Despite being one of the hottest properties on the F1 driver market, Nico Hülkenberg finds himself increasingly at risk of not securing a seat on next year’s Formula 1 grid.
The problem, as is the common theme in today’s world, is all about money – or in his case, a lack of it…
Having been snubbed by McLaren and Ferrari as a potential driver for 2014, Hülkenberg set his sights on Lotus to try and land a gig as Kimi Räikkönen’s replacement when the Finn moves to the Scuderia in the off-season.
But even that seems to be looking increasingly unlikely. The Enstone outfit’s poor financial position has made the German extremely reluctant to sign on the dotted line, and into the frame has stepped Williams driver Pastor Maldonado.
The Williams driver is dangling a very tempting carrot in front of the team’s leadership: a $30 million a year sponsorship deal from PDVSA, Venezuela’s national oil giant, which is unhappy with its star driver’s lot at the uncompetitive Williams team and wants to move him somewhere more competitive.
That has now put Hülkenberg behind Maldonado in the race to grab the seat at Lotus, and – despite possessing more talent than the Venezuelan – that leaves the hugely talented German trying to salvage a hope of being retained by Sauber, with whom he had a pay dispute in the mid-season.
Even that’s far from guaranteed, with Sauber contemplating the well-backed line-up of Sergey Sirotkin and Esteban Gutiérrez, who both come equipped with good sponsorship from their respective homelands.
It’s also understood that Maldonado’s camp have made an approach to Sauber as well, hedging their bets in case the Lotus deal falls through.
“What happens with Maldonado and that Lotus seat will be a bellwether for what is going on in Formula 1,” SKY’s F1 commentator Martin Brundle said.
“There are only five teams which are financially secure and the rest of them are all struggling so they are following the money and not the talent.”
Into the mix have stepped Force India, which, according to SKY Sports, has reportedly offered Hülkenberg the chance to return to the team he left less than 12 months ago, but only if he signs a two-year deal to race for them.
A two-year deal makes sense for Force India, which will be looking to use the German’s experience – most likely in partnership with Adrian Sutil – to propel the privateer outfit further up the grid in 2014 after a particularly strong start to their 2013 campaign.
But a two-year deal won’t be attractive to Hülkenberg, who will want to position himself well when the driver market opens up ahead of the 2015 season.
“I spoke to Hulkenberg’s manager this morning and he is terrified that Hulkenberg will end up with nowhere to drive next year which is utterly, utterly ridiculous,” Brundle added.
“Unfortunately, the midfield need money and he doesn’t bring money, just talent and speed.”
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.