November 1st, 2013 (F1plus/B. Ferreira).- Interlagos, November 2010. Amid the intense title battle between Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, the qualifying session to Brazilian GP was dominated by the rookie Nico Hulkenberg, who stormed under tricky conditions to score his maiden pole position.
In a stunning lap, he set a time that was more than a second quicker than everybody else, despite the fact that he was driving a not so competitive Williams-Cosworth package. Impressive.
That was one of the good moments of Hulkenberg’s late 2010 season, as he started to show good performances and to outpace more often his veteran teammate, Rubens Barrichello, in the second half of the campaign.
However, that wasn’t enough for the German to keep his drive. He was dropped by Williams, who recruited the quick Pastor Maldonado and his welcomed sponsors.
Three years later, the situation is about to happen once again. Both drivers have evolved since then (Hulkenberg is one of the most exciting prospects on the grid, and Maldonado, albeit have been through controversial moments, is a respected driver with a victory under his belt), but the Venezuelan might take the seat at Lotus that had seemed to be on Hulk’s hands.
Lotus’ owners have never hid the fact that Hulkenberg is their favorite option to replace Kimi Raikkonen from 2014. Nonetheless, it’s also a fact the team still needs to secure its financial future, and the German isn’t able to help with that.
The long-time expected deal with the investors Quantum Motorsports (formerly known as Infinity Racing) hasn’t been sealed yet and that may jeopardize the team’s future if no other solution is found.
On the other end of the grid, Pastor Maldonado is massively unpleased with Williams’ performances this year. Backed directly by PDVSA, the 2012 Spanish GP winner knows he has a trump in his hands that allows him to fly higher.
That’s why Lotus’ bosses are considering him very seriously as an option, even though the team principal, Eric Boullier, had problems with Maldonado when the Venezuelan drove for his team, DAMS, in F-Renault 3.5 in the 2005 season.
In theory, a lineup formed by Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado doesn’t live up to Lotus’s expectations, especially after two outstanding seasons with Raikkonen.
However, the Franco-Swiss driver remarkably raised his game in the last few races, making impressive statements that he is able to lead the team in 2014. This increases Lotus’ confidence that they will have at least one driver capable to fight for top positions.
Beyond that, even though Maldonado is not the driver with the best skills in the world, it’s a fact that he’s a much better driver than he was in that troublesome 2005 season. He already proved more than once that he can shine whenever he feels comfortable with the car – there are several examples of that from 2012. It’s not just about money.
If Lotus chooses to pick him, it wouldn’t be at all the replay of 2010 season, when Robert Kubica got all the results while Vitaly Petrov failed to deliver. That makes the option for the Venezuelan instead of Hulkenberg pretty much a no-brainer, as there would be some ability coupled with financial guarantees for the medium-term future.
Once again, Maldonado’s path is crossing with Hulkenberg’s, who would probably stay at Sauber or would go back to Force India. It would be shame if Hulk takes a car that isn’t as strong as he is as a driver, but that’s how the business works.
The German did enough in his career to be considered a better driver than the Latin American, especially when he was GP2 champion having Pastor as his teammate at ART. But is not breaking news that in F1 there are factors other than the timesheets that are important, and one more time Hulkenberg may be on the brink to feel that firsthand.