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Hulkenberg new contract “signed”: conflicting reports on where he is heading
Posted By: James Allen  |  14 Oct 2013   |  10:56 am GMT  |  187 comments

Nico Hulkenberg is the driver in demand at the moment after a series of outstanding performances at the wheel of the Sauber.

The 26 year old German is firmly believed to have signed a contract to move away from Sauber next year, but interestingly, there are conflicting reports about where he is headed. Several pundits, including BBC’s Eddie Jordan, believe he is going back for Force India, for whom he raced in 2012, while Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy has announced that he has signed for Lotus, the official announcement due imminently.

Hulkenberg, now managed by Werner Heinz, who managed ex-Jordan driver Nick Heidfeld, had hoped to land a Ferrari drive, but was passed over for Kimi Raikkonen last month, in a move that puts pressure on Fernando Alonso, but also provides Ferrari with an insurance policy against Alonso deciding to leave or take a year off.

Many in the paddock believe Ferrari should have taken Hulkenberg and looked to the future, as Red Bull have done with Daniel Ricciardo. Part of the reason Hulkenberg was at Sauber was to put himself in Ferrari’s orbit – the Italian team is the long time engine supplier to, and ally of, Sauber. The Swiss team walked out of FOTA in 2011, in solidarity with Ferrari.

But it has not worked out for Hulkenberg and now, if the Force India stories are to be believed, he may be thinking of shadowing Mercedes, putting pressure on Nico Rosberg’s (above right with Hulkenberg in Japan) seat with the team. As a Mercedes – supplied team, Force India is in Mercedes’ orbit and Hulkenberg may feel his best bet is to be patient, keep racking up results and hope something bigger comes along soon. At the same time, if the rumours on the engineering jungle drums are to be believed and the Mercedes is the best turbo engine next year, Force India is in line to benefit from a boost to competitiveness, along with McLaren and Williams.

According to Gazzetta dello Sport, however, Hulkenberg has signed for Lotus.

Lotus are delighted with the performance of Romain Grosjean, who was driver of the day in Suzuka, underlining his remarkable progress from 12 months earlier where he crashed into Mark Webber at the start. And the partnership of Grosjean and Hulkenberg would be very exciting, both young drivers yet to reach their full potential and a good mixture of raw speed and consistency.

The Achilles Heel with Lotus is the financial side, the team has significant debts and are well known for being late with payments. And Hulkenberg, unlike other candidates, does not bring any budget with him.

Cashflow issues were one of the reasons why Raikkonen decided to move, despite being happy at the team. From Hulkenberg’s point of view there is an element of risk over whether the team will be able to stay afloat, but a Lotus seat, based on their competitiveness of the last two seasons, is a definite move up and gives him the chance to race more regularly at the front, to show what he can do. Despite the financial concerns, the technical team now under Nick Chester, has done a good job to develop the car in the second half of the season and Lotus has had four podiums in the last three races. They have been the only team to take the fight to Red Bull in this Asian leg of the championship.

McLaren no longer appears to be a possibility: Sergio Perez brings budget from Carlos Slim’s Claro business, which will be important next year as McLaren have to pay Mercedes over US $20m for their engines. “Clarovideo” has been on the rear wing of the McLaren since Monaco, a deal worth around £4 million (US$6.3m) at standard rate card. Sergio Perez has not impressed McLaren so far, but the Mexican is likely to be retained pending Alonso’s arrival in 2015.

In 2015 when they move to Honda’s they are pushing hard to get the signature of Fernando Alonso, so Hulkenberg wouldn’t fit into that equation.

Hulkenberg’s destination will be made official soon, no doubt and that will leave Felipe Massa still looking for a seat. THe Brazilian out qualified his team mate Alonso again on Saturday and defied a team order to let him past during the race, coming in 10th. Many believe that Massa’s pace in qualifying shows that he is still a top driver and that in a new team he would flourish next season. He is highly experienced and also very light, both of which are first order priorities for teams in the new turbo era.

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That is so funny:

“He is highly experienced and also very light” 😀


this clearly confirms that hulkenberg’s weight is not a major issue.


James… I don’t doubt the Hulkenberg/Lotus connection. But in all this media swarm I have not seen the Richard Mille tie in with Massa and Lotus. Any comment on why it hasn’t had more weight? Felipe has his own Richard Mille signature watch(which is only 75K). Most likely doesnt change what is being rumored here…but interesting nonetheless.


I have nothing to suggest so, but I have a feeling that Perez may get the boot to make room for a surprise Hulkenburg to partner Jensen.

Adrian Newey Jnr

James – last silly season we saw a lot of driver deals being done for financial reasons rather than picking the best available drivers. Given your relationship with your American friend who appears on your podcast (sorry can’t remember his name), do you get the feeling that the sponsorship market is improving to the point that, even top tier teams like McLaren, can afford to take their driver of choice, or still rely on drivers bringing money?


