Crash.net's team in the F1 paddock brings you our view of the the sport and the stories bubbling away during the Russian Grand Prix

Barrier safety splits opinion

With the paddock holding its collective breath when cameras cut to the sight of a car buried beneath the barriers during third free practice for the Russian Grand Prix, the collective sigh of relief that came afterwards once it was known Carlos Sainz was unhurt in his now infamous 100mph smash was promptly followed by the inevitable questions.

Two weeks after Daniil Kvyat suffered his spectacular crash and roll in Suzuka, the Sochi weekend saw its fair share of sizeable shunts over the course of the weekend in both F1 and GP2. However, it was Sainz's crash that would command the lion's share of the attention, more specifically the performance of the barriers that seemingly didn't respond as expected.

Now used widely by F1 circuits, particularly the newer builds, TecPro barriers comprise of a metallic sheet in the centre, which is packed in variable density foam. Effectively an evolution of the traditional 'tyre walls' used over time, the barriers are designed to disperse the energy in an accident away from the car and, more importantly, away from the driver.

It's for this reason accidents sometimes look like they should hurt more than they do - much like Romain Grosjean's rapid crash in the race - since the energy is dispersed away as the car breaks up around what should remain an intact cockpit.

Yet, Sainz's nose-on crash instead scooped up the barrier and perched it on top of the Toro Rosso. Worryingly, it meant the nose also speared the more solid Armco behind it, while Sainz was trapped in the car too, with marshals taking more than 20mins to extricate him.

The incident, however, drew a mixed response from those in the paddock, split between those that felt the barriers ultimately did their job and others - like Sebastian Vettel - who were 'shocked' at how they shifted.

The fact Sainz went from hospital bed to almost a top ten finish in less than 24 hours is indicative of the harm he fortunately avoided, though Rob Smedley contests that it is perhaps more to do with the car's safety cell than anything else.

"Obviously as the car slides under the Tecpro barriers then your first thought is I hope they haven't gone inside the safety cell. Thankfully they didn't, it looks like they did slide over; the safety cell worked as it should have done and they have gone and slid over the top of the car. So I think we definitely dodged a bullet there. The car shouldn't have gone under the barriers, absolutely not, that's not what is supposed to happen.

Others have been more sympathetic, suggesting it is the design of the cars - specifically the nose - and the head-on angle Sainz hit the barriers that is the ultimate issue, while Vettel also pondered whether hadn't been installed properly by the local track team.

It's worth noting that TecPro's Twitter account, which has been fairly active during the GP weekends it is associated with, makes no mention of Russia this weekend...

Even so, Daniel Ricciardo went on to point out that it sometimes takes an incident like this for potential problems to be flagged up in difficult to mimic 'real world conditions', with Sainz the unwitting guinea pig in this unexpected 'crash test'.

Naturally, an investigation is likely but given the severity of some accidents this weekend, there is little denying the fact most walked away unscathed and unaided (partly because of a tardy response from marshals...), is a positive vindication of the continued strides being made in motorsport car safety at the very least...

To the Manor reborn

It is perhaps no coincide - or at the very least it is fitting - that the confirmation Manor will be getting use of Mercedes engines in 2016 was made almost a year to do the day Jules Bianchi suffered his catastrophic accident at Suzuka.

In the ensuing twelve months, Manor - or 'Marussia' as it was formerly referred to - has been in and out of administration, persevered with an aged car that could never realistically challenge beyond the back row and, of course, been forced to cope with Bianchi's tragic passing in July.

This new engine deal is a healthy dose of good karma for a team that has had fairly little to celebrate beyond its irrefutable grit and determination in the face of persistent adversity. Indeed, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone to rally against them.

Though it's hard to quantify at the moment what effect the engine alone will have to its 2016 prospects, the steps forward shown by Williams and Lotus since switching to Mercedes power in this 'hybrid era' offers an intriguing barometer to measure it against.

It's interesting then that Fernando Alonso waded in with his two cents about the deal, bluntly suggesting that not even a 'jet engine' could propel Manor further up the grid. A subsequent bit of Twitter banter prompted Manor to respond that it will have plenty of time to discuss that when they are pit-lane neighbours next season... Feel that burn, McLaren?

