Nico Hulkenberg is one race away from completing his ninth season in Formula One, the highest level of motor racing on the planet. In that time he has amassed 178 race entries, 176 race starts and collected over 500 World Drivers Championship points. Hulkenberg has proven himself, year after year, to be one of the most consistent and reliable drivers on the grid in F1, only finishing on less than 50 WDC points once since his debut season. Yet, despite all of this, he somehow finds himself without a Formula One drive next season.
Earlier this year, somewhat surprisingly, Renault announced that they would be signing Esteban Ocon for the beginning of the 2020 F1 season, with Daniel Ricciardo under contract as his teammate. While the signing was a coup for Renault and could land them with one of the best driver lineups heading into next season, it also felt harsh on Hulkenberg who had led the team for the past three seasons and delivered them some fantastic results – even finishing as ‘best of the rest’ in the previous season’s standings.
As soon as the announcement was made, fans began to speculate where Hulkenburg would land for the 2020 season, certain that he would find another drive. Going to show the esteem and standard to which the fans hold Hulk, there was a vast amount of talk around whether or not he could throw his name into the hat for the vacant Red Bull seat. There was also a lot of talk around a move to Haas, Alfa Romeo and Williams.
Week by week options have thinned and it is now commonly accepted that the German will not be lining up on the grid in Australia next season, and quite frankly, it’s ridiculous.
Hulkenberg without a seat seems wrong
As Sebastian Vettel stated in a recent interview, this is another example of something that is fundamentally wrong with Formula One:
“It’s a strange situation because I’ve known Nico since we raced each other in childhood, the fact that a driver like him doesn’t have a seat is very bitter.
It’s an example of the fact that some things are wrong in Formula 1. I hope he comes back because he has the potential to be here.”
Hulkenberg came into the sport with a better junior career than both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, however he has watched as both men have become multi-time World Champions, while he holds the record for most Formula One races without stepping onto the podium. It is a testament to his ability that he has survived in the cutthroat world of Formula One for nine years, becoming a staple of the midfield teams. He is a driver that would have always made sense for a move up to a big team, but the opportunity never seemed to present itself.
Looking up and down the grid for 2021, there is a vast amount of talent and constant competition for places – someone will always have to lose out – but that person shouldn’t be Nico Hulkenberg. There were some rumours earlier this year that we could see Hulk line up for Haas next season, replacing Romain Grosjean, it was something that I personally never gave much quarter to (Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen have somewhat of a tumultuous relationship, pairing the two would lead to more fireworks that the current Haas drivers).
However the fact that Haas retained either of their drivers this season is a bit of a shock, Hulkenberg would have been an excellent choice to come in and help steady the ship and get the team back on track over the next couple of years, something he has proven time and again that he is very capable of.
Alas, the lone seat remaining on the grid is in the Williams team, for which Hulkenberg started his career, however he has already gone on record to state that: “It looks like, in all honesty, that there is no seat available now.”
When asked about the seat at Williams, during an interview with Sky Sports’ Martin Brundle, Hulkenberg admitted that he wasn’t expecting to hear from his former team:
“I guess it’s not the right seat for me and the timing… I’m not the right person for them to be honest,” Hulkenberg then went on to say:
“I’m not retiring. I love Formula 1, I love what we do here, I love the competition. I can live with it, I think 10 years is a long time and a fair share of Formula 1.
“But for sure I’m going to miss it next year when I have to watch the first race on TV.”
I’m sure I’m not the only fan that is hoping to see Hulk back on the F1 grid as soon as possible, or hoping that he can pull off one last moment on Sunday and finally get to step up onto the podium in F1. Either way it’ll be interesting to see what he does next and both the paddock and fans will certainly wish him all the best along the way.