Nico Hulkenberg was Mercedes’ “next choice” after Lewis Hamilton to join its Formula 1 programme ahead of the start of the hybrid era, former team boss Ross Brawn has revealed.
Writing in his customary post-race column in his capacity as F1’s sporting chief, Brawn was highly complimentary of Hulkenberg’s performance as stand-in for Racing Point’s Sergio Perez in the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Returning from the sidelines after he’d lost his Renault drive at the end of 2019, Hulkenberg outqualified regular Racing Point driver Lance Stroll in the second Silverstone weekend, and was on course to finish within the top five before a late pitstop brought on by tyre vibrations dropped him to seventh.
“It was going to be an incredible physical challenge for Nico Hulkenberg and I don’t know how much he hurt at the end of the race, but it was great performance all weekend by someone who had just been dropped in the deep end,” Brawn wrote in his column for F1.com.
“I almost signed him years ago, when I was in charge at Mercedes. If Lewis hadn’t joined Mercedes when he did, Nico was our next choice.
“I’ve always respected Nico enormously as a driver. He’s a very strong driver who should be in Formula 1.”
Hamilton replaced seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher at Mercedes in 2013 in a surprise switch from McLaren, which would pay off handsomely over the hybrid era as he scored five drivers’ titles for the team so far.
It is believed Mercedes would’ve been willing to continue with Schumacher had it failed in landing Hamilton as team-mate to Nico Rosberg.
Brawn’s comments, however, make it clear that Hulkenberg was a viable option too, having made his return to F1 in 2012 after a one-year absence and impressed at Force India, seeing off the Mercedes-linked Paul di Resta as his team-mate.
Hulkenberg ultimately went to Sauber for 2013.
Brawn departed Mercedes at the end of the 2013 season, and only returned to the championship in a prominent governance role in 2017.
His post-70th Anniversary GP column also featured a comment on the Racing Point protest controversy, with the stewards’ recent verdict leading as many as five F1 teams to declare their intention to appeal.
“The controversy surrounding Racing Point is a classic aspect of Formula 1’s rich tapestry,” Brawn wrote.
“There are clearly strong feelings all round. We will just have to let the process play out and trust in the judgement of the Court of Appeal.”
The Race says
– Mark Hughes
2012 was the final year of Michael Schumacher’s three-year comeback contract. It was probably also the strongest of those three seasons.
Ross Brawn and Mercedes had sounded him out about continuing with another three-year contract. At 42 years old he was unsure whether he wanted to commit that long.
At the same time Brawn was sounding out whether Hamilton might be interested in joining.
When Schumacher found out that Hamilton was in the picture, he bowed out and announced his retirement.
At this point Hamilton had still not committed, though, and it was at this point that Hulkenberg came into the picture. He was the insurance against Hamilton staying put at McLaren as Schumacher retired.