Dec 2, 2013, 1:00 PM EST
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.
Nov 24, 2014, 2:33 PM EST
The nine-time World Rally Champion is now a full-time touring car racer, but will help kick off the 2015 WRC campaign for Citroen.
Nov 24, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
Hunter-Reay’s face on the Borg-Warner Trophy set for December 3 reveal.
Nov 24, 2014, 1:15 PM EST
IndyCar gets in on the Odell Beckham Jr. meme game, and it’s a good one.
Nov 24, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
Patrick Dempsey presenting and Brantley Gilbert winning makes for two racing tie-ins in a music show.
Nov 24, 2014, 12:15 PM EST
Hammer Time in Abu Dhabi; Bird was the word for Formula E in Malaysia; a look at the NASCAR beat…
Nov 24, 2014, 11:45 AM EST
Lineups set for this week’s Abu Dhabi test.
Nov 24, 2014, 11:09 AM EST
Jordan and Ricky Taylor drop their latest.
Nov 24, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Frances busy with charitable efforts during and after the NASCAR season.
Nov 24, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
Danica Patrick will be in another GoDaddy ad, with an intriguing guest star.
Nov 24, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez the only drivers to benefit from double points in Abu Dhabi.
Nov 24, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
However, simply getting to the race must go down as an achievement for the backmarkers.
Nov 24, 2014, 8:13 AM EST
Mattiacci out, Arrivabene in as Ferrari team principal.
Nov 24, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
Gutierrez finishes as the lead Sauber in a lowly 15th place on Sunday.
Nov 23, 2014, 6:10 PM EST
The world of motorsports — particularly NASCAR and NHRA — is mourning arguably the best public relations person it has ever seen, Denny Darnell, who passed away Saturday.
Nov 23, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
The Charlotte and Texas brawls from this year’s Chase are still resonating weeks after they occurred.
Nov 23, 2014, 5:17 PM EST
Marcos Ambrose is wasting little time in his return to racing V8 Supercars in his native Australia.
Nov 23, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
A wild concept collaboration for Gran Turismo 6 between the Bowtie and famous race car builder Chaparral.
Petty’s 1988 Daytona wreck sold as prelude to upcoming auction of NASCAR Hall of Famer Cotton Owens estate
Nov 23, 2014, 3:53 PM EST
The remains of Richard Petty’s crashed 1988 Pontiac Grand Prix from the 1988 Daytona 500 sold Saturday, a prelude of an even larger auction of late NASCAR Hall of Famer Cotton Owens’ estate on Dec. 6.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:30 PM EST
This weekend is the first without a NASCAR race since mid-July.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
For the last time in 2014, we round up all of the action in the paddock as Lewis Hamilton became Formula 1 world champion for the second time.
Video from NASCAR America
- Weekend wrap: Lewis Hamilton back on top of the F1 mountain 1
- Maurizio Arrivabene replaces Marco Mattiacci as Ferrari team principal 4
- Abu Dhabi GP Paddock Notebook – Sunday 0
- Hamilton calls second title victory “the greatest day of my life” 3
- Hamilton clinches second F1 world title by winning Abu Dhabi GP 10
- The Final Showdown: Hamilton and Rosberg prepare for one final battle in Abu Dhabi 0
- Vettel and Ricciardo to start Abu Dhabi GP from pit lane 0