Zak Brown.

I’m not sure it’s filtering down to the medium sized and smaller teams

Also next year will be very expensive with new turbo engines costing over $20m, so you are more likely to see drivers with budget in my view


Interesting, Thanks James.

I believe Caterham and possibly Force India have saved much of the 2013 budget, and in Caterham’s case took on a pay driver, to pay for 2014.

Caterham will run Heikki again next yeat, alongside Pic. Pic has Renault support. My certainity of Heikki’s return to a race seat is based on his chosen residence. i.e. Norfolk.

I just hope Tony’s interest in F1 is lifted. He sounded a bit disillusioned by it all in your most recent podcast.

I think mid field / lower end teams will be able to run 1 driver with experience and 1 ‘pay’ driver .


James is wrong. They have done one thing to their car. Made it slower!


Force India definitely, they haven’t done much to their car for months


I’d like to see Massa and the funds he brings in Sauber. Sauber are in more desperate need of funds, and have the potential to be a top team. Perhaps a strong 4th/5th place or so.

Renault should recommit to F1, and grab Lotus while they can. Hulk deserves a seat at Lotus. Lotus will then have long term money and drivers that set them well for the future.

Just my wish list.


Renault should definitely retake Lotus while RoGro is there.


Let us just put the Hulk’s performances into perspective.

The reference is Gutierrez. He was highly ranked, coming into Formula One, but his ability is far from confirmed.

Sauber has been quietly working hard on a couple of difficult airflow management systems, which they have finally got: DDRS, and a similar rear wheel air flow solution which keeps the Red Bull the most firmly planted back end on the grid.

So those are facts around the potential performance of the machinery at Sauber.

Let’s not forget the points haul both Sauber drivers got last year.

Watching the races, you can see that he appears to be driving well, passing, defending, and bringing home the points.

He’s heavy.

With little to no supporting facts, I feel that Hulkenberg is going to Ferrari for 2014.

If he doesn’t go there, a move to Lotus seems the best option for his career, though it could be a repeat of Sauber across 2012-2013.


“Several pundits, including BBC’s Eddie Jordan, believe he is going back for Force India”

If Eddie says it, it is correct! 😉

In all seriousness, that would be a mistake. In my opinion he needs to settle somewhere and get on with is. Not rot at a team like I feel some drivers have done, but get into a stable position.

“Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy has announced that he has signed for Lotus, the official announcement due imminently.”

If this is correct, then yay! Two relatively young drivers who are both quick! It will be a great team to watch.

I feel that next year will be one of the best in F1 history — new engines and an overhaul of the regulations meaning that the cars are ‘reset’, two strong drivers at Red Bull (hopefully in a year or two Ricciardo will be able to challenge Vettel), the best two racers at Ferrari (in my completely unbiased Ferrari-fan opinion 😉 ), a much better Mercedes car with two very strong drivers getting everything out of it, and a fast young and strong paring at Lotus.

All we need now is Pirelli to sort out the tyres and not mess it up, and for Williams, Sauber, Caterham, and Marussia to not go for pay drivers left right and centre (technically only left and right, as there is no centre car in an F1 garage 😉 ).


Wouldn’t mind seeing Rubens getting a final year in F1, although somewhat unlikely, I feel he never got to go how he deserved to.

And also getting Kobayashi, Alguersuari, Glock and Kovalainen back — they were my favourite non-top-team drivers. They had talent but no money 🙁

And I forgot to mention — really long season should be great to watch with the return of Austria!


James, Kobayashi was seen in the paddock this weekend and said he’s still pushing for a drive next year. While that may be a long shot, does he potentially have a shot for McLaren in 2015 when Honda returns? I understand they’re keen on having a Japanese driver, and may work a deal on the finances of the engine supply if McLaren can agree to it…along with Kobayashi’s fan fundraiser (not enormous, but still quantifiable), do you think he has a shot James?


I thought Kobayashi was a Toyota man. As such, I think it would be unlikely to drive a Honda.


I think it’s unlikely

More likely they want a top champion on the car


Plus Kobayashi used to be a Toyota backed driver. Not sure Honda would be the one supporting him.

Mike from Colombia

Come on James – Martin Brundle must gave told you!


I am sure James knows far more than Martin Brundle

Mike from Colombia

But Brundle said he knows

Tornillo Amarillo

I like to believe HULK has secure a Force India seat, but he is just waiting the opportunity to grab the Lotus seat. Anyway, it’s a middle-field team. As a fan of him, I cannot believe he missed in Red Bull and Ferrari… His manager is not a top one, isn’t he?


