Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, Suzuka, 2019

Hulkenberg’s F1 hopes fading as Alfa near 2020 decision

2019 Japanese Grand Prix

Posted on

| Written by

Nico Hulkenberg’s chances of remaining on the grid for the 2020 F1 season appear to be fading.

The Renault driver will lose his seat to Esteban Ocon at the end of this year and one of the few remaining seats he could take appears destined for another driver.

Hulkenberg’s connection to Alfa Romeo team principal Frederic Vasseur, who oversaw Hulkenberg’s 2009 GP2 championship triumph at ART and brought him to Renault, has prompted speculation he could join the team in place of Antonio Giovinazzi next year. But speaking in an FIA press conference yesterday, Vasseur highlighted Giovinazzi’s improving form in his first full season of F1.

“We will take the decision quite soon,” said Vasseur. “But honestly, if you have a look at the last event I think that Antonio is doing a very strong job.

“He was matching Kimi [Raikkonen] in the last six or seven qualifyings in a row. He was in front in Sochi. OK, the first lap was not a good one for us but he’s doing the job and he’s improving step-by-step.

“[On Friday] we had an issue on the car and he was not able to show the pace but he’s doing the job, he’s improving and I’m very confident with Antonio.”

Speaking to media on Thursday Hulkenberg admitted there was still “no news” on his future. “So it’s a little bit more of a patience game, so I’ll have to and see a little bit longer.”

However he has not yet begun contemplating life out side F1. “If [I] wasn’t to continue here, after that, honestly I haven’t given [it] that much thought.

“I think, also for me personally, I would take some time to get clarity over what I want, find a new challenge. Of course I will be in some racing car again in the future because that’s what I love doing, it’s my passion. So I think only time will tell what happens.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2020 F1 season

Browse all 2020 F1 season articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

24 comments on “Hulkenberg’s F1 hopes fading as Alfa near 2020 decision”

  1. It would be a travesty if Hulkenberg has to leave F1 unceremoniously. I know people would bring up no podium argument but Heidfeld had podiums but people taunted him for being winless. Maldonado has a win, but people don’t take him seriously. Jacques Villeneuve is a world champion but people think he won it simply because his car was miles ahead of the rest. My point is, some people would keep bringing up points to discredit even the greatest drivers, so Hulk is not going to be an exception. He deserves a shot at the top team to prove himself! Least lucky driver of the current breed.

    1. After so long, it’s rather telling he doesn’t have a podium. He has thrown away a few good chances for one. There is also the rumour that he’s not the easiest to work with. He’s had his chance and blown it and has had enough time now. Riccardo has blown him away at times this year and without a lot of unreliability it would be very one sided.

      New drivers need the opportunity to drive and as such its not a huge loss to remove the old guard to make way for them. Hulkenberg is not top tier so the big teams will not come calling now.

      1. I don’t agree with anything you just said. Hulkenburg has taken opportunities when they were there, like a pole position an a lemans 24hours win and is a top class driver. Age is not an issue, look at Hamilton, the issue is what car you drive in F1 and hulkenburg has never had a great car, but has been a top level driver.

        1. I cannot agree that he’s top class and Le Mans is about the car. That is irrelevant though as we are talking F1, Brendan Hartley did very well in Endurance racing but was nowhere in F1. You’re entitled to have your own opinion though, I know others will not agree with me that he’s had his chances.

        2. On the occasions where it looked likely Hulkenberg could finally end his podium drought he has invariably crashed out. That, or been overtaken by Perez when they were teammates.

        3. I think this site had an article with a rather large number of races listed where he potentially threw away a possible podium by crashing or something else with him to blame. He certainly has missed opportunities. Remembering a couple of crazy races where unexpected drivers got podiums. Baku 2016 with Stroll and Germany this year with Kvyat. Both madness with those drivers simply keeping it clean. Hulkenberg pretty often fails to get a good result when he has a bigger opportunity to get one.

