F1 can be a brutal beast, as Daniel Ricciardo’s former teammate Nico Hulkenberg was dumped again despite a history-changing revelation.
F1 can be a brutal beast, as Daniel Ricciardo’s former teammate Nico Hulkenberg was dumped again despite a history-changing revelation.

Brutal reality for F1’s unluckiest driver

F1 outcast Nico Hulkenberg may feel like he was lucky to get a drive over the past two weekends with Racing Point, but life could have been so different for the German driver.

But for one decision, Hulkenberg could have been in contention for the title of Formula One's greatest of all time.

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Hulkenberg was left without a drive last year after Renault opted to go for a team of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon as the driver line up for 2020, before the Aussie decided to take his talents to McLaren in 2021.

Renault have more than moved on from Hulkenberg as well with the return of Fernando Alonso.

Left without a seat, Hulkenberg was brought back in for Racing Point in a car that's been dubbed the "Pink Mercedes" after Mexican driver Sergio Perez tested positive for COVID-19.

But week one was a write off, not even getting to start after the team couldn't get his car started.

At the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix last weekend, Hulkenberg qualified in third - his first top three qualifying in four years - before finishing seventh after late vibration issues.

With Perez returning after a negative COVID test ahead the Spanish Grand Prix, Hulkenberg will be back on the scrap heap.

It has to be frustrating for the driver with the most F1 starts without a podium with Hulkenberg having dominated at every category on the way to the top level of the sport.

 

But following the weekend, F1 managing director Ross Brawn, who was seen as the man behind Michael Schumacher's success as technical director for both Benetton and Ferrari teams before becoming Mercedes principal between November 2009 and 2013, admitted Lewis Hamilton's seemingly unstoppable charge for his Michael Schumacher-equalling seventh world title could have been much different if one key decision had been made.

"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 a column on formula1.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 made the move to Mercedes for the 2013 season and had already been a world champion in the 2008 season with McLaren.

But after finishing fourth in 2013, Hamilton has won every season except for 2016, where he was edged out by teammate Nico Rosberg in the German's only world title.

While of course it's not certain that Hulkenberg would have taken out the same titles as Hamilton, the criticism around the six-time champion has long been that he drives the best car with the team the constructors champions for the past six years with a massive gap to the next best.

At least Hulkenberg got on the track.
At least Hulkenberg got on the track.

Hulkenberg is set to be without a drive again this weekend with Perez eager to return, pending a negative COVID test.

But the 32-year-old could be back in F1 as soon as next season with Alfa Romeo team principal Fred Vasseur seemingly considering bringing Hulkenberg in.

While Vasseur wouldn't commit to signing Hulkenberg, telling the Beyond the Grid podcast that "I need to discuss the point with my shareholders and to know what Kimi wants to do".

Alfa Romeo currently have just two points this season to be just ahead of Williams and Haas with Antonio Giovinazzi and former world champion Kimi Raikkonen on the team.

Hulkenberg admitted he would be interested in returning to F1 with the team.

"I'm very keen to go racing again in Formula 1," Hulkenberg said. "I still love it here, it's my passion. I'm not desperate but I'd certainly love to come back and be racing again. I've been talking to Fred quite frequently in the last few months."

Originally published as Brutal reality for F1's unluckiest driver


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