Carlos Sainz was giving little away about his Renault future as he appeared in Singapore on Wednesday night, ahead of a crunch 48 hours that will confirm the McLaren/Toro Rosso engine swap that triggered his deal.
After weeks of intense talks involving McLaren, Honda, Renault, Toro Rosso, Red Bull, and Sainz, a series of press announcements are set to roll out over Thursday and Friday that will finally bring an end to F1’s recent engine soap opera.
As reported earlier this week, McLaren’s separation from Honda and switch to Renault have now been finalised, with the deal expected to also secure the team the services of Fernando Alonso for at least another year.
On Toro Rosso’s side, it has cancelled its Renault contract – in exchange for Red Bull loaning Sainz out until the end of 2018 – and will switch to Honda engines next year.
The deal could pave the way for a Red Bull-Honda partnership from 2019.
But despite widespread reporting of the developments, there has been no official announcement from any of the parties involved so far.
Indeed, as Sainz made his first public appearance since news of his Renault deal emerged at the weekend, he made it clear that he had been instructed to say nothing about what was going on behind the scenes.
“Obviously there is a lot going on in the media and everything,” Sainz told Motorsport.com, speaking at a sponsor event for Toro Ross-backed Acronis.
“From my side, I come here as a motivated Toro Rosso driver to score as many points as possible, and it is a grand prix I love and one I enjoy a lot. So I will have a smile on my face the whole weekend. And just get on with it.
“I know there are a lot of rumours going on now and a lot of things being said, but from my side I prefer to stick to my standard.
“That is to focus on my weekend – and not comment too much about the future: first of all because I am not allowed and secondly because I think it is the best way to approach the weekend.”
Press conference run
But the avoidance tactics for those involved in the deals will not last long, as individuals involved in the process are brought in front of the media over the Singapore weekend.
First up will be Alonso, who is scheduled to appear in an official FIA press conference in Singapore on Thursday evening. He may use that opportunity to confirm his intention to stay in 2018.
On Friday, the FIA has arranged for all the key players involved in the recent engine merry-go-round to appear in its traditional evening team bosses’ press conference.
Their appearances are likely to come after all the engine swap news has been made official in coordinated press releases.
The first part of the FIA briefing will involve Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul, McLaren’s Zak Brown and Force India’s Otmar Szafnauer, who may end up just spectating.
Then, part two will involve Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa, Red Bull’s Christian Horner and Toro Rosso’s Franz Tost.
There is little doubt that by the time the conferences have finished, all the details of the 2018 engine shuffle will finally be confirmed – and F1’s focus can get back on the racing.
Toro Rosso future
Despite the lack of official news about the situation so far, Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat said he was upbeat about what was happening, even though Honda has had a difficult season.
Asked by Motorsport.com for his thoughts on Toro Rosso switching to Honda, the Russian said: “Until there is an official announcement I will pass on commenting about that information, I think.
“Whatever is going to happen, it is going to be good for the team. I think there are only good things ahead for this team.”
With Sainz poised to depart – perhaps as early as the Malaysian Grand Prix – it means Kvyat’s future at Toro Rosso is all but secure for 2018 though.
Although Kvyat is eager to get things finalised about his new deal, he said the priority was clearly for Toro Rosso to sort its engine situation out first.
“I think first, it needs to be the team’s future sorted out, because that is a big topic to get sorted,” he said. “And then I think as soon as that is sorted, I will have news.
“I am not too concerned at this stage. The sooner the better, but I cannot pressure the team at these difficult times.
“There are many things going on. I am an understanding person and I will let them focus on the thing that matters, and as soon as they have a decision they will come my way.”