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. James Hinchcliffe says he’s good with Ryan Hunter-Reay after Long Beach crash

    Apr 18, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT

    James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay AP

    The two Andretti Autosport drivers appear to have put Sunday’s wreck behind them.

  2. Sometimes, NASCAR media centers become comedy clubs (VIDEO)

    Apr 18, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT

    Matt Kenseth AP

    You can’t say these drivers don’t have a sense of humor.

  3. Formula E’s first two track layouts now revealed

    Apr 18, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT

    GERMANY-AUTOMOBILE-ECONOMY-FAIR-IAA Getty Images

    The second round of the championship in Putrajaya, Malaysia will see drivers contest a short, 1.6-mile street circuit.

  4. Transition back to IndyCar “still hard” for Juan Pablo Montoya

    Apr 18, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT

    Montoya Getty Images

    Two races into his return to open-wheel, the former Indy 500 winner says he’s having a tough time with re-learning tracks.

  5. It’s early yet, but keep these qualifying stats in mind for future IndyCar street races

    Apr 18, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    Long-Beach-Lead Getty Images

    Here’s a look at the grid based on average qualifying positions through 2 races in 2014.

  6. IndyCar drivers mimic their cars, and it’s rather humorous (VIDEO)

    Apr 18, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    Dixon Getty Images

    IndyCar drivers do their best “hey, this is what this sounds like!” imitations.

  7. Porsche, Audi lead Friday practice in WEC opener at Silverstone

    Apr 18, 2014, 1:21 PM EDT

    Lucas Di Grassi, Loic Duval, Tom Kristensen AP

    Two practice sessions begin a new year for the WEC.

  8. F1 engine technology could hinder efforts to improve sound

    Apr 18, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of China - Practice Getty Images

    Making the V6s louder might not be such an easy fix.

  9. Vettel suspects Mercedes of sandbagging during practice

    Apr 18, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT

    Sebastian Vettel AP

    German driver not yet happy with his own performance in China, but his long run pace suggests that a podium finish may be within his reach.

  10. Maldonado brushes off crash and spin in practice

    Apr 18, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of China - Practice Getty Images

    Rookie errors from Lotus driver no big deal, apparently.

  11. Mattiacci determined to turn around Ferrari’s failing season

    Apr 18, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    Marco Mattiacci AP

    Mattiacci thought that job offer was a late April Fools joke at first; says that necessary changes will take place.

  12. Alonso keen on dry qualifying in China

    Apr 18, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT

    Fernando Alonso AP

    Spanish driver puts in an impressive display during practice, but warns that rain could scupper Ferrari’s chances of reaching the podium.

  13. New regulations crucial in Honda’s decision to return to F1

    Apr 18, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT

    Yasuhisa Arai, Senior Managing Officer and Director, Chief Officer of Motorsports, Honda R&D Co. poses at the Honda Motor Co's headquarters in Tokyo Reuters

    Yasuhia Arai reveals some more information about Honda’s decision to return to F1 and the Japanese marque’s plans for the future.

  14. Difficult day in Hamilton’s eyes despite finishing fastest

    Apr 18, 2014, 6:45 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of China - Practice Getty Images

    Hamilton keen on the team correcting handling issues before qualifying tomorrow.

  15. Hamilton recovers in FP2 to edge out Alonso and Rosberg

    Apr 18, 2014, 3:32 AM EDT

    Lewis Hamilton AP

    Mercedes returns to the top of the timesheets, but Ferrari and Alonso are in close company.

  16. WATCH LIVE: Alonso looks to double up in Shanghai

    Apr 18, 2014, 1:45 AM EDT

    Fernando Alonso AP

    Can Mercedes fight back and resume normal service?

  17. Alonso fastest in first practice for Chinese GP

    Apr 17, 2014, 11:32 PM EDT

    Ferrari Formula One driver Fernando Alonso of Spain arrives for a news conference ahead of the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit Reuters

    Spanish driver ends Mercedes streak of first place finishes, but teammate Kimi Raikkonen fails to post a time.

  18. NASCAR AMERICA: Can Gene Haas succeed with an American-based F1 team?

    Apr 17, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT

    NASCAR America

    NBCSN’s Rick Allen and Kyle Petty discuss the expectations for Gene Haas as he looks to start a F1 team. The pair question whether an F1 team can be run successfully out of the United States.

  19. NASCAR AMERICA: Kyle Petty — Some of this year’s top rookies mark changing of the guard in NASCAR

    Apr 17, 2014, 6:51 PM EDT

    nascar america

    NBCSN’s Rick Allen and Kyle Petty discuss the emergence of some of this year’s top rookies on Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America. Petty says it is time for a changing of the guard, as many of today’s most successful drivers are nearing the end of their careers.

Today on NASCAR AMERICA

More from NASCAR America

The new faces of NASCAR

Featured video

Paddock Pass: Inside the Chinese GP
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. J. McMurray (16668)
  2. K. Harvick (5721)
  3. M. McDowell (2928)
  4. C. Edwards (1535)
  5. A. Seuss (1483)
  1. K. Busch (1174)
  2. T. Bayne (1107)
  3. B. Myers (1039)
  4. L. Fleming (998)
  5. J. Bertuccio (989)