Haas Out, What’s Next In F1 2020 For Nico Hulkenberg?

German driver Nico Hulkenberg faces uncertainty over future in F1 2020
With Haas confirming Grosjean-Magnussen line-up, what’s next for Nico Hulkenberg in F1 2020?

The Haas F1 Team confirmed an unchanged line-up for the 2020 Formula 1 season. Romain Grosjean will continue to partner Kevin Magnussen next season – the 4th year of their partnership for the American-owned team. The extension means another career lifeline for Grosjean. The Frenchman has come perilously close to losing his seat two years in a row, the latest extension announcement being an even bigger surprise than last year’s. The extension could be an indication of the team wanting to play fair with its drivers, after all, the team has struggled to give them a good car most part of the current season. 

Ocon-Renault F1 Contract Only A Piece Of Paper

There were plenty of Haas-Hulkenberg rumours since Renault-Ocon was announced after the summer break. In fact, fans were almost convinced that Haas would dump Grosjean in favour of Hulkenberg. But did talks between Haas and Hulkenberg fall out due to financial reasons? Amidst a tough season, Haas also lost their title sponsor Rich Energy a few weeks ago. The team’s ability to pay extra to secure Hulkenberg’s services for 2020 could’ve been severely dented.

Furthermore, Hulkenberg could’ve been unsure if Haas was the right place for him to be at, given the team’s inability to get on top of their issues this season. Like Ferrari, Haas has failed to live up to its pre-season pace and promise – they’re currently 9th in the Constructors’ Championship. So this union not coming through could be more than just about the money.

Renault Exit Could Be A Blessing For Hulkenberg

Or did Haas lack the boldness to make a driver switch? Yes, in Grosjean, they have a known devil -and a devil he has been several times this season; scoring in just 3 out of the 14 races. But it was Grosjean’s decision to get the team to revert back to their Australia-spec car to understand their continued troubles. Maybe Haas require Grosjean more for his technical understanding and development at this stage of their team cycle and can only hope that he delivers consistently and to the team’s faith in 2020.

What Next In F1 2020 For Nico Hulkenberg?

That’s the question everyone is trying to get an answer to, maybe Nico Hulkenberg too? With Haas gone, there’s only two possible seats remaining, at the moment. Williams are yet to confirm who will partner George Russell next year, as are Alfa Romeo yet to announce Kimi Raikkonen’s partner. Hulkenberg has raced for both these teams in the past so they would be well aware of the driver’s capabilities and shortcomings. However, a contract with either of these teams might not be as straightforward.

A Full Circle At Williams?

Williams, who are going through a lean patch in their Formula 1 journey (yet again!), may require Hulkenberg to bring additional sponsorship money – something that both Robert Kubica and Nicholas Latifi (the other hopeful) bring to the team. Dekra, Hulkenberg’s long-standing sponsor, announced a split with their driver at the start of the season. – so expecting the German to bring in money might not be sensible. Also for Hulkenberg, a drive for Williams could signal an end of his Formula 1 career, ironically with the team he started his career with 9  years ago! While appearing on the Inside Line F1 Podcast last year, Esteban Ocon conveyed an interesting insight – rather drive for a slow team than not race in Formula 1 at all! (Williams-Kubica confirmed a few hours after this post that they would go separate ways at the end of 2019.)

Raikkonen-Hulkenberg At Alfa Romeo?

Antonio Giovinazzi, who is associated with the Ferrari Driver Academy, is who Hulkenberg would be up against while secure a drive with Alfa Romeo. After being out of competitive racing for two years, Giovinazzi has taken his time to settle into Alfa Romeo and Formula 1. In the second half of the season, his performances at Spa and Monza were noteworthy – in the points, despite a late-race crash in Spa that saw him lose those points eventually. At Spa, I quizzed Giovinazzi about his extension for next year but the driver was tight lipped about the possibilities. Though he did give away that his extension would depend solely between himself and Alfa Romeo and Ferrari might not have a say in it. If Ferrari intervene, and I think they will, Hulkenberg might not have a shot to be Raikkonen’s partner in 2020.

Mclaren’s Red Bull Problem: Stuck With Renault Power

Reserve Driver Role?

As with former good mid-field drivers like Giancarlo Fisichella, Pedro de la Rosa and the likes, could Hulkenberg sign up to be the reserve driver for one of the top teams? He definitely has the experience in the sport that teams could benefit from, given the intense in-season development race. Ferrari is always hiring good talent for their reserves (remember, Vettel could end up getting a race ban, if wild nightmares come true) while Mercedes could add to their pool that includes Esteban Gutierrez.

Too Late For For Formula E?

There’s also talks about a possibility at Red Bull Racing for 2020. However, Christian Horner has long said that the team’s driver choice would largely be between their current trio – Albon, Gasly and Kvyat. In which case, could Formula E or the World Endurance Championship be Hulkenberg’s next move? Let’s remember, Hulkenberg won the 24 Hours of Le Mans on debut with Porsche, so a return to a full-time WEC drive could be a possibility. As for Formula E, the 2019-20 Formula E Season starts in November this year (overlapping with the 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix), but most of the top teams have already firmed up their driver line-ups for the new season.

Currently, it doesn’t seem like Nico Hulkenberg’s career can resurrect (at least in Formula 1) after his exit from Renault, despite Cyril Abiteboul’s statements that Renault would ensure that Hulkenberg gets a soft landing elsewhere. I have had some lovely memories with Hulkenberg since our times together at Force India, especially during the One from a Billion Hunt (Force India’s Driver Program), a program that Hulkenberg was the ambassador of during his year off from the sport. Fingers crossed for you, Nico.

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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