October 24, 2019, 1:04

F1 2020 driver market: What now for Nico Hulkenberg?

F1 2020 driver market: What now for Nico Hulkenberg?

Just five seats are now left open on the Formula 1 grid for 2020 after Haas confirmed that their existing pairing of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen would be staying in tandem for another season.

Although Magnussen already had a contract in place for next year, strong speculation had suggested that Renault exile Nico Hulkenberg was in line to replace Grosjean – yet, despite Haas holding talks with the German, it’s the Frenchman who keeps the seat.

So what now for Hulk, one of F1’s most experienced campaigners, and what will happen with the other four seats still without a driver for next year?

Will Hulkenberg stay in F1?

From looking likely to stay on at Renault several months ago, Hulkenberg’s Formula 1 future is now precarious.

First came the news at Spa three weeks ago that his current team were replacing him with Esteban Ocon and now, at the start of the Singapore weekend, came confirmation that there was no room at the Haas Inn either.

“During the summer break things changed for whatever reason. Now it is of course a bit more out of my hands and there are decisions I can’t have full influence over and I can’t steer. I’m still here and I think there’s still hope – and there are still options.”

  • Grosjean, Magnussen staying at Haas
  • Kubica to leave Williams
  • F1 2020 dates and line-ups

Hulkenberg underlined that “my head is very much here still” in F1 and he had not yet given serious consideration to options which he believes are outside of the world championship.

The German, 32, is as experienced and reliable as they come outside of the grid’s established top bracket (170 starts and 91 points finishes), although his wait for a first podium appearance has continued to dog his career.

Indeed, asked to describe his own racing attributes, Hulkenberg said he was “a fast race driver” and “consistent”, while pointing out that he now had 10 years’ worth of experience at the top level.

But, while he wants to stay on, it’s clear that he won’t stick around at any cost.

“For me, it needs to be a good deal, a good seat, with a good prospective as well. I don’t want to just stay desperately in Formula 1. That’s not my style, that’s not what I’m looking for. After 10 years in Formula 1 that’s not what I’m after,” added Hulkenberg.

The expected 2020 F1 driver line-ups

Mercedes Lewis Hamilton Valtteri Bottas
Ferrari Sebastian Vettel Charles Leclerc
Red Bull Max Verstappen TBC
McLaren Carlos Sainz Lando Norris
Toro Rosso TBC TBC
Renault Daniel Ricciardo Esteban Ocon
Racing Point Sergio Perez Lance Stroll
Alfa Romeo Kimi Raikkonen TBC
Haas Romain Grosjean Kevin Magnussen
Williams George Russell TBC

Could Hulk return to one of his old teams?

Two of the other four open seats on the 2020 grid are at teams where Hulkenberg raced earlier in his career, Williams and Alfa Romeo.

Williams is where the then-22-year-old started out in 2010 and news from Robert Kubica in Singapore means there is definitely one seat open at Grove for 2020 as it stands, although the team are currently propping up the grid.

“We’ve seen various teams in the past in Formula 1 who have difficult times who recover in time,” said Hulkenberg. “It’s very difficult to predict a team’s competitiveness.”

In any case, Williams’ current reserve driver, Nicholas Latifi, appears the front-runner to partner George Russell next season.

1:31 Lewis Hamilton says he would like to see Robert Kubica competing in the sport next season, after the Williams driver announced he was leaving the team

So what about Alfa Romeo?

Hulkenberg was once at Hinwil too – when the team were still known as Sauber in 2013 – and they currently present a more competitive proposition than Williams.

Kimi Raikkonen has another year on his contract, while Ferrari junior Antonio Giovinazzi is still considered a strong bet to take the second seat. The Italian said in Singapore that while he doesn’t yet have a signed contract, he is hopeful of another year.

“There’s not so much I can say right now but it’s kind of obvious,” said Hulkenberg of his remaining chances. “You can see what’s available out there and what’s not, and you can take your conclusions from there. We’ll see what happens.”

What will Red Bull do?

Of the five seats left open, three are under the control of Red Bull. One is next to Max Verstappen at the senior team, while the other two are at junior outfit Toro Rosso.

After the squad’s summer-break reshuffle, the second Red Bull seat is currently occupied by Alex Albon, while Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly are in position at Toro Rosso.

Christian Horner has indicated all three drivers are still in the running to partner Verstappen in 2020 and that it’s unlikely that the Dutchman’s team-mate for next season will come from outside that trio.

“That’s the pool we’re looking at,” Horner told Sky F1 at Spa. “Obviously it depends what happens in the next few races but ideally we’re going to be looking at that pool of three.”

2:12 Simon Lazenby and Martin Brundle look ahead to this weekend's Singapore GP on the Marina Bay street circuit

Ironically, Hulkenberg had been linked with the seat for 2020 before both his Renault exit and Gasly’s demotion were confirmed.

“I wouldn’t say no to that car, so I guess you’d have to take it!” said Hulkenberg when asked on Thursday whether he’d want to partner Verstappen. “It would obviously be a big challenge. Max is a killer and he’s one of the fastest.”

Does Hulkenberg have a chance? Never say never in F1, but Albon’s early promise in his first two races in the seat suggests he currently is the man most likely.

Sourse: skysports.com

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