Force India has confirmed that Nico Hulkenberg will remain on-board for 2016 and has resigned the German driver for two more years. The driver market is beginning to close out now, following Ferrari’s decision to retain Kimi Raikkonen for next season.
Hulkenberg has raced for the Silverstone-based team for three seasons – spread over two stints that included one year in 2012 and another that began in 2014. He was also the squad’s reserve driver during the 2011 season.
The 28-year-old had been the subject of rumours about his future in F1 throughout 2015, with a number of reports linking him to Haas F1, the American team that will make its debut next season, and Kimi Raikkonen’s seat at Ferrari.
Hulkenberg also made two special LMP1 appearances for Porsche in the World Endurance Championship this year, that included a debut victory in the famous Le Mans 24 Hours, which lead to speculation that he could join the German marque in sportscar racing full-time.
But Force India confirmed this morning that Hulkenberg would be extending his stay with the team for a third straight F1 season and has signed a two-year contract.
Hulkenberg said: “I’m very pleased to finalise and announce my plans for the future. I know this team inside out and I feel at home here so it made perfect sense to make a long-term commitment.
“The progress the team has shown over the last two years has really impressed me and gives me confidence for the future. It’s a great group of people who are hungry for success and want to keep improving year-on-year.
“I think we have the important things in place going forward and I want to continue growing with this team as we move even further up the grid.”
So far this season, Hulkenberg has scored 24 points and achieved a highest finished of sixth place at the Austria Grand Prix, just a week after his Le Mans triumph.
Force India will be delighted to have retained the German, who is highly rated by many fans and F1 insiders but who has never managed to persuade the top teams to give him a chance. This deal, which will take him past his 30th birthday, makes it unlikely that he will ever get that top team chance now, unless exceptional circumstances arise. Mercedes has a stable driver line up for the foreseeable future and is likely to fight with Ferrari and Red Bull at some point over the services of Max Verstappen.
Force India team boss Vijay Mallya said of the new deal: “I make no secret of being one of Nico’s biggest fans and so it’s fantastic to confirm him as our driver for the next couple of seasons.
“He has spent almost four years with us already and in that time we’ve seen him develop into one of the best racing drivers in the world.
“Nico has the speed, the technical knowledge and the maturity to help us achieve some great results in the years ahead. We will do everything we can to continue delivering a car to match his talent.”
Force India is yet to announce who will start alongside Hulkenberg in 2016, as his current teammate Sergio Perez is yet to have his contract extended. However, as the Mexican driver has scored 25 points for team so far this year and brings a significant amount of sponsorship to the squad, Force India is expected to retain him for a third season.