October 31st, 2012 (F1plus / Surendhar M.).- Nico Hulkenberg has long been tipped to replace the outgoing young Mexican driver to Mclaren, Sergio Perez. Hulkenberg was the obvious choice to the Hinwil-based outfit after Massa extended his contract with Ferrari for an year. Since Massa’s option in the agreement ran out early in the season, Hulkenberg and team-mate Resta were in the frame to switch squad to the prancing horse.
After Ferrari’s line-up cleared out, Mallya said to have put forward new offers to the driving duo of late. Nevertheless, with the economic instability in his business whose flagship aircraft firm’s license has just been cancelled and Sahara having a tough time on their own, the future is highly uncertain for Force India. Moreover, the Silverstone-based outfit fails to deliver its promise of attaining sixth in the championship to tie-down the German as they adrift of Sauber by 23 points.
Sauber is a notorious team good at spotting young talents and boy did they found one in Perez. Although, Sauber’s new CEO, Monisha Kaltenborn, was skeptic on future funding, the team remains upbeat for next year. This reflected in the race seat of Kamui Kobayashi as the Japanese driver struggles to find sponsorship from his own country despite securing a podium in Suzuka and proving his worth in all three seasons he has driven at.
It is Hulkenberg’s third team in as many years, having driven for Williams off the back of being the 2009 GP2 champion with ART Racing. Neither of the Williams drivers had an auspicious campaign in 2010 with Hulkenberg managing a best result of sixth in Hungary. His best moment came in Brazil when he clinched a pole in appalling conditions but that didn’t help him to keep the drive for 2011 as the pay driver Maldonado dispossessed him.
Force India opened its doors to Nico as a reserve driver under a stipulation to let him drive in 2012. In fact, he took the spotlight out of Sutil and became a talent to reckon with this year. While Hulkenberg’s move to Sauber may appear to be a sideways step, the team has claimed more eye-catching results than Force India with four podiums.
Hulkenberg has a flourishing chance with Ferrari in the turbo era as Sauber and Ferrari have close tie-ups with each other and will be under the radar of Stefano Dominecalli. Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Gian Carlo Fisichella are notable talents of Ferrari who had driven for Sauber before and no wonder if Hulkenberg fancy his opportunities to be a part of that list.
Team principal Monisha Kaltenborn said: “We’ve been observing Nico for some time now, and his performances have been very persuasive. That was the case in GP2 and has continued into Formula One. An obvious highlight was how he scored pole at Interlagos in 2010 despite the most challenging external conditions.
“He clearly showed he can seize the chance if it arises. But high spots like that are one thing; systematic teamwork is another, and on that score I have confidence in Nico too. I’m sure he will fit in very well with the Sauber F1 Team. We look forward to working together with him.”
After the official announcement, Hulkenberg said he is poised at achieving sixth in the championship with Force India while thanking the entire management team.
“The team is currently going through a very positive development and I’m certain that together we can achieve a lot. Until that time I will remain fully focused on my job with Force India. I’d like to thank the management at Force India for giving me the chance to return to Formula One as a team driver.”
The 25-year-old German has been a standout with some stunning drives on race days and currently languishes 12th in the championship with 49 points. There is little to choose between the Force India drivers in terms of earning points but it is Hulk having the upper hand in qualifying since Monaco. He has also shown some great pace on wet sessions especially in British and German GP with a career best fourth place finish in Belgium.
Sauber saved the announcement of second driver for a later time which is highly likely to be their reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez. Meanwhile, in Force India, Adrian Sutil seems likely to make his comeback but no official statements on it yet. Current Marussia driver, Charles Pic, is also looking for a step up the ladder but remains to be retained by his Russian outfit despite being a free agent for 2013. The ousted Toro Rosso driver, Jaime Alguersuari, who vows to be on the paddock next season and the Redbull reserve Sebastien Buemi have also been thought to be in the mix.