          If in all this time he hasn’t got a single podium in what most of the time has been a decent car, that isn’t very good. Perez has had plenty in a car that is in no way better than the best Hulkenberg has been in. Bottas got several in his Williams days when it was at a smilier level to Force india, especially in 2016. While Perez was getting them several over the hybrid era – and Hulkenberg wasn’t even being in the same car. Kobyashi had one, Maldonado has had a win. Even Grosjean managed one in 2015 and Magnussen the year before. The list of drivers with at least a single podium will keep going.

          Hulkenberg on average is better than a lot of these drivers, but i certainly think it is very poor that he still hasn’t had a podium.

        4. kpcart, whilst Hulkenberg did acquit himself respectably at Le Mans, I do feel your post is underplaying the importance of the two other drivers whom Hulkenberg shared driving duties with in that race.

          It should be noted that the impression in the sportcar press was that, whilst Hulkenberg attracted the most attention, it was actually his team mate Earl Bamber – a veteran factory Porsche driver, both in their GT and their LMP1 cars – who made the biggest contribution towards the No.19 car winning that year.

          It is one of those situations where Hulkenberg certainly has performed solidly, but at the same time he has never quite managed to hit the same peaks that some of his contemporaries have managed to reach.

          The refrain about him not picking up a podium is notable, but I think that it is more than, in the situations where he could have taken a podium, several of those instances slipped out of his grasp because he failed to perform – in Bahrain 2014 he was overtaken and outpaced by Perez during the race, in the 2015 Russian GP (where Perez scored another podium) he crashed out on the opening lap, in Baku 2017 he clipped the barriers and broke his suspension, and in Germany this year he pushed too hard and ended up aquaplaning off the track.

          The other aspect is that, sometimes, it has been difficult to judge where Hulkenberg sits because of the variation in quality of his team mates. In his rookie year in 2010, he was quite solidly beaten by Barrichello; when he came back in 2012, he was being beaten by di Resta for about two thirds of the season, although he did improve noticeably in the final third of the season.

          Whilst 2013 saw him perform decently, it’s hard to get a read of quite how good the car was because he was up against Esteban Gutiérrez, a driver whom many regarded as a low quality pay driver who was also in his rookie season in F1. It is notable that some designers, such as Newey, suggested that Sauber were something of a dark horse that season – Newey later admitted to basically copying some parts off Sauber’s car that season – so, to some extent, some have wondered whether it was more of a case of Gutiérrez performing very badly than Hulkenberg performing brilliantly.

          From 2014 to 2016, when he was at Force India, whilst he initially had the measure of Perez, over time Perez seemed to catch up and eventually overtake Hulkenberg in terms of performance. There were a few who suggested that part of the reason why Hulkenberg left Force India was because some were beginning to question why Hulkenberg seemed to have slipped backwards relative to Perez, and that comparison was causing a bit of damage to his reputation.

          In 2017, he was up against Palmer – a driver whom everybody expected Hulkenberg to beat, and indeed Hulkenberg was largely treated as the leading driver for Renault to build their team around. In 2018, he did face a tougher opponent in the form of Sainz though, and overall Hulkenberg did prevail against him.

          In 2019, at the moment the battle between himself and Ricciardo seems to be tipping in favour of Ricciardo slightly. Hulkenberg has scored points more regularly, but at the same time he’s not managed to pick up those higher placed finishes that Ricciardo has managed on those occasions when the car has been more competitive – it also has to be noted that, just as it has been noted that Hulkenberg beat Sainz despite having more retirements, so Ricciardo is matching Hulkenberg despite having more retirements as well.

          Those performances over the years have perhaps given the impression that, when he’s been in more in the centre of attention of the team, he has tended to perform more strongly – but, when he’s having to share those resources, he’s not shown quite the same peak in performance.

    2. He earned the right to get a good seat, but he doesn’t deserve or entitled for it. Thing is, while he’s without a doubt a good driver, there are simply better overall driver than him for many team bosses to choose from, even if one of the factor is they bring more money.