Indeed, for a driver who has complained about how much of an 'engine formula' F1 has become, it is naive to be so dismissive of Manor's chances, particularly as sources in the team tell me a Mercedes-powered Manor could have out-performed McLaren in Belgium and Italy this year.

Granted, Manor remains tightly budgeted so no-one is expecting any podiums any time soon, but as a proposition it has never been so attractive.

Indeed, it's added an interesting dimension to a 'silly season' that has proven remarkably stagnant in recent times as the majority of the grid look set to stay as they are for 2016.

With Manor now the only team yet to confirm any driver for 2016, current driver Will Stevens spoke of his optimism that he can hold onto his seat, but defeats by new team-mate Alex Rossi in Singapore and Japan and then by the returning Roberto Merhi in Russia is unlikely to do him any favours.

Rossi's debut in Singapore is seen as a prelude to a firmer deal for 2016, but even he might face some competition from numerous sources now. Mercedes insists Pascal Wehrlein is not a caveat in its decision to supply engines, but signing the talented youngster would still be mutually beneficial, while McLaren proteges Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne aren't necessarily off-limits either (see below).

Regardless, Manor's trim budget still means a wealthy suitor remains attractive, with former test driver and GP2 front runner Rio Haryanto - who comes with significant backing from Indonesia - earmarked as perhaps the most obvious candidate.

Either way, whilst it's easy to complain about Mercedes' dominance, should Manor make the step forward everyone (except Alonso) is expecting, at least things are looking tighter and more competitive behind them than it has for a very long time...

We need to talk about Kevin... and Stoffel

Whilst it is a sign of the times that McLaren was reduced to celebrating just reaching the points in the Russian Grand Prix, the team at least had the chance to savour 'real' success in Sochi as its prot?g? Stoffel Vandoorne wrapped up the GP2 Series title

Though the title win had been considered something of a foregone conclusion long before we had reached the shores of the Black Sea, it was nonetheless a timely reminder that this is a driver with a staggering amount of talent... and yet no assured future in the sport.

In the hubbub of Jenson Button's 'will he, won't he' retirement rumours in the run up to the eventual confirmation for 2016, it was all-but-forgotten that many were calling for Vandoorne to replace him regardless of whether he wanted to stay or not.

Left out of the sight and out of mind as Button took the media spotlight, Vandoorne's return to centre stage in Sochi after a month-long autumn break revives questions about the future seemingly no-one - least of all the man himself - can answer.

The facts are, Vandoorne and Kevin Magnussen - who has been conspicuous by his absence in recent races - have only four F1 race options available to them at most. With Haas almost certainly set to sign Esteban Gutierrez and the Lotus-Renault saga dragging on, realistically Manor seems the only option.

Whilst this seems more attractive given its engine deal with the three-pointed star, just getting one into the car will be a challenge since it would almost certainly involve McLaren having to contribute financially - given its imminent revenue drop as a result of its 2015 struggles, this seems unlikely.

Though the 'conflict of interest' argument weakens when you consider McLaren is unlikely to learn more from a Manor-specification Mercedes engine than it did as a customer in 2014, whilst Vandoorne and Magnussen's success validate McLaren's junior programme, what use is it if there is no contingency?

If anything, the situation is worse for Magnussen since all of the chatter about replacing Button seemed to be more focused on Vandoorne as he benefitted from selling himself on track. Renault remains an option, but only if the sale goes through since he won't have the financial clout to convince Lotus. IndyCar or sportscars could provide an alternative - and a way of keeping some McLaren ties -, but this will almost certainly drop him to 'fourth in line' behind Vandoorne if he does.

Vandoorne, meanwhile, could yet stay to defend his GP2 title, though the dominance he exerted in 2015 means he arguably has little to gain - and a lot to lose - by doing so. A Friday FP1 role has been mentioned, though this isn't a strategy McLaren has adopted in the past and race drivers are craving the maximum mileage possible.

So where does gratitude end and sense prevail? Magnussen pledged his faith to McLaren but this appears to be waning... Vandoorne may be pitching the same mantra so as not to bite the hand that has fed him to the top of the junior tree, but the fate of his predecessor surely won't have escaped his notice either...