Skip to content

Hulkenberg’s lack of promotion emblematic of F1’s midfield struggle to advance

Dec 2, 2013, 1:00 PM EDT

F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain - Practice Getty Images

It seems unfathomable that another Formula One silly season will come to pass without Nico Hulkenberg making the jump from a midfield squad to a perennial contender, but with Pastor Maldonado having been confirmed at Lotus on Friday, that appears to be the case.

Still, with three full seasons complete at three different teams –Hulkenberg has never raced for the same team in successive seasons – it does beg the question whether there is something abnormal at play.

Or, alternatively, Hulkenberg could just be the latest talented midfield driver who appears perpetually stuck there. It’s just that Ferrari, McLaren and Lotus would seem to have had their chance to secure his services in the last two years, and have gone different directions.

Hulkenberg was dumped by Williams after his rookie campaign in 2010, incidentally, for Maldonado. That led to a year’s testing with Force India before a race seat in 2012. Again, he outperformed Paul di Resta, and was thanked with a pink slip before switching laterally to Sauber for 2013. But his bridge may be burned there because of his wanting to investigate his options with other teams, and Lotus has now gone for Maldonado’s millions instead of talent. Hulkenberg has scored points in 28 of 58 career races (48.28 percent), while Maldonado is just 7/58 (12.07%).

The Williams and Lotus situations were understandable purely from a financial standpoint, but Hulkenberg’s being passed over by McLaren – twice – and Ferrari is very strange when you consider he’d be worth the long-term investment from both a points-scoring standpoint and a potential team leader standpoint.

McLaren went with Sergio Perez first, and now rookie Kevin Magnussen, for 2014. The Magnussen move makes sense because he’s a McLaren Junior driver and has excelled in his simulator work and first two F1 tests. If he progresses as quickly as the team expects, they’ll have made a wise choice. Additionally, McLaren didn’t have anywhere to place him among teams which they might share a technical partnership, so that opened the door at the iconic team itself.

Ferrari is more puzzling. No one doubt’s Kimi Raikkonen’s ability or his laconic, “don’t give a-you-know-what” attitude. What one would doubt is Ferrari investing in its future, and while Raikkonen is an excellent short-term prospect for the next two or three years, Ferrari may have missed its shot at bringing Hulkenberg in and, crucially, keeping him away from other squads that could hurt them in the future.

Ferrari though has rarely gone the “bold” route on the driver front. They’ve largely stuck by “their guys,” and it was a theory that cost them dearly when neither Luca Badoer nor Giancarlo Fisichella was able to get anything out of the car in substitute roles in 2009. Felipe Massa, for all the good he did for Ferrari, had dented confidence after the 2010 German Grand Prix fiasco and was never able to regain the consistent spark or form he showed in his first three seasons with the team.

The relative stagnation for the top teams in the driver market, though, has meant that we haven’t seen the same number of young talents rise from the midfield into a top seat. Red Bull, when given the opportunity, has promoted from within: Sebastian Vettel and now Daniel Ricciardo are Toro Rosso graduates making the leap to the “Mothership.” And Ricciardo jumped from HRT to Toro Rosso to begin with; that’s not exactly going from Sauber to Ferrari.

Other than Maldonado and Perez, you’d have to go back to Nico Rosberg, moving from Williams to Mercedes in 2010, as the last real example of a midfield driver moving up to an opportunity in a top squad. And even in that case, Williams has a historic pedigree, but isn’t what you would call a “tail-ender” of a team. Prior to that, you could argue Mark Webber going from Jaguar to Williams before 2005 was the last real “midfield to top” jump.

Consider Alonso started with Minardi in 2001. Raikkonen and Massa began with Sauber in 2001 and 2002, respectively. And that’s really it for the current grid as far as “midfield drivers advancing into top teams later in their careers.”

Lewis Hamilton? Nurtured by McLaren, now with Mercedes. Jenson Button never really raced with a “midfield team,” but did race with Benetton/Renault and BAR/Honda when they weren’t great. Romain Grosjean’s been with Lotus in two different guises. Meanwhile Red Bull has its factory of four drivers on the 2014 grid. But Hulkenberg? Di Resta? Adrian Sutil? Perez again? All resigned to the midfield, it seems.

Few would argue Hulkenberg, along with Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Marussia’s Jules Bianchi are the “stars-in-waiting” of F1’s new generation of drivers that have already proven themselves in less than top machinery. But until they get their shot at the big teams, we can only imagine what they could do.

On the bright side, at least these drivers have made it into F1 without needing huge commercial budgets. Meanwhile drivers like Sam Bird, Robin Frijns, Luca Filippi, Davide Valsecchi, Fabio Leimer and Luiz Razia appear to have had their F1 chance pass them by.

