F1 2013 Driver Market Update
Nico Hukenberg will return to Force India in 2014 having left the team at the end of 2012.
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Upon signing his fourth contract in Formula 1, Nico Hulkenberg must reflect on exactly why he has jumped between three teams in his three seasons in F1. The young German who has long been lauded as one of the brightest young talents has struggled to make a permanent base for more than a year, jumping from one midfield outfit to another in an effort to land that elusive competitive drive.
At the end of last season it was Ferrari that were in the mix, this year seemingly eternal talks with Lotus. In the end the man known as ‘Hulk’ has just not been able to make that final move. At least he can say that Lotus’ decision to choose the hit-and-miss Pastor Maldonado ahead of the shining consistency of Hulkenberg is almost purely down to the extra funding the Venezuelan is able to bring to the cash-strapped Enstone team.
Once again we are almost left baffled as to why Hulkenberg has decided to move sideways from one midfield team to another. By championship position his move may be naively justified as it appears he’s moving from 7th place Sauber to 6th place Force India, but his analysis ignores the vital fact that Hulkenberg’s rookie teammate Esteban Gutierrez only scored a measly 6 points, a contribution that left Sauber trailing Force India by 20 points.
Hulkenberg himself outscored both Force India drivers Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil, albeit the Scott by only 3 points. This decision is even more confusing when considering the end of season form displayed by the teams, the form that is key as it demonstrated the type of form being taken into a fresh 2014. Force India only scored 18 points in their last 10 races while Sauber amassed 54.
His decision to leave Force India and move to Sauber at the conclusion of 2012 was much more easily justified. Sauber had just taken four break-out podiums in a successful season that saw Sergio Perez’s exploits result McLaren taking notice. Considering that 2013’s cars were to be an evolution of their predecessors, the move made sense as Hulkenberg aimed to further his career.
This year things are very different. The only salient explanation for the German’s decision, and the one he made particular reference to in his statement to the media, is the engine. Force India, after all, use Mercedes power while Sauber use Ferrari. With Mercedes widely tipped to have an edge over all rivals with the introduction of the V6 turbo-charged engines for 2014, we’ve seen some of the big fish in the driver market gravitate to teams that have an engine deal with the German marque for next year.
Felipe Massa, who potentially had the choice of all midfield teams, chose Williams who’ll start using Mercedes power next year after two years with Renault. Hulkenberg is the latest. There are yet a few dominos to fall, namely the likes of Sergio Perez, Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil. Sergio Perez is tipped to join Hulkenberg at Force India, a move that makes sense for the Mexican if his rational is like that of Hulkenberg. This leaves the other two without drives.
Paul di Resta appears set to leave F1 with plans being made for his participation in next year’s IndyCar series. It’s staggering to think that a man who was last year being mooted around as Michael Schumacher’s replacement at Mercedes now faces the embarrassing prospect of not being able to find an F1 drive. Adrian Sutil is a slightly different prospect. There were times this year when his seldom seen quality really shone through, particularly with his fantastic first two races.
However, unable to capitalise from that start has left him in a tricky situation where Sauber appears to be his only option for F1 survival. Many believe that the man expelled from F1 due to GBH at the end of 2011 still has the potential to be a race winner if put in the right car.
Hulkenberg, though, is the true talent that many see as a future world champion, a thought that has only become more widely accepted given the way the German fought on in a Sauber that was clearly not what he had expected. Nevertheless, for the German to realise his move to a big team, potentially as early as 2015, there must be some stability around his career. Due to change teams for the third time in as many seasons in Formula 1, Hulkenberg isn’t exactly helping his reputation of loyalty or patience. Rather it appears as if the man who led the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix feels that he has been wronged by a big team on more than one occasion and now seems to be forcing a move rather than simply letting it unfold on its own.