It might be an option tho but I still think there is a bigger fish in the end. As we all know Alonso/Ferrari love has raised some questions and this is the whole issue causing problems for the next transfers. Vettel will not go there as long as Alonso will drive there or as long as he can win with RB. Therefore Ferrari and Mclaren are looking for a long term driver.

While Alonso is still on the limit with Ferrari not being sure about him, here pops the Hulk. Ferrari will prolly take him if Alonso goes and then will score Vettel, but not if they still have Alonso (for obvious reasons). On the other hand I will not see Vettel in a Mclaren and here comes the Hulk again as a possible takeover from Button when the time comes. Lotus? Lotus is a done team. With Raikonnen gone and Gro’s XP they do not have the power to full throttle in 2015.


James, who do you think is most at risk of losing their seat at Force India if EJ is correct? I have never rated Sutil and he seemed to make his name by having a couple of decent races in the rain. I think Hulk/Massa/Maldonado if available would all be upgrades on their current driver line up. Obviously Di Resta hasn’t done great recently but he’s shown that he may be more than a completely mediocre driver like Sutil for me.


Didn’t Adrian lead in Melbourne?


Sutil brings some money. Di Resta did have a Mercedes connection, not sure how relevant that is today in terms of his placement. He was Norbert Haug’s man.

Probably in place of Sutil is what I understand, but Massa has a shout there too.


James, there are rumors that Maldonado fancies a move to Lotus? In this light, Eddie Jordan’s Force India prediction might be right.


Clash of oil companies – Total with Grosjean and PDVSA with Maldonado

My understanding is that Williams feel they have a contract with PDVSA for 2014


Was it not rumoured that the PDVSA contract stated they could choose a driver, rather than that it had to be Maldonado? Several Venezuelan drivers floating around F1 with superlicences at the moment..


I just noticed…a little slow I admit, that DRS wings have menant many teams don’t use the lower element for branding. They just leave it white as when it is open it looks like half a message. What a waste! Surely they can’t be happy about this prime space being wasted and reduced in size.


They should find another sponsor to go there, or re-enforce the branding in the bottom section some way. Well noticed!


I do not see any sense in Hulkenberg’s reported move back to FI. If he cannot get the Lotus seat, shouldn’t he just stay at Sauber for another year and aim to replace Alonso or Kimi at Ferrari for 2015?


Same thoughts here, but I am afraid the deal goes beyond that. He is either battling with his weight issue for 2015 or he is required to use 2014 as a filler as advised by the big boys. Lotus might want to lock him for more than 1 year which could cause problems for him with possible move to Mclaren or Ferrari if Alonso drops the bomb. Sounds odd I know, but I am thinking that everything that happens in 2014 is just a setup for 2015.


Good points, but with it being so difficult to break into the top teams now, he should grab his opportunity while he can!



Is the possibility of Hulkenberg staying put at Sauber for another year ruled out then? They seem to have made a step forward and be at least as competitive as FI now. Or, is the relationship irreparable?


Could a return to Williams be an option for Hulkenberg? With Mercedes power and Pat Symonds for 2014, they should be quite formidable.

Given Pastor’s recent spate of outbursts against the team it seems like he’s trying to find a way out.

Force India to my mind got lucky in 2013, the car seems like one of the least developed on the grid. The car happened to suit the initial design of tyres. Sauber could well outscore them come the end of the year. They don’t have the resources of a team like Williams to deal with new regulations and the challenges they could bring. Nico would be better placed going back to Williams if he wants to cosy up to Mercedes long term or if Lotus is not on the cards.


I don’t think they got lucky. They got it right. Remember, in 2011 they were stronger than the other teams.

Although I think Sauber lost out in not keeping Kobayashi.


IF Honda Mclaren were to go all out for Alonso in 2015, and are finding themselves somewhat in bed with the Slim family and as such Checo. Where does that leave Magnussen & Vandoorne? Arguably they are both ready for a crack at F1, but with who and what short term chance would they have at moving up to Mclaren?


I really feel sorry for Magnussen, Vandoorne and Frijns. All three belong in F1 without a doubt but you talk to the smaller teams and they say “how much will you give us” whilst the top teams wont risk taking a rookie now because they’d loose a lot of points whilst he gets up to speed.

It really makes me wonder what the quality of the grid will be like in 5-10 years time.


Martin Whitmarsh told the BBC that McLaren are doing everything they can to get Magnussen onto the grid.

It’s unlikely that they will pay money but a transfer of Mclaren technology would be worth a lot more than a few million dollars in cash to a junior team.


Hulk really deserves a top 5 car and I would be surprised after all the talk from Boullier lately if he signed Massa. Massa has a very extended stay in a top team and looks past it while Hulk has shown proper flashes of brilliance throughout his F1 career.

