Dec 2, 2013, 1:00 PM EDT
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.
Oct 2, 2014, 12:05 AM EDT
Graham Rahal ends P19 after a tough season, but he was better than the stats would indicate.
Oct 1, 2014, 11:59 PM EDT
Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens to run in FP1 at Suzuka.
Oct 1, 2014, 11:35 PM EDT
Results and statistics don’t tell the tale for Takuma Sato’s hard-luck 2014 IndyCar season.
Oct 1, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT
Jack Hawksworth overachieved in his first Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Oct 1, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne check in on the Contender round of the new Chase format.
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Jimmie Johnson not a fan of the “under the radar” terminology.
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A P2 penalty issued to No. 20 NASCAR Truck team upheld after appeal.
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Oct 1, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America goes in-depth with all 12 drivers in Round 2 of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, also known as the Contenders Round.
Report: Australian-owned team, driver and sponsor to debut in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2015
Oct 1, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT
While Marcos Ambrose is returning to his native Australia after this season, a new Australian-owned team is set to make its debut in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series next season, complete with an Australian-born driver and Aussie primary sponsor.
Oct 1, 2014, 1:53 PM EDT
Bill Elliott figured real estate would be a good investment many years ago, and did that belief ever pay off for the soon-to-be NASCAR Hall of Famer.
Oct 1, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT
Kawasaki officially announced that reigning supercross champion Ryan Villopoto will head to Europe next year to race the MXGP series. Davi Millsaps and Wil Hahn will replace him on the American Monster Energy Kawasaki team.
Oct 1, 2014, 1:08 PM EDT
He’s reached the fourth round of Dancing With The Stars, but will NASCAR’s Michael Waltrip and partner Emma Slater make it to the fifth round?
Oct 1, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
Jeff Gordon is now just three top-10 finishes away from tying Mark Martin for second most top-10s in a career. And in an ironic twist, Gordon is still seeking his first pole at this Sunday’s race venue, Kansas Motor Speedway.
Oct 1, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT
More details revealed ahead of Honda’s return to F1 in 2015 with McLaren.
Oct 1, 2014, 10:25 AM EDT
Clint Bowyer’s officially a father.
Oct 1, 2014, 10:16 AM EDT
Veteran NASCAR crew chief Mike Ford has joined Athenian Motorsports, the Nationwide Series team announced Wednesday.
Oct 1, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT
Sauber confirms that her testing programme has been scrapped due to “financial reasons”.
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“Driver 88″ discusses his performance issues in the Challenger Round with NASCAR AMERICA’s Rick Allen.
Sep 30, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
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