As the entire F1 paddock is still reeling from the knockout punch delivered by Vettel and Red Bull during the Singapore Grand prix, it was the minor stories which took the headlines. Some people booing Vettel on the podium and Webber’s taxi ride on Alonso’s Ferrari… who cares! I promise, I will NOT get into that malarkey and try to steer the debate back towards the real serious stuff: Silly season of course!
Almost as soon as the initial fervor about Raikkonen’s return to Ferrari had died down, all eyes turned to the next piece in the 2014 driver market domino set: the now vacant Lotus seat, and the first name that popped up was Nico Hulkenberg.
Now Nico’s career is a bit of a conundrum. Year on year he has delivered those special kind of performances which would normally set off alarm bells at any major F1 team to pick him up, yet he is still mired in the midfield. After a pole in his rookie year in an uncompetitive car and a respectable showing overall against Barrichello, he was dropped for some Venezuelan petrodollars. Last year, he missed out on Lewis Hamilton’s vacant Mclaren seat to the Telmex money of Sergio Perez. This year, he was tantalizingly close to a Ferrari seat until Maranello decided to clutch its lost son Kimi back to its bosom.
Since he missed out on a top drive last year, he figured the logical thing to do would be to look for the next best car, but the Sauber turned out to be a dog while his former Force India became a genuine top 5 contender – at least in the beginning of the season.
Having missed out on a top drive again for 2014, one would assume that once more he’d be looking to at least move one more step up and jump ship to a more competitive team, and at first glance that would be the now vacant Lotus seat next to Grosjean, who will probably be retained unless he tries to kill world champions again before the season is over.
But here’s the rub: nobody knows what the balance of power will be in 2014. Why does everyone seem to assume that the Lotus is going to be a competitive package next year? Is it better to end up with a Merc engine? A Renault? A Ferrari? Will Newey be able to work his chassis magic or will it be all about the engine? Even the best placed insiders do not really know how things will pan out.
The Lotus seat would look like a tasty prospect indeed; after all they have been genuine podium contenders throughout the year. But Kimi has left because they would not pay him on time, and rumors about the team’s dire financial straits just won’t die down. Aside from their star driver Kimi , they have lost several key senior figures over the past few months, people who would have been leading the 2014 car development. Lastly, a deal with Infinity has been announced long ago but has still not materialized.
At this key moment in the development race for 2014, all these elements combined do not bode well for Lotus F1 teams’ financial future and competitiveness next season. I believe they are even the only team left to not have finalized an engine deal for next year! As the former Renault works team, that must sting a bit. While there are rumors of a Renault buy-in of their old Enstone based team, a recent autosport article pretty much ruled that option out as well.
Should we really be rooting for Hulkenberg to go to Lotus? Would he not be better off to sign another one year deal with Sauber, and keep that Ferrari link intact just in case the Kimi and Alonso relationship blows up next year? Would it not be better to choose continuity for once, and show he team he is working with some faith? Of course Sauber has also had its share of financial troubles this year, having had to resort to dubious Russian money and a teenage pay driver (talented as he may be) to secure their future on the grid. But with the Russian money secure (supposedly), who is to say Sauber will not be able to build a nifty car next year? Surely they would recognize the value of continuity by keeping the hulk, and after four seasons in F1, he should have the experience to lead the team as well. It can also boost his CV if he can show to be a true team leader, not just an opportunist who jumps ship every year as soon as something supposedly better arrives.
Going to Lotus or staying at Sauber, either choice is a bit of a gamble considering next year’s sweeping regulation changes, but I for one do not assume that the Lotus seat will necessarily be more competitive next year and believe it is best for the Hulk to show he can truly lead a team at Sauber.
In the end too many variables are at play to determine the 2014 running order and it’s up to Hulkenberg to roll the dice again… With his luck he’ll probably end up in the gutter no matter which ride he ends up with.
What do you think? Should he stay at Sauber? Go to Lotus? Chase another drive perhaps?