Latest Posts
  1. Honda unveils new 2015 Accord safety car

    Apr 24, 2015, 9:11 PM EDT

    Photo: Honda Photo: Honda

    Honda takes the wraps off the new Accord safety car.

  2. Indy Lights: Pigot powers to pole in Barber

    Apr 24, 2015, 9:02 PM EDT

    Photo: Indy Lights Photo: Indy Lights

    Pigot scores his first Indy Lights pole at Barber.

  3. Formula E: Di Grassi anticipating “massive” Monaco ePrix

    Apr 24, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT

    AUTO-FORMULAE-URU-RACE Getty Images

    Formula E’s championship leader looks ahead to his adopted home race in Monaco on May 9.

  4. Palmer comfortable in Lotus reserve role after FP1 run-outs

    Apr 24, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of China - Practice Getty Images

    2014 GP2 champion reflects on the opening four races of the year with Lotus.

  5. WSR: Comtec pulls out of first Formula Renault 3.5 round, parts company with Regalia after three days

    Apr 24, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    © GP2 Series © GP2 Series

    Grid falls to 20 cars for the Formula Renault 3.5 opener in Spain this weekend.

  6. Report: Indian government recognizes national motorsport federation, aiding F1 hopes

    Apr 24, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of India - Race Getty Images

    The Indian Grand Prix was last held in 2013 at the Buddh International Circuit.

  7. WEC: Rene Rast looking forward to LMP1 debut with Audi

    Apr 24, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT

    Blancpain GT Sprint Series - Brands Hatch Getty Images

    Audi and Porsche will field three cars for the next two races of the FIA World Endurance Championship.

  8. Horner: Newey still highly influential at Red Bull

    Apr 24, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain - Qualifying Getty Images

    Red Bull has made a slow start to the 2015 season due to a variety of problems with the RB11 car.

  9. Maldonado upbeat ahead of F1’s European leg

    Apr 24, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-F1-ESP-TEST Getty Images

    Venezuelan driver currently bottom of the table after just one finish in four races.

  10. Preview: Barber marks end of IndyCar’s first quarter of 2015 (VIDEO)

    Apr 24, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT

    Barber Getty Images

    To reference the Smashing Pumpkins, Barber is the beginning of the end of the beginning for IndyCar 2015.

  11. Mazda Road to Indy: Andretti down to one driver in Indy Lights

    Apr 23, 2015, 7:50 PM EDT

    ShelbyBlackstock

    Andretti Autosport’s Mazda Road to Indy program goes to Barber Motorsports Park with one less Indy Lights entry.

  12. Graham Rahal hopes to build on consistent 2015 at Barber

    Apr 23, 2015, 6:38 PM EDT

    Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Getty Images

    Graham Rahal aims to continue consistent success of one-car team at Barber Motorsports Park.

  13. Ryan Hunter-Reay looks to right 2015 season by completing winning trilogy at Barber Motorsports Park

    Apr 23, 2015, 5:05 PM EDT

    Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Getty Images

    Ryan Hunter-Reay looks to turn season around at track he’s won last two races at.

  14. Formula E set for a full house at Monaco as tickets sell out

    Apr 23, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    Nelson Piquet Jr. AP

    For a series that is in its inaugural year, Formula E is having little trouble in getting fans through the gate as it prepares to hit European shores for the first time.

  15. As GP2 turns 10 years old, where is the Class of ’05 now?

    Apr 23, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    © GP2 Series © GP2 Series

    Luke Smith takes a look at the humble beginnings of what has turned into F1’s most prolific supplier of drivers, and takes a look at where the 2005 grid is now.

  16. GP3: Pal Varhaug quickest in final pre-season test

    Apr 23, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    © GP3 Series © GP3 Series

    The new GP3 season kicks off in support of the Spanish Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

  17. Steve Torrence NHRA Team aligns with Chris Kyle Frog Foundation

    Apr 23, 2015, 2:21 PM EDT

    NHRA team joins forces with non-profit dedicated to Chris Kyle

  18. Lotus to conduct filming day at Brands Hatch next week

    Apr 23, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain - Qualifying Getty Images

    F1 to return to the former host of the British and European Grands Prix for one day only.

  19. Bottas confident Williams can cut gap to Mercedes and Ferrari

    Apr 23, 2015, 12:20 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain Getty Images

    Finnish driver believes that Williams’ upgrade package for the Spanish Grand Prix will draw it closer to Mercedes and Ferrari at the front.

  20. Vettel becomes patron of new German F4 championship

    Apr 23, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT

    Australian F1 Grand Prix Getty Images

    Vettel pays homage to where it all started for him at the bottom of the single seater ladder in Germany.