October 30th, 2013 (F1plus/GMM).- Nico Hulkenberg looks set to miss out on the Lotus race seat for 2014.
Team boss Eric Boullier has admitted the German is his preferred choice to replace Kimi Raikkonen.
But, because Hulkenberg is basically unsponsored, an actual paid deal between the 26-year-old and the Enstone based team has been pending the sale of a 35 per cent stake in Lotus to a group of investors known as Quantum.
It seems the deal may have fallen over.
Germany's Auto Motor und Sport said Pastor Maldonado, whose lucrative Venezuelan backers PDVSA have been negotiating their exit from Williams, has leapt to the front of the queue to replace Raikkonen.
"Some say the deal is now done," said correspondent Michael Schmidt.
Schmidt said Williams, who would be compensated by PDVSA for ending the contract, is likely to replace Maldonado with Ferrari refugee Felipe Massa, who is said to be backed by the Brazilian oil company Petrobras.
It is believed Hulkenberg is unlikely to stay at Sauber next year, which could mean a return to Force India for the German, whose F1 career was rescued by the Silverstone based team after he lost his Williams seat in 2010.
Eddie Jordan, with a solid reputation for usually getting his stated predictions right, said earlier this month he is "certain" Hulkenberg will race a Force India in 2014.
However, team supremo Vijay Mallya threw a spanner in Jordan's theory this week when he named Hulkenberg as the "only driver" who has ever "expressed the desire to leave" Force India after just a single season.
"Other than that all the other drivers have always been very happy to stay," he told F1's official website.
Mallya said Force India will not name its 2014 driver lineup until December.