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. NHRA: ‘Fast Jack’ Beckman earns 5th Funny Car win of 2015; Brown (TF), McGaha (PS), Krawiec (PSM) also win

    Aug 3, 2015, 12:24 AM EDT

    (Photo courtesy NHRA) (Photo courtesy NHRA)

    NHRA Funny Car driver “Fast Jack” Beckman may want to consider changing his nickname to “Faster Jack” because it doesn’t appear he’ll be slowing down anytime soon.

  2. After dream-fulfilling day, Graham Rahal isn’t worried anymore

    Aug 2, 2015, 9:47 PM EDT

    Graham Rahal Graham Rahal

    Sunday’s win fulfilled a lifelong dream for Ohio-native Graham Rahal.

  3. Graham Rahal now trails Montoya by nine points in IndyCar standings

    Aug 2, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT

    Juan Pablo Montoya Juan Pablo Montoya

    Montoyas 42-point lead over Rahal all but disappears in one race.

  4. Karam’s Mid-Ohio spin triggers frustration, skepticism from IndyCar paddock

    Aug 2, 2015, 5:56 PM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    Sage Karam in the crosshairs again after controversial Lap 66 spin at Mid-Ohio.

  5. Justin Wilson finishes second at Mid-Ohio, best result in two years

    Aug 2, 2015, 4:53 PM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    Wilson earns first podium finish since Houston in 2013.

  6. Rahal scores dream win on home soil in Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio

    Aug 2, 2015, 4:02 PM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Quick thinking from Rahal’s strategists allows the Ohio native to storm to his second win of the 2015 season and slice the gap to Montoya in the championship race.

  7. Helio Castroneves leads halfway through the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

    Aug 2, 2015, 3:12 PM EDT

    Castroneves

    Castroneves led at halfway due to off-setting pit strategy.

  8. Lynn hopes GP2 win has put him in running for F1 seat

    Aug 2, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    © GP2 Series © GP2 Series

    Alex Lynn has made an impression during his rookie GP2 season, but can he make the step up to F1 in 2016?

  9. Dennis frustrated by lack of in-season testing in F1

    Aug 2, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 06:  Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of McLaren Group Ron Dennis is seen during qualifying for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 6, 2015 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) Getty Images

    McLaren’s CEO feels the reasons behind limiting in-season testing offer a “false economy”.

  10. WATCH LIVE: Honda Indy 200 at 1:30 p.m. ET on CNBC, Live Extra

    Aug 2, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    Ryan Hunter-Reay AP

    Watch live from Mid-Ohio ahead of the 14th round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

  11. WRC: Latvala claims record-breaking win at Rally Finland

    Aug 2, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    Finnish Volkswagen Polo R WRC driver Jari-Matti Latvala and co-pilot Miikka Anttila drive during the Ouninpohja special stage of the  2015 FIA World Rally Championship WRC Rally Finland in Jyvaeskylae, Finland on July 31, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / LEHTIKUVA / Vesa Moilanen +++ FINLAND OUT        (Photo credit should read VESA MOILANEN/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Latvala wins on home soil for the second time in the WRC with a record-breaking display.

  12. What to watch for: IndyCar at Mid-Ohio (1:30 p.m. ET, CNBC and Live Extra)

    Aug 2, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio - Day 3 Getty Images

    What to watch for ahead of Round 14 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the Honda Indy 200 from the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

  13. Hunter-Reay fastest in final Mid-Ohio warm up despite spinning out

    Aug 2, 2015, 10:24 AM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Hunter-Reay finishes on top ahead of Helio Castroneves and Jack Hawksworth despite crashing his car.

  14. Reports: Monza closing in on new F1 contract

    Aug 2, 2015, 9:35 AM EDT

    MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 07:  Fan leave the circuit following the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 7, 2014 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The Italian Grand Prix looks set to remain at Monza beyond 2016 thanks to a tax-free investment from the Italian government.

  15. MRTI, PWC at Mid-Ohio: Several different winners emerge

    Aug 1, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT

    Photo: @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography Photo: @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

    Mazda Road to Indy and Pirelli World Challenge race updates from Mid-Ohio as they happen on one of the busiest road racing days of the year.

  16. Wehrlein takes lead of DTM championship in Austria

    Aug 1, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - MAY 03:  Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Mercedes HWA looks on prior to the second race of the DTM 2015 German Touring Car Championship at Hockenheimring on May 3, 2015 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Mercedes F1 reserve driver finishes second at the Red Bull Ring to move into the lead of the DTM championship.

  17. Cole Custer sails to first career ARCA win at Pocono, 9th first-time winner in series in 2015

    Aug 1, 2015, 4:46 PM EDT

    cole custer Getty Images

    In his third career start in the ARCA Racing Series, Cole Custer breezed to victory in Saturday’s ModSpace 125 at Pocono Raceway.

  18. Dixon crushes lap record to score pole in Mid-Ohio (VIDEO)

    Aug 1, 2015, 4:21 PM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Dixon blisters previous mark for the track record at Mid-Ohio.