Heading into the season finale in Brazil the future of several drivers are still unknown, and Nico Hulkenberg is perhaps the highest profile of those drivers after his incredible results in the second half of the season.
However with no sponsorship his options for 2014 are very much restricted. Indeed a return to Force India now seems the most likely scenario; as a result is Hulkenberg a victim of modern F1?
Certainly if you look at his performances and compare them to his future prospects there is a large juxtaposition, here we have a driver who has taken a team that was nowhere at the start of the season and has finished in the points in five of the last seven races, four of which were in the top 6.
Yet for 2014 he is most likely going to remain a midfield driver battling to score points let alone for podiums.
For much of the so-called silly season he was linked with a move to Lotus replacing the departing Kimi Raikkonen, however without his lack of backing any move was to be in-line with investment from a consortium known as Quantum Racing.
With that deal still up in the air and Lotus needing to secure their future financially it looks likely that Pastor Maldonado and his $40m in sponsorship funds will join the Enstone team partnering Romain Grosjean next season.
Certainly in that case then the issue of ‘pay drivers’ in modern F1 does appear to have made Hulkenberg the victim.
What does have to be taken into account however is that in a business led sport like Formula 1 money will always play a part.
Of course it’s not right from a sporting prospective that a driver with arguably less talent than another can get preference in even a front-running team over another simply because of money, but from a business perspective the men behind the wheel are just as much a commodity for teams as they are drivers.
Think of the boost Mercedes got from having Michael Schumacher in the team not just as a driver but also the sponsors and publicity he brings along, it’s the same story now with Lewis Hamilton.
Fernando Alonso is the same at Ferrari he brings along the tag of being ‘the best pound-for-pound driver in F1 today’ and because of that he has Santander who are now the team’s chief sponsors.
Of course it’s great to bring your skills to a team but now that is only part of package an F1 driver needs, now you need to be a great asset for a team both sporting and business wise, all of the top teams have this with their drivers, even Kimi Raikkonen has that because his attitude while unorthodox for business does make him a commodity for the team he drives for.
If a driver believes he is a victim of something it is not in his interest to say ‘I’m not going to change’ because that’s how you don’t maximise yourself.
I’m in no way agreeing with the so-called pay driver culture that has hit F1, too many good drivers on a sporting front are missing out but for those driver’s who maybe don’t have as much talent, like a Maldonado or a Max Chilton, they have mastered the other way in.
Think of it like this. Recently many have asked the question of ‘Is Sebastian Vettel a great driver?’. Well maybe at one aspect of being a racing driver he isn’t as good as the others but at other ways of succeeding that is where he works and that is what makes up for any weakness.
It is the same for Hulkenberg if he wants to rely on his talent alone to get to the top he’s running the risk of missing out to driver’s who provide better options in alternative ways.
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