Williams has announced today that the team will drop promising rookie Nico Hulkenberg for next season. At the same time it was confirmed that Rubens Barrichello will race on for the team in 2011, and unprecedented 19th season of F1 competition.
Hulkenberg’s spectacular pole position in Brazil last week, where he set nine consecutive best sector times, was not enough to save his drive, in the face of the expected arrival of GP2 champion Pastor Maldonado, who has extensive backing from the Venezuelan government.
Barrichello’s contract was signed some time ago but was not announced as the team worked hard behind the scenes to replace the sponsorship money which ends this year from its leading backers RBS, Philips and AT&T. Team principal Adam Parr has been working hard on raising money in Venezuela and Qatar. It has also been suggested that minority shareholder Toto Wolff is to increase his stake in the team.
Under the management of Willi Weber, who had Ralf Schumacher at Williams in the early 2000s, Hulkenberg has been associated with Williams for many years, going back to his F3 days.
Sir Frank Williams said, “First, I would like to thank Nico for his hard work this year, and before that in preparing himself for Formula One. We are very proud to have supported him as he secured the Formula 3 and GP2 titles and during his debut in Formula One. At Williams we have for many years tried to bring new talent into the sport, and we are convinced that Nico will go on to great things. We wish him well and hope that our paths will cross again in the future.”
HIs prospects of finding another drive are decent, as he has impressed in the second half of the season. Although he finished behind Vitaly Petrov in the championship, thanks to the Russian’s dogged drive in Abu Dhabi, Hulkenberg is on the radar.
So what are his options? Renault may well retain Petrov; I spoke to Renault F1 owner Gerard Lopez at the weekend and he confirmed that there is a huge amount of potential sponsorship in Russia, which the team hopes to bring on board for next season.
Force India is probably the next best option. They have Adrian Sutil, whose performances have flat lined a bit this year. Hulkenberg looks a better prospect, but again Sutil brings funding. Paul di Resta has the young guns test this week to show his quality and audition for Tonio Liuzzi’s seat.
After that you are looking at the new teams, which won’t be new any more next season.
As an alternative a reserve driver role at Mercedes might appeal, given that Michael Schumacher may only do two years of his three year contract, so Hulkenberg might get a competitive car in 2012 that way. This is what Mika Hakkinen did in 1993, leaving Lotus to be number three at McLaren. He got his chance sooner than he imagined, when the team dropped Michael Andretti in September that year.