Sahara Force India today announced the news that most observers had been expecting for some time; that Nico Hulkenberg will return to the team for 2014. The German driver has impressed greatly during this season, with some exceptional qualifying and race performances in the Sauber, but despite knocking on the door of the top teams, he has not been able to create an opening.
So he goes back to the team for which he drove in 2012. It is his third move in four seasons. Force India never wanted him to leave in the first place, but he felt that Sauber was a better bet as it had scored four podiums in 2012 and driving there would put him in Ferrari’s orbit as they provide the engines for the Swiss team. Hulkenberg was in consideration for Felipe Massa’s seat, but was passed over for Kimi Raikkonen.
He was first choice for Lotus, but with delays to the mysterious investor deal from Quantum, Lotus had to take Pastor Maldonado and his Venezuelan oil company backing.
Key to Hulkenberg’s decision then was the timing and the risk of being left on the sidelines.
“I am happy to be back,” the 26 year old said. “I had to take a decision not to be left out, or left without a seat and Force India, I really felt they wanted me. They were able to answer the questions and give me the info I needed, different to other people. I have trust in this team that they will put something together that will allow us to have some special results.”
The interesting thing about today’s announcement is that the team has not mentioned who the second driver will be. This is not normal Force India practice. The Anglo-Indian team’s usual strategy is to leave it until after the end of the season and wait for the best available drivers to come to them, then announce both drivers at the same time.
Until this year, they also had an active third driver, whom they groomed via a regular Friday morning test programme. Jules Bianchi performed this role in 2012, Hulkenberg in 2011 and Paul di Resta before that.
This did not happen much in 2013, until James Calado got some late season outings, but with more opportunity on Fridays and four two day test sessions in 2014, there is a nice opportunity for a young driver to be placed there and for Force India to make some useful money from that seat.
The identity of the second driver will be revealed in due course. Hulkenberg said today that he has not been given any indication of what that will be, only the candidates; most people expect Sergio Perez to get the nod, but today’s announcement shows that there is still room for negotiation. Current incumbent Adrian Sutil has been courting Sauber, while di Resta said on Sunday night at the Autosport Awards that it was looking difficult for him to stay in F1 next year.
Sauber’s team principal Monisha Kaltenborn paid tribute to Hulkenberg as he left her team, “After an overall difficult season in 2013 Nico leaves our team. Especially the first half of the season did not turn out as both parties expected it would. However during the second half of the season we made significant progress together and worked hard to move forward. Nico played an important role in that process. We would like to thank him for his dedication and hard work.
“Nico has proven to be a fast and efficient driver, who always used the full potential of the C32 in order to score as many championship points as possible. We wish him all the best for his future endeavours.”
There are six seats still available on the F1 Grid 2014.
Force India – One seat
Sauber – Two seats
Caterham – Two seats
Marussia – One seat