October 17th, 2012 (F1plus / Paul Godley).- When the news broke that Lewis Hamilton would be leaving McLaren for Mercedes, there may have been some up and down the paddock expecting the Woking outfit to hire the talented German to replace the 2008 World Champion. The same day though it was announced that Sergio Perez would be joining the team after a series of very impressive podium finishes this season.
Personally I think Perez will be a great addition to the team, both for 2013 and beyond, but was the decision a little harsh on Hulkenberg? Should McLaren have hired him instead? What about Ferrari? Today they announced that Felipe Massa will retain his seat for 2013, but do you think Nico would be capable of doing a better job if he was given a chance?
Let's first address the McLaren situation. As previously said, I think Perez is a very good acquisition for McLaren and at 22-years-old is one that the team could be built around in future seasons. Now since that announcement was made prior to the Japanese Grand Prix, Sergio has gone on to have two poor races. Whilst battling in Japan with Lewis Hamilton, the man he's replacing for 2013, the young Mexican ran onto the grass and spun into the gravel trap, narrowly avoiding the outgoing Hamilton and causing himself to retire from the race. I think Lewis' reaction after the race said it all really...
Then again this past weekend we saw a few more signs that show Perez's relative lack of experience. A lock-up into the first turn nearly resulted in Perez smashing into the side of future team mate Jenson Button, although it didn't take long (just 2 more corners..) for the other Sauber to take the 2009 World Champion out of the race. The Sauber at times seemed quicker than some of the cars around it, but the teams decision to stay out much longer than others in the first stint really did seem to cost the Swiss outfit of any chance of taking home some world championship points. Perez has hardly covered himself in glory since the announcement of his move was made, but all drivers go through rough patches, especially at his age, right?
We then look at Nico Hulkenberg's performances in Japan and Korea, starting with qualifying. He managed to qualify inside the top 10 at Suzuka despite his car being worked on right up until the start of qualifying, before having to take a five-place grid drop for a gearbox change. A week later he again managed to get the Force India into the top 10, out-qualifying his team mate again and finishing ahead of both works Mercedes. Qualifying is definitely a part of the weekend in which Nico Hulkenberg would appear to have the advantage over not only his team mate, but Sergio Perez as well. He appears to be able to deliver when he has to more often than Perez has, who's finished in 11th-17th more often than not this season. That one lap can be crucial to your weekend, as we've seen on so many occasions.
The Japanese race was a strong one for Nico, moving up from 15th on the grid to cross the line in 7th, just over a second behind Kimi Raikkonen. He followed that up in Korea by taking an impressive 6th place after a race long battle with Romain Grosjean, something that was a joy to watch. In both these races it's worth noting that neither Paul Di Resta nor Sergio Perez scored points; Nico took home 14 points.
You can't deny how impressive Perez's driving has been on occasions this season; 3 podiums in a Sauber is a fantastic return. But what about the times he's not finished on the podium? It appears that he, and maybe the team to an extent, can be quite hit and miss. It's a brilliant race one weekend, but the next one is just as likely to be a poor one. Nico and Force India on the other hand seem much more consistent. Maybe not as spectacular, but consistency has been proven to be key in the past. Do you want someone who can deliver that special drive every now and again, or someone who consistently delivers and can be relied on to bring the car home?
Nico Hulkenberg is a good talent in the "trade block"
So what about Ferrari? It has been announced that Felipe Massa will be continuing with the Italian outfit for an 8th consecutive season, something that will in all probability divide opinion up and down the paddock (as pretty much everything in Formula 1 does I suppose). Felipe's recent upturn form is there for all to see, and it's great for him, for us and for Ferrari that he's back up there fighting at the sharp end, but is it the right decision?
Massa has been a great servant for Ferrari and was just one corner away from winning the World Championship in 2008, but should is time at Ferrari be up? I'm not having a go at Felipe, I'm a fan of his, and he's a great guy both on and off the track and deserves to stay in Formula 1. I'm just looking at whether or not someone else should have been given a chance. I guess Massa staying on for one more year will help fuel the idea of Alonso and Vettel for 2014, although for the life of me I can't see that happening. Massa is the short term, but would Hulkenberg have been better for long term?
McLaren's acquisition of Perez is clearly one for both the present and future, so would Hulkenberg have been the same? In a word, yes. You just have to look at his record prior to F1 to see what he's achieved. He's won in pretty much everything he's ever driven and has a remarkable record of winning championships. Hulkenberg is a huge talent, as is Perez, so have the big teams missed a golden opportunity to get a young, hungry and talented driver into their ranks that they could potentially build the team around in future seasons? Let's not forget, Massa was given a similar opportunity when racing for Sauber and look how close he came to the title? Who's to say Hulkenberg couldn't go that one step further? One thing is for certain, Nico Hulkenberg has the ability to go very, very far in this sport, the only question that remains is will someone give him the chance to do so?