It’s no surprise that Nico Hülkenberg is at the centre of the latest driver market speculation. The German has delivered a series of outstanding performances in his Sauber, but is now firmly believed to have signed a contract to move away from the Swiss team at the end of the year. But where is he going?
Hülkenberg’s manager Werner Heinz – who previously used to look after the F1 career of his compatriot, Nick Heidfeld – has been a busy man of late. He had hoped to land his star driver a seat at Ferrari alongside Fernando Alonso, but was passed up in favour of Kimi Räikkönen.
Many believe that Ferrari should have taken a future-focused approach and gone with Hülkenberg as opposed to Räikkönen – given the latter only has a few years left in his F1 career.
Certainly that would have been a factor in Hülkenberg’s decision to join Sauber at the start of the season. The Swiss team has long partnered with Ferrari to secure the use of its engines, and several of the Hinwil team’s drivers have landed up with gigs at Ferrari, such as Felipe Massa, Kamui Kobayashi and (of course) Räikkönen.
There are conflicting reports about where Hülkenberg is headed. The popular consensus is that the 26-year-old will move to Lotus – Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport has reported as such as such today – but not all are prepared to support that opinion.
The BBC’s F1 pundit, former team owner Eddie Jordan – who has been historically accurate in forecasting driver market rumours – believes that the German will instead return to Force India.
Should the Force India stories be believed, then that could mean that Hülkenberg (through Heinz’s efforts) may be switching his allegiance in Mercedes’ direction, maybe in the hope of putting pressure on the works team’s local driver, Nico Rosberg, if he can deliver a string of solid results next year.
The Mercedes turbo engine set to make its debut next year is also rumoured to be the best of the bunch, then Hülkenberg could enjoy the competitiveness that unit sitting under the skin of Force India’s VJM07.
Conversely, a pairing of Romain Grosjean and Hülkenberg at Lotus would be a brilliant driver combination. Grosjean is continuing to come on strong – his drive on Sunday at Japan was among the best of his career to-date – and the team is reportedly keen to re-sign him. Partnered with an equally young and hungry driver like Hülkenberg would really give the team an exciting dynamic in 2014.
The issue will probably centre around money. Räikkönen confirmed his decision to leave Lotus centred around his not being paid (on time and/or in full), and while Hülkenberg certainly won’t command the kind of retainer the Finn did, there is still an element of risk as to the Enstone team’s long-term future and funding.
Hülkenberg has indicated he wants his future sorted out before the end of the month, and by all accounts that’s already been sorted. Now all we have to do is await to hear where he will go…