There’s an intriguing interview on Auto Motor und Sport website today with Willi Weber, done by Michael Schmidt, Germany’s leading F1 journalist.
Weber reveals that his driver Nico Hulkenberg was offered and turned down the second seat at Virgin Racing alongside Timo Glock. This is no great surprise, when a driver of his calibre is on the market a team like Virgin should aspire to hiring him. Arrows frequently made offers to Nigel Mansell throughout his career, for example. You can only ask..
But Weber does give away a fairly clear indication that Hulkenberg is going to take a test and Friday driver role. This is most likely with Force India, although Mercedes has taken an interest in him since his release from Williams, it is unlikely that either Schumacher or Rosberg would be willing to give up seat time for a third driver. Whereas that has been the norm at Force India. In that scenario Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta take the race seats, the most competitive still open this season.
Weber says that when his driver found himself out of Williams in favour of Pastor Maldonado, they considered a year off, but opted to stay in people’s minds,
“We have been thinking, “Do we want to pause for a year?” But in this day and age you are forgotten. Because everything changes so quickly. Therefore, I am of the opinion that it would be better for Nico, to be present, and to go to a team where he can at least drive in Friday practice. That would be the ideal solution for him. So he stays on the ball.”
Asked if that means Force India, he replies, ” Before anything is official, I can not say anything.”
On the Virgin opportunity he says that the risks are too great in going to a team like that, “It has been a team on the level of Williams, where technological development is taking place. With the small teams someone like Nico, who has one Formula 1 season behind him, has not much to learn. The offer from Virgin was there, but the risk was too great.”
Hulkenberg’s pole in Brazil, followed by his sacking in the Abu Dhabi paddock eight days later, has come to symbolise F1’s transition towards drivers who bring sponsorship. Managers of drivers who have no budget to bring have all been lamenting this over the winter, claiming F1 has gone back 20 years. Arguably with so much talent at the front of the grid it can afford to, but it is perhaps an indication of how hard it is for teams to find sponsors, as much as anything else.
“Formula 1 must be careful that it doesn’t become a two-class society with 14 real drivers and ten pay drivers in the field. If teams are only able to keep up by using pay-drivers something’s wrong. I refuse to pay for a cockpit for Nico because if you do this once, you always have to bring money, ” says Weber.