The 2014 F1 silly season has made a premature debut with rumors surrounding Nico Hulkenberg. The young German signed for the Sauber team for 2013 after a successful year in Force India in 2012. While many in the paddock have criticized the German for side-stepping through the field, the move might not be disadvantageous.
If you compare the performances between both the Sauber and Force India teams last year, Sauber did a lot of their scoring in the first half of the season, with Force India doing most of theirs in the second half. The Sauber, last year, was regarded as the superior car of the two, even though results often didn’t correspond with that theory.
With this fact in mind, the results Nico achieved in 2012 were frankly remarkable. As I write this, I have the Brazilian Grand Prix playing in the background on TV (I couldn’t bring myself to delete the recording). If there was ever a race in 2012 where a driver was robbed of a win, it was this one. Had the safety car not come out, I am positive Nico would have had the capacity to keep Button behind for the win. The car, however, might not have been up to scratch to fight the Mclaren, but that is why I said ‘driver’ instead of ‘team’. Nico was capable of the win, even when the car wasn’t.
Back to Nico’s move. When you consider the results he achieved in an ‘inferior’ car, the potential results in a superior car are tantalizing. The consistency between the 2012 and 2013 regulations gives Sauber an opportunity to stay at the front if the grid and challenge for the wins again, but with an even better driver (yes, I think Nico is better than Sergio), the possibilities seem endless.
Now, how does Red Bull fit into all of this? Helmet Marko has made some noise recently that Hulkenberg could be a possible replacement for Webber if he retires after 2013. News that Nico was in the list for Red Bull’s junior team suggests they have always had an eye on the young German. With Webber’s retirement imminent, could we see two Germans dominating the sport?
Complicating this matter is the fact that Nico has already been tipped as Massa’s replacement in 2014. Both moves are entirely possible and reasonable for each team. However, each team will lose out in one way or another regardless of where Nico goes.
The driver market has almost the same unpredictability as the racing in 2012. Drivers have so many options for moves, while others have no other option but to make a silent and inconspicuous exit from the highest level of motorsport. These moves all have their benefits and pitfalls for teams up and down the grid.
Lets say Nico goes to Red Bull in 2014. This opens up a spot at Sauber, most likely for 2012 WSR champion, Robin Frijns. This also leaves Ferrari in a pickle. With Nico at Red Bull, Ferrari has to decide whether to keep Massa for one or two more years while a young gun is groomed for the Scuderia, or to take an unpolished, young gun to the team and gamble with his talent right away. The first option seems more likely, with possible 2013 Force India driver, Jules Bianchi being most likely to take the Ferrari seat given his ties to the team through its young driver academy. Unfortunately, Ferrari doesn’t really want to keep Massa for much longer, but it also doesn’t like to take huge gambles with drivers either. One only needs to look at their reluctance to sign Perez for 2013, and Mclaren’s eagerness to sign him as evidence to this. If Nico goes to Red Bull, Ferrari loses out.
Now, lets say Nico goes to Ferrari in 2014. The Sauber seat will probably go to the same driver, Frijns, with Webber still most likely retiring. With an empty seat at Red Bull, the Milton Keynes squad will need to fill the open spot with either Jean Eric Vergne or Daniel Ricciardo. While both of these drivers are good, I do not believe they are up to Red Bull standards. Maybe they will be in 2014, maybe not. If they are, then I have no objections to one of them going to Red Bull. If they aren’t, though, then it’s hard to see who would fill the seat. They might even make Mark stay in F1 until they find someone, but Mark won’t take any of that from Red Bull.
So, either move that Nico makes will have implications for several teams up and down the grid. But who knows? Maybe Nico will spend the Rest of his formula one career bringing Sauber up to the front if the grid. This is entirely possible. Such is the unpredictability of the driver market.