      Also if I was a team boss, I’d also put him on really low level on my desired drivers list. His 0 podium after all this years is a big warning to me that he might be don’t have “it”, especially since he come close few times and sabotaging himself out, just like German GP this year. Even if it’s not and I’m not a superstitious person myself, but if the best excuse of his 0 podium is “bad luck”, I surely won’t gamble with someone that lady luck really despise. Better off with Sergio Perez (proven podium runner in midfield car), or even Lance Stroll if we go luck route, since he obviously in the good side of the lady.

  2. Sigh … Oh well, at least I’ll have a good excuse to change my avatar to Norris’ helmet, who is actually my favourite driver right now. Silver linings ‘n’ all that.

  3. Never got why he was so highly-rated (by the fans, not the teams). Williams weren’t impressed. When all the fans seemed to want him in a Ferrari after his Sauber year they are said to have ruled him out as they had access to all his data and concluded he simply wasn’t good enough. Perez was fairly comfortably the more impressive driver in their 3 seasons together. Last season he was flattered by Sainz’s mistakes and bad luck and this year he hasn’t fared very well against Ricciardo. Add to that a series of costly mistakes in every race where he could have reached the podium. He’s obviously a good driver but hugely overrated. Giovinazzi is improving rapidly and it would be a shame to see him replaced.

    1. Part of the reason Ferrari didn’t want him for 2014 was because he was too heavy which would heavily impact the way they built their car.

    2. @tflb

      Never got why he was so highly-rated (by the fans, not the teams)

      Not just by the fans, but by fellow drivers as well. You only need to read the comments drivers like Perez, Sainz, Alonso and Palmer have made about him in the past.

      Last season he was flattered by Sainz’s mistakes

      That is just about the most inaccurate statement I’ve read all day. What mistakes, exactly? The only time I remember Sainz making “mistakes” was in GBR (if you can even count his crash with Romain as one) and GER (getting a penalty for some infraction I don’t remember). If anything, Hulkenberg made far more mistakes than Sainz, retired seven times to his teammate’s two, and still beat him comfortably. Even the qualifying gap between them increased over the year…so much for Sainz being “new” to the team and “settling in”, and still doing much in worse in qualy in the second half of the season than he did in the first.

      It’s amazing how a driver’s recent form can colour his past performances.

  4. Deserving a seat
    12th October 2019, 11:31

    It would be a shame if someone as good as Hülkenberg didn’t get a seat.

    Which drivers are better than him? The Ferrari & Mercedes pairs, Verstappen, Ricciardo.
    Which drivers are equal to him? Pérez and Räikkönen.

    He is definitely in the better half of the grid. He is also one of the last gentleman drivers not forcing others wide alongside the likes of RAI.

  5. Nico will be back in 2021 with “Awesome Panthera Marvel Hulk Bonanza Racing” Team – the child of Liberty Media, Netflix and Marvel to “spice up the show with a brand new world-class team”.

    No matter it will be run by clowns and indirectly sponsored by all other teams, who pay their fees.

  6. As a fan, I just don’t want any more articles on Hulkenberg for the rest of the season. It’s obviously unreasonable and not going to happen, but recently, every time any news about Hulkenberg comes out, we’ve got some people harping on about his ‘amazing’ talent and ‘unlucky’ tenure in F1, and then we get a wave of people harping on about how overrated he is and how its time to say bye-bye. Interestingly enough, the latter act like they’re in the minority and have a unique perspective on Hulkenberg, but I don’t know which world they’re living in or whether they’ve been living blind the past few years. It’s just so tiring and so painful to see the same types of comments about him all the damn time.

    “He’s a top driver, but never had a chance in a top car”
    “He’s hugely overrated, 0 podiums and bins it every time he gets a chance.”
    “He’s a top driver, but never had a chance in a top car”
    “He’s hugely overrated, 0 podiums and bins it every time he gets a chance.”
    “He’s a top driver, but never had a chance in a top car”
    “He’s hugely overrated, 0 podiums and bins it every time he gets a chance.”
    “He’s a top driver, but never had a chance in a top car”
    “He’s hugely overrated, 0 podiums and bins it every time he gets a chance.”
    “He’s a top driver, but never had a chance in a top car”
    “He’s hugely overrated, 0 podiums and bins it every time he gets a chance.”

