July 17th, 2013 (F1plus/J. Leslie).- it was reported last week that Nico Hulkenberg could be set to make the move to Lotus for 2014 as Eric Boullier confirmed that he is in talks with the 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix pole-sitter.
With the Frenchman also revealing that Red Bull are “pushing hard” to get Kimi Raikkonen on board for next season, the Enstone based team line-up could look very different come the end of the year. But would Hulkenberg be the right choice for Lotus? I think so.
Still, there are two big and rather obvious questions surrounding Hulkenberg’s future with the black and gold liveried team. Firstly, is Kimi Raikkonen going to leave Lotus? The second is if not, will Boullier drop Romain Grosjean (whom he manages) in favour of Hulkenberg?
For some it may come as a surprise that Hulkenberg is being linked to Lotus despite not expressing any real link with them beforehand. In fact, the talk of the town after it was announced that he would drive for Sauber in 2013 was whether the German would move to Ferrari in 2014 due to the famous Italian squad supplying engines to the Swiss outfit.
However with talks well and truly in swing and a teenager set to drive for Sauber in 2014 thanks to their financial savior, is Hulkenberg ready to lead Lotus in the midst of Raikkonen’s potential departure and if the Finn does stay, how does he compare to Grosjean and would the Enstone based squad be better off with ‘The Hulk?’
It’s fair to say now that Red Bull and Lotus are both tugging with some force in the Kimi Raikkonen tug of war but what would create an open seat at Lotus that could pave the way for Hulkenberg? Firstly, Red Bull Racing could be upping the potential income of the Finn as Lotus is not as plentifully funded.
Sebastian Vettel is reportedly being paid €12 million this season in comparison to Raikkonen’s €3 million salary, for drivers that some argue the best in the world. Lotus are widely known to not have the budget of RBR and despite the recent news that investment group Infinity (no relation to RBR’s Infiniti) have brought a large stake in the team, they still don’t have the funds to compete with the Milton Keynes based squad salary wise.
There are also the more obvious reasons for leaving Lotus. Red Bull has dominated the sport in recent years and counts with design mastermind Adrian Newey. With the 2014 regulation changes being quite severe, Newey is perhaps the safest pair of hands to shape a fast car out of the new rules.
Some said that Mark Webber would definitely have to have a very good reason to leave Red Bull at the end of 2013. He did, but if Raikkonen says no to the vacant seat there must be a very good reason for that too. Because looking at it currently, it’s the best seat on offer by far.
However Lotus gets Kimi. They know what he likes and doesn’t. They don’t overload him with PR work and they also have a strong team that can produce race-winning cars. Raikkonen also looks at home with the team and having that comfort in the working environment he has is a crucial characteristic for the Finn.
Losing Technical Director James Allison may have an impact on next season. It is unknown – the impact - and I’m sure his replacement Nick Chester is perfectly capable but Allison is highly regarded and respected in the F1 paddock and it’s certainly a loss to the team.
Raikkonen has plenty of things to weigh up. It’s a very difficult decision and he is rightfully taking his time. However it means that we won’t get to see the 2014 driver line-up till a lot later in the season, so the rumour mill will just keep on turning. Red Bull is also keen for an “end of summer” reveal of its 2014 changes and that could also prove to be a factor.
Should Hulkenberg move to Lotus as Raikkonen’s replacement, I feel that he will be a very good team-leader. He is smart, very fast and has good experience in the sport and also with being a number one driver – due to this year with Sauber. He has also progressed consistently from his year at Williams in 2010 and his fantastic end of the season for Force India in 2012. Sauber have not been as competitive this year but I think had he remained at Force India, he could definitely be out-racing or matching Paul Di Resta and Adrian Sutil.
He is very fast but one thing that sets him and Grosjean apart is his knack for steering clear of trouble. The German rarely makes errors or makes contact with another car and despite being a forceful racer; he has a calm head and knows when to back off. In comparison, Grosjean is very aggressive and is prone to contact when racing with others. It has happened less frequently in 2013 but the Romain of 2012 is showing glimpses – particularly in Monaco where he made a monumental error when running into the back of Daniel Ricciardo.
However there is one stumbling block for Hulkenberg should he be going head-to-head for Grosjean’s seat. The Frenchman has strong backing not only from Total – fuel supplier – and Renault but also from Boullier himself. As mentioned briefly earlier, he manages the German Grand Prix podium finisher and will obviously be keen to keep him on.
Grosjean’s third place at the last race of the season has come at a crucial time. After the earlier troubles he has yet again proved that he can race cleanly at the front but I do have a few concerns, one being consistency.
This is something that also plagues the Toro Rosso duo as they make the bid to impress Red Bull over the vacant Webber drive but with Grosjean it isn’t necessarily points finishes, it’s the performance overall. He has these off weekends where he just struggles to get good grip with the car; getting knocked out in Q2 when Raikkonen has flew into the top 10 shoot-out and then having a rather underwhelming race. It’s either that or he tries too hard and ends up crashing.
Now, personally, I’m a big fan of Grosjean. I like his optimistic attitude; he always has a smile on his face and looks for positives out of even the most dismal of situations. However whilst he obviously has the speed, I feel Hulkenberg has just as much but it isn’t being shown in Sauber’s troubled C32. He has been quietly making progress but due to the nature of this season and the running order, he has failed to make the headlines that he did in 2012 with Force India. Nico is also more consistent with his performances and quite obviously – in my view – a safer pair of hands in comparison to Grosjean.
So we wait to see how the situation pans out. However Hulkenberg would definitely be a good bet for a Lotus seat however it plays out, whether Grosjean gets the boot or Raikkonen makes the move.