As for Alonso and Honda, I think that depends on how good the Ferrari is next year. If he can mount a genuine challenge at the front, I can only see him moving if Raikkonen gets the better of him.


I think Nico Hulkenburg is getting a little desperate though its hard not to blame him. Because of his budget situation or lack of he’s worried that he might be frozen out again as he was at the end of 2011 and now after the latest snub from Ferrari he’d rejoin Force India to be at least on the grid.

Its starting to look as though Alonso might sit out 2014 prior to a return to McLaren in 2015 and both parts are really hard to believe.

Yet I read something from Gary Anderson on the BBC web site and he’s agast at the management behaviour inside Ferrari, they really seem to be in disarray. An example for all to see was the absurdity of the radio message to Felipe Massa during the Japanese Grand Prix to move over for Alonso…

It’s not credible, tyre issues or otherwise, that Ferrari with a double podium in Spain could have fallen back so far since then. They can blame Massa or Alonso or tyres or anything else they choose but ultimately the team and team management are responsible and its begining to look as though their next clue will be their first.


Alonso going back to McLaren makes about as much sense as Räikkönen going back to Ferrari.

Since the latter happened I wouldn’t rule it out like I probably would have a couple months back, but considering the history between Alonso and McLaren wouldn’t there be a more than a few sour grapes?


Alonso has previously said his problems were with Ron Denis who is now very much hands off with the F1 team.


I can’t see Button being in a Mclaren in 2015 to be honest. His form has never been great in anything but the very best car and he seems to be falling further and further away from championship form. Hulkenburg could be an option then particularly if Alonso makes the move.

I’d have to disagree now more than ever with your assessment that Button is more naturally talented than Hill, James!

However, Alonso could be a risky option in 2015 as a lead driver. He isn’t getting younger and personally I think he is starting to drop past his peak (not by much, but the signs are there_. Whilst he has still put in some great drives this year, he has again slipped away in the second half of the season and his qualifying form is now quite poor compared to a few seasons ago.

I don’t mean this as a complete slating of Alonso, at this point he would be in my top 3 drivers, but you have to be looking at the long term and in two years time is he really going to be as formidable as he is now? In 2015 any team worth their salt at the front who are signing a new talent need to be looking 5-6 years ahead. Alonso will have, realistically, another 2-3 seasons max at that point.

It is sad, but age catches up with everyone eventually.


“I’d have to disagree now more than ever with your assessment that Button is more naturally talented than Hill, James!”

When did James say that?

Hey James did you say that?


“He isn’t getting younger and personally I think he is starting to drop past his peak (not by much, but the signs are there_”

Fully agree on your first point – the one about ALO (and a few more) not getting younger! I do however struggle to understand how you arrive at the conclusion that he is “starting to drop past his peak”? Last time I checked the standings I found (again) ALOs name in 2nd place, behind the redbull of VET and by a good margin ahead of…everyone else! The Ferrari is probably behind Merc and Lotus pace-wise and sometimes even behind Sauber. That looks more like over-achieving than anything else…but hey, I could be wrong.


“I can’t see Button being in a Mclaren in 2015 to be honest. His form has never been great in anything but the very best car and he seems to be falling further and further away from championship form”

Once again, unbelievable comment!

Correct me if I’m wrong, but was he not driving the same McLaren as Hamilton the last 3 years?

So are you saying the same is true of Hamilton???


I’m not sure what bit of that statement you take issue with. I feel comfortable saying Button struggles in anything bar an exceptional car. He doesn’t have the ability to drive around problems.

I don’t really want to get into Hamilton, but by contrast he won in the 2009 challenger which was one of the worst Mclarens built, and has won in every season that he has competed.


Great read, thanks.


Most people are ignoring the fact that the Sauber is a good car since the tyre changes and updates, and the FI is not!

No way of the Hulk staying put if Lotus falls through?


Good analysis of the situation at hand but after yesterday I’m becoming increasingly hopeful of the attractive prospect of Grosjean-Hulkenberg at Lotus, despite the financial constraints. I do like Felipe Massa but his last few races have not been a huge endorsement of his qualities for the role at Lotus and I think, looking at a longer timeframe, he’d be fortunate to remain in one of the Top 4/5 teams, even though I’d like him to stay in F1.

EJ’s prediction of Hulkenberg to Force India has been well documented but after yesterday’s race he also pointed to a breakdown in the relationship between Maldonado and Williams. Is there any other evidence to back this up? If so I wonder what the implications are for the team, whose financial stability in recent seasons has been helped by those PDVSA funds. Lest we also forget that Maldonado was very quick in 2012 with a strong car underneath him and, though his move yesterday was on the border of acceptability, I kind of admired him for being willing to give it everything just to finish 16th and ahead of his team-mate.

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