Despite confirmation back in July that he would be driving for Sahara Force India in 2017, Nico Hulkenberg has done an about turn and will now line up for the Renault Sport F1 Team next year.
It is believed the German has signed a two-year deal with the French squad, that will see him race for the outfit in 2017 and 2018, with an option for 2019 also on the table.
Clearance to release the 29-year-old was required from Force India before the negotiation could officially go ahead, as Hulkenberg had a contract in place with the Silverstone based squad for 2017, however they have decided not to stand in his way, having been a loyal member of the squad on and off since 2011.
Team Principal Vijay Mallya confimed that the team wished him well in his new venture.
“Everybody at Sahara Force India wishes Nico well as he embarks upon a different path in Formula One.
“Having spent five years with us, Nico has become a great friend and contributed a huge amount to the team’s success. He’s an outstanding driver, who has scored more points for this team than anybody else.
“While it’s true we will miss Nico, we respect his decision to explore fresh opportunities and it would be wrong to stand in his way.”
The German started his F1 career at the Williams F1 team back in 2010, where he performed well but was replaced the following season for a driver who could provide strong financial support to the team, then rookie Pastor Maldonado.
That left Hulkenberg without a seat for 2011, but to keep himself in the loop he took up a Reserve driver role at Force India, where his contribution was enough to gain him a full-time seat with the Silverstone based squad the following year.
He was a consistent points scorer for Force India during that first year with the team, with a fourth place finish his best result, which despite his obvious skill was to remain his highest ever finish in a F1 race throughout his career. His performances won him praise and admiration from other teams across the paddock, and it was thought the German may even move to Scuderia Ferrari, but to the surprise of many he opted for Sauber.
That switch did not go according to plan, as the car underperformed for the first half of the year, though Hulkenberg himself did not, and again his name was mentioned alongside the likes of Ferrari and Lotus. Nothing ever came of those rumours however, and the German made the decision to return to Force India in 2014, where he has enjoyed a number of strong seasons now, at a team that happily head up the midfield order, with occasional glimpses of top team brilliance.
Hulkenberg is renowned for having made some terrible decisions in terms of his F1 career so far, so will this one break that duck for the 29-year-old?
Although Renault have struggled in their first season back in F1 as a full on constructor, the potential and more importantly the financial backing is certainly there to make the team a fantastic prospect for the future.
Next year could well be another trying one for the French squad, who are still finding their feet, but a chance to drive for a manufacturer is not one a driver in Hulkenberg’s position could really turn down. So while he may find himself finishing behind his current team next year, the future will most certainly be brighter, and the German has to see this move as a long term investment.
Speaking about his decision today, Hulkenberg explained his reasons for choosing Renault.
“I’m very happy to join Renault Sport Formula One Team in 2017.
“Renault has always been a big player in the motorsport world that brings up incredible memories: in his stint with Renault, Michael Schumacher not only helped make Germany an F1 nation, he also sparked my enthusiasm and fire for racing. As a part of the Renault family, I want to develop the car and write new success stories.
“It has always been my dream to work for a manufacturer team. F1’s new regulations will change the game and give our team a good opportunity. In the years to come, Renault will play a challenger role, which fits my approach to racing 100%. I can’t wait to become part of the family.”
Although 2016 has been somewhat of a disappointing one perhaps for Renault, they have started to creep into the points on occasion across the last few races, and a few more results like that will no doubt bring confidence and stronger performances to the Enstone based team’s doors.
Hulkenberg, who has proven throughout his F1 career that he is an extremely talented driver, with some stand out performances to his name despite poor machinery, as well as also brilliantly winning the Le Mans 24Hr race during the 2015 F1 season, has shown he can turn his hand to any situation at the drop of a hat. He will be an excellent signing for Renault, who need someone of his experience and calibre to take the team forward.
Having secured the German’s services for next season, that still leaves one more seat up for grabs, and so far both Manor Racing Team driver Esteban Ocon and Williams Martini Racing’s Valtteri Bottas have been named as likely options, which would then see Renault’s current drivers, Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen out the door.
Renault have confirmed however, that they too are still in the frame for a seat, and hopefully we will find out very shortly which of the four will line up alongside Hulkenberg next year.