negotiations between McLaren, Renault and Honda continuing earnestly at the Italian Grand Prix, Renault reportedly demanded a sweetener to end its Toro Rosso supply deal and switch to McLaren. With Sainz, the team would have a highly-rated teammate to Nico Hülkenberg to help it move further up the grid.
Sainz could join Renault as early as the Malaysian Grand Prix, forcing out the underperforming Jolyon Palmer who has been outclassed by Hülkenberg and failed to finish in the points all season. If Sainz moves that early, Toro Rosso will likely call up reserve driver and former GP2 Series champion Pierre Gasly to join Daniil Kvyat for the remainder of the season.
The deal would clear the path for McLaren and Toro Rosso to swap engine partners in the off-season, with the latter also securing a supply of McLaren gearboxes as part of the deal.
As a further financial incentive to Toro Rosso, it may be encouraged to sign Formula 2 Championship race-winner and Honda protégé Nobuhara Matsushita for the 2018 season.
McLaren’s switch to Renault power is believed to be a key factor in the championship-winning team extending its contract with star driver Fernando Alonso, who has lost patience with Honda’s continued lack of competitiveness and reliability.
It is expected that a number of the announcements will be made before the Singapore Grand Prix.
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