Since making his debut in Formula 1 back in 2010, Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg has so far competed with three different teams in as many seasons, and is tipped to make it four with yet another switch for 2014. With Sauber allegedly entering financial difficulties, the 25-year-old looks set to leave the Swiss outfit.
With the current season only nine races old, the Formula 1 rumor-mill seems to have whirred into overdrive during recent weeks, with speculation gripping the paddock with regards to numerous drivers’ plans for 2014. Already Pastor Maldonado has been linked to Lotus, along with Kimi Raikkonen regarded by many as the number one contender to replace Mark Webber at Red Bull. This in turn will create a vacancy at the Enstone-based outfit, which has recently seen Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg become a strong contender to fill with his future at Sauber looking increasingly bleak.
During the German Grand Prix last time out at the iconic Nurburgring circuit, reports began to emerge from the paddock that Sauber were suffering from dire financial difficulties which had prevented them from paying their suppliers. The Swiss outfit denied allegations that they had failed to pay Nico Hulkenberg since May, however rumors began to emerge that the German would be leaving Sauber at the end of the current season. No sooner had these rumors left the Formula 1 paddock, before the 25-year-old Emmerich-born driver was linked to a possible move to Lotus.
At first such rumors were regarded as products of Formula 1’s recurring “silly season”, when many drivers are linked elsewhere as the driver market enters the limelight towards the end of a season. However the speculation linking Nico Hulkenberg to Lotus was enforced when team principal Eric Boullier confirmed that he had discussed such a move with the German driver. At first many can be forgiven for thinking this would be to replace Kimi Raikkonen if the Finn replaces Mark Webber at Red Bull, however Hulkenberg could well replace Romain Grosjean at the outfit with Raikkonen retained alongside the German sensation.
Admittedly the latter seems unlikelier than the former, with Kimi Raikkonen regarded by the majority of the paddock as the likely replacement to Mark Webber. However it is not entirely unfeasible that Lotus could be aiming for a completely new driver line-up in 2014, with Nico Hulkenberg possibly partnering the team’s current test driver and reigning GP2 Champion Davide Valsecchi. After all Romain Grosjean is still suffering from a hit-and-miss tendency, with Gerard Lopez admitting that the Frenchman’s future with Lotus is not certain.
However, should negotiations with Lotus breakdown between now and the end of the season, Nico Hulkenberg will certainly have other options open for his future in the sport. Since his return to Formula 1 with Force India last season, the German has been strongly linked to Ferrari on more than one occasion. Once again at the Scuderia, uncertainty is surrounding Felipe Massa’s future alongside Fernando Alonso. The Brazilian driver has frustratingly been unable to match his Spanish team-mate in recent years, with Ferrari understandably searching for a potential replacement who would be able to thrive behind the wheel of the Prancing Horse.
Even when Nico Hulkenberg signed for Sauber towards the end of 2012, many believed his time with the outfit would only last one season before progressing up the F1 echelon to Ferrari. Coincidentally Sauber currently run Ferrari engines, with the German remaining coy on a potential future with the Scuderia.
“I don’t know – you’ll have to ask them.” Explained Nico Hulkenberg, when asked whether his future in Formula 1 will feature Ferrari back in May. “These are the early days of the season, but I do want to get back to winning races and challenging, and to be Champion one day. To do that you have to be in a big team. The future is open and you have to do the best you can with the car you have every weekend.”
Although Red Bull have narrowed down the candidates to replace Mark Webber to only Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, there’s no denying that Helmut Marko would be keen to sign Nico Hulkenberg if the possibility arose. Before the German entered Formula 1, he was a candidate to become part of Red Bull’s Young Driver Programme which helped propel Sebastian Vettel into the world of F1. However, the 25-year-old had already secured a strong partnership with main sponsor Dekra, which he was understandably unwilling to separate from.
An all-German partnership would be an enticing prospect for Red Bull, with Nico Hulkenberg also unlikely to challenge Sebastian Vettel’s dominance within the Milton Keynes-based outfit. However, with Red Bull clearly intent on either promoting a Toro Rosso driver or securing the services of Kimi Raikkonen, a move to the reigning Champions is unlikely for Nico Hulkenberg.
This therefore leaves only Ferrari and Lotus as the two remaining options for the German, who will naturally be keen to make a move up the sport’s echelon instead of another sideways step such as his decision to leave Force India for Sauber. Should Hulkenberg move to Ferrari, he would certainly replace Felipe Massa however a move to Lotus could be the catalyst for many more alterations up and down the paddock ahead of the 2014 season.
Picture(s) Copyright © Octane Photographic & Lotus F1 Team