Brazilian Grand Prix polesitter Nico Hulkenberg should find out very soon if he is going to be on the grid next season, as Force India is poised to decide its drivers. And Mercedes may well hold the key.
The incumbents are Adrian Sutil and Tonio Liuzzi, but neither was named on the official entry list last week. Test driver Paul di Resta and Hulkenberg are also in the frame. I understand that team owner Vijay Mallya has been in the UK this week working on this burning issue with his senior management, ahead of the F1 commission meeting today and tomorrow’s world council meeting and FIA Gala.
Hulkenberg’s chance comes from the interest Mercedes has in him. Since Williams released Hulkenberg, Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug has been in discussions with his manager Willi Weber about the future. One option is for him to become the reserve driver for Mercedes GP, but with no testing allowed, the more attractive option is for him to stay current and up to speed by racing with Force India and then he can move across to Mercedes to partner Nico Rosberg when Schumacher retires.
“That’s no big secret – Force India is our best shot, but it is also no secret that quite a few drivers are trying to land a seat there,” Hulkenberg told F1.com. “We are talking to them and let’s wait and see what develops.”
As Force India is a customer of Mercedes there is clearly a deal to be done, it depends on price and whether the team is happy to be used as a development ground for Mercedes. Meanwhile Di Resta is also backed by Mercedes, having won the DTM with them this season.
Haug has been keen to see the Scotsman in the Force India seat for some time and has long promoted his candidacy. But does he want Hulkenberg more?
Tonio Liuzzi has a contract but is not considered as strong a driver as Sutil, let alone Hulkenberg, who stood out in the second half of this season.
Hulkenberg was told he was being dropped by Williams in the paddock soon after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, in favour of Pastor Maldonado, who brings a substantial budget from the Venezuelan oil company.