If you weren’t a member of the Nico Hulkenberg fan club before Sunday morning, then chances are, you probably will be now.
The young German driver’s performance in the Korean Grand Prix last weekend was sensational. He used his Sauber’s newly acquired speed to hold off Fernando Alonso in the first half of the race and then defended perfectly against Lewis Hamilton for over 20 laps.
Whatever the world champions tried they just couldn’t overtake the extremely talented Hulkenberg. He knew at which parts of the track he needed to take a defensive position and, equally important, he knew which areas he didn’t need to bother – the tight, technical turns of the last sector for example.
It was arguably his finest race, beating his Interlagos race leading effort last year thanks to making not a single error throughout.
What is certainly not arguable is that Hulkenberg now deserves a seat at a bigger team than Sauber.
He was seriously considered for the Ferrari seat which Kimi Raikkonen instead received. Doubts as to whether Alonso would leave the team prompted Ferrari to choose the big name, safe bet over a rookie.
Hulkenberg was publicly disappointed that he didn’t get the seat he knew he had a good chance of getting. Now however, Hulkenberg still has a big chance of getting a good seat as both Lotus and McLaren are considering him.
Lotus management are known to prefer Hulkenberg over Felipe Massa, but only if the team finally secure the long awaited financial deal with Infiniti. McLaren are also interested in Hulkenberg replacing Sergio Perez, such is the team’s disappointment with the young Mexican. But McLaren are also without a big name, big money financial deal for 2014 and a Latin American driver such as Perez or Massa would attract much more business interest than Hulkenberg.
Also weighing against Nico is next season’s new V6 turbo power train units. These are expected to weigh much more than was previously thought and heavier drivers such as Hulkenberg would bring the total car-driver package close to the minimum weight limit. The teams would therefore have no ability to use ballast to improve the balance of their car and hence lighter drivers, such as Perez and Massa have a second advantage.
Massa and Perez may be lighter and they may be more commercially friendly, but they are both held in less regard as Hulkenberg as drivers, their inconsistency is obvious and their speed is questionable.
Hulkenberg has to therefore rely purely on his immense talent to get a better seat and if Formula One really is a sport rather than a business, he will seal the deal he clearly deserves.
It was noted in this column a few weeks ago how tricky McLaren’s decision about its drivers is. They have a massive new deal with Honda set for 2015 and the partnership is keen to get the best drivers possible to make the team champions again.
They have openly approached Alonso only to be turned away. However, they are still attempting to sign the double world champion. This makes the decision for their second seat even harder. Should they sign a promising rookie to partner Alonso if he returns or should they nudge aside Jenson Button to start their new era afresh and sign two rookies for next year?
The next month is likely to reveal at least some answers.