    I just want this to end, but I’m too weak to leave social media and the internet for two months, so I’m stuck in this nightmare. Abu Dhabi can’t come soon enough.

    1. @neutronstar There is a very simple solution. Don’t click on the article. Problem solved.

    2. @neutronstar dude you have issues.

  7. I think Nico is in the unfortunate position of being not quite a top shelf driver but too expensive for mid field teams. He may have done better if he had hired a manager.

  8. It’s the age old problem of not enough seats and too many drivers. With the recent success of Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, all of the teams are interested in younger guys. The big teams are all about promoting talents from other teams affiliated with them, the way Leclerc and Verstappen both may their way into top teams. For anyone else, it is extremely difficult.
    This season in my opinion was the acid test for Nico Hulkenburg. With Daniel Ricciardo joining Renault from Red Bull over the winter, it was an opportunity for Nico to stamp his authority on the team as Renault’s established driver. This did not happen, and I my opinion this has not gone unnoticed.
    It has been speculated in the media that Hulkenburg’s salary is not exactly small, and if that is true, its hardly surprising that teams have walked away. He comes across as a nice fella, and he is a good driver, but this sport is ruthless and has kissed goodbye to many good drivers over the years. When you look at IndyCar’s roster, many of those drivers are either ex F1 drivers or drivers that failed to make F1, for whatever reason. I am not saying they weren’t good enough, but F1 is so hard to get into, especially without the right amount of backing.
    I am sure Hulkenburg will enrich another series, but I think his F1 career is over. Atleast he had the chance in F1, many drivers who had equal or more talent never had the chance.

  9. I hope he stays in F1, I’m rather fond of him. He’s certainly one of those drivers that never seemed to be in a good car at the right time but managed to pull really good things out of a weak package. I think the lack of a podium is bizarre given his talent, but especially in the last few years that’s been more luck than judgement if you’re not driving a top 6 car and I think now he’s so eager to break that he tends to overcook it if the chance arises.

    I think F1 would be weaker without him to be honest. Renault should have kept him.

    1. Ofc it would be weaker, it’s mathematical since he falls in the better half of the grid.

  10. I like him, and I think he deserves a spot on the grid. He doesn’t have a massive cart of cash strapped to his back, yet he’s had a career of almost a decade… he hasn’t lasted this long for no reason.

    Just a shame he’s made his mistakes at unfortunate moments.

  11. The tough answer is that Nico Hulkenberg, like anyone else, doesn’t deserve a seat in F1. It’s a brutal, results-oriented business, and Nico over a decade simply hasn’t delivered the podiums, wins and points expected of him. So no, he doesn’t deserve a seat in F1 next year, even though he’s a very good F1 driver. I think if you gave Stoffel VanDoorne a seat in F1 for a decade he’d produce about the same results.

    Renault management feels it can get at least as good results from Esteban Ocon, the driver who’s taking Hulkenberg’s current seat. In addition, Ocon is only 22 years old, his ceiling is very high, and he’s hungry. Hulkenberg is 30, his ceiling is what it is, and he wants something like $5 million USD a year to drive. Ocon is almost a decade younger and has already equalled Hulkenberg’s F1 achievements. Plus he has miles to go yet.

    If the top teams are winning, and the bottom teams are rebuilding or dying, the midfield is challenging. And there’s nothing in Hulk’s F1 record to say he’s ever going to be anything other than a fat cat producing mediocre points. I’m sorry Nico never got to drive a Ferrari or Red Bull, but neither did Pastor Maldonado–and at least Pastor won the Spanish Grand Prix.

    The good news for Hulkenberg is that he can have his choice of drives in other series—Indy Cars and E series have already come calling. But if he doesn’t like those options he’ll probably have to retire with something like $40 million in the bank, from his F1 career. That’s the difficult hand life deals to people like Nico. He’ll have to learn to live with it.

  12. Seems like a no brainer to keep giovinazi. Hulkenberg has been nothing but mediocre for 10 years in F1. While I think Giovinazi is also mediocre there is still a chance he could be good, while there is none for Hulkenberg. Good riddance.

Comments are closed.