Forget Donald Trump’s big news, the F1 driver market cauldron has been stirred again today, with Jolyon Palmer becoming the latest to throw his cap on a 2017 seat. The Briton will remain at Renault, partnering Nico Hulkenberg at the French marque.
It’s a fascinating development. Palmer had been widely tipped for the Enstone exit door in recent weeks, with the team supposedly favouring Kevin Magnussen for the seat. However, the Dane now seems bound for Haas, therefore allowing Palmer a route back into the frame.
The news of his re-signing is pretty surprising. Palmer’s 2016 hasn’t been blockbuster by any stretch of the imagination. His solitary point came in Malaysia, following a number of near misses, including at Hungary where a late spin cost him a valuable point. While Magnussen had been similarly unconvincing in the majority of races, a stunning drive to seventh in Russia significantly skewed the points balance between the teammates in his favour.
This one off result for the Dane put him somewhat out of Palmer’s reach in the table, given the lack of performance provided by their machinery.
Points scored to date in this type of scenario are, to an extent, rather irrelevant. I’d rather put a consistent challenger in my car as oppose to a driver capable of one stunning drive per year – unless your in either Manor or Sauber’s situation.
Additionally, there is a strong argument supporting the theory that Palmer is the better option for the future. His maiden campaign in F1 echos similar form from his first GP2 season, in which he was buried in the midfield and failed to score a single point.
Four years later, he was a runaway GP2 Champion, displaying some of the finest race craft the series had ever seen. This paired with his relentless consistency proved an awe-inspiring combination.
Palmer clearly isn’t a Vandoorne, or for that matter, a Giovinazzi. Historical evidence shows that he takes some time to ‘bed in’ upon arrival in a new series. The up-or-out nature of F1 typically means that this type of driver is swiftly sent packing to join WEC or Formula E, but fortunately for Palmer, he is going to be afforded some extra time to find his rhythm.
This is all the more surprising when you consider that until now, Renault had not chosen Palmer. Much like Lotus’ debt, the Briton was a hangover of the previous owners, as he was hired by Gerard Lopez and co, rather than the bosses he has been serving this season.
This led many, including myself in all honesty, to write off Palmer’s long term career prospects – at least in Renault yellow – before the 2016 season had even turned a wheel. I’m pleased to admit to have been wrong.
2017 will be a stern test. Renault have shown faith in Jolyon and after a tricky debut season, the second MUST be better. Improved car performance will certainly make the task easier, but this is counterbalanced by the challenge of facing Nico Hulkenberg on the opposite side of the garage. Unlike Magnussen, Hulk is a known quantity and as a result, Palmer will have nowhere to hide if results against his teammate are sketchy.
Given that he tends to grow into a formula, 2017 should be a case of the ‘not-so-difficult’ second album for Jolyon. It’s another chance to prove his worth in a manufacturer team that – like he himself – seem to be improving all the time.