Racing Point stand-in Nico Hulkenberg says he has been in talks with Formula 1 teams about a possible 2021 drive, but made clear he has nothing in place yet.
Hulkenberg was left on the sidelines this season when Renault opted to sign Esteban Ocon in his place, but was called up by Racing Point for last weekend’s British Grand Prix after regular driver Sergio Perez tested positive for COVID-19.
He is on standby at Silverstone this weekend and will continue to drive for Racing Point if Perez tests positive again.
But with Perez’s test result pending, if the Mexican is found to be clear of COVID then Hulkenberg will not return.
The 32-year-old confirmed talks, with Haas and Alfa Romeo among the teams that would be interested in him (see below), although he said he has not considered his plans should no opportunities arise in F1.
“I’ve been in contact with quite a few people from the Formula 1 industry, team principals because obviously we all know each other, some just casual chat, some is just more about the future,” said Hulkenberg.
“Team principals don’t just look at one event, a one-off, especially when it’s under these circumstances” :: Nico Hulkenberg
“Definitely in discussions and talks there, but nothing to say concrete there yet.
“I guess it’s still a matter of a couple weeks before things will get a bit more concrete and firm.
“If not F1, to be honest, that is not so clear in my mind either. I’ll take one step at a time, and see how things roll and which way they’re going in a couple of weeks’ time.”
When asked by The Race how important it was to have the chance this weekend to race in order to strengthen his case for a race seat next year, Hulkenberg downplayed the need.
Having raced in F1 since 2010 and started a total of 177 grands prix, he believes his record stands for itself despite the value of reminding people with a good finish.
“If you have a strong result, it’s always good advertisement, but that stands always and that’s valid all the time,” said Hulkenberg.
“But I think people and especially team principals don’t just look at one event, a one-off, especially when it’s under these circumstances.
“Of course it would be good, and I’d love to have a great race if I’m in the car.
“I just want to be a good replacement, help the team as much as I can, and contribute during the race weekend.
“The rest will sort itself out later, and is kind of a separate matter.”
Hulkenberg missed last Sunday’s race thanks to a broken bolt from the clutch housing settling in a place that prevented the engine being fired up.
With uncertainty surrounding whether he will get a second chance this weekend, he admitted it would be a disappointment if he doesn’t get another run.
“Obviously that would be somewhat disappointing, after having been back in the car and getting a taste of it,” said Hulkenberg.
“But obviously it was always clear that I’d come in as a temporary replacement for Checo. Not knowing if it’s one race, two races, he’s the main driver and whenever he’s good to race again, he’ll be back.”
HULKENBERG’S POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITIES
Haas took serious interest in the possibility of signing Nico Hulkenberg for this season before deciding for the more cost-effective move of keeping hold of Romain Grosjean.
With neither of its current drivers Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen confirmed for next season and the team historically keen to have drivers with experience, Hulkenberg is a serious contender for a seat next year.
Had Kimi Raikkonen not been signed up to the team on a two-year deal, Hulkenberg would likely have found his way to the Sauber-run squad for this season.
With Raikkonen expected not to be kept on for next year, Hulkenberg will appeal to team principal Frederic Vasseur, whose ART squad ran the German to title success both in F3 EuroSeries and GP2.
Hulkenberg is only a wild outside contender for this, but should Red Bull decide neither Alex Albon nor any of its other young drivers fits the bill, Hulkenberg would be an obvious choice.
His experience and pace, combined with having a good relationship with Max Verstappen, means he could slot in and do a job for the team in the desperately unlikely event it decides to go outside the family.
Hulkenberg is likely to be at the front of the queue should anyone else require a stand-in driver this season and with the COVID-19 pandemic still likely to impact F1 in 2021, he could remain valuable next season even without a race drive.
The question is whether Hulkenberg will be prepared to sign up as a reserve for a long-term stint, or if he only sees a race seat as a viable choice?