|Deal done at Force India|
(GMM) One of the last significant pieces of the 2014 'silly season' puzzle will fall into place on Tuesday, the German news agency SID reports.
The reports said Nico Hulkenberg's switch from Sauber to Force India, where he tested and raced in 2011 and 2012, will be announced officially by the Silverstone based team later on Tuesday afternoon.
It is believed the highly-rated 26-year-old's teammate will be the Mexico-backed McLaren refugee Sergio Perez.
But Adrian Sutil, the Force India incumbent, might not yet be out of the frame, although he has been strongly linked with a move to Sauber to replace Hulkenberg at the Swiss team.
German Sutil's manager Manfred Zimmermann on Tuesday said the future remains unclear.
"Still nothing has been decided — we are in the middle of the negotiations, hoping for a quick solution," he claimed.
"The formula one driver market is so complex that you can never be sure of anything," added Zimmermann.
11/24/13 Martin Brundle of Sky Sports sits down with Nico Hulkenberg to discuss the German's future in F1 and where he could be driving next year.
Martin Brundle: Your position in 2014 is put up as a big test for Formula 1 – perhaps over simplifying it a bit, it is talent versus money. How do you see it?
Nico Hulkenberg: "I have proved enough on the circuit that I deserve a chance of being here and to be fighting for wins hopefully one day. I love my job, I love Formula 1, obviously I want to be in Formula 1 in the future and I think there is a very realistic and good chance that I will be."
MB: But you were fighting Alonso for fifth last time out in the USA, it shouldn't just be a good chance you will be in F1 next year.
NH: "It is what it is. It is maybe not the most healthy and good situation from my point of view for someone like me that doesn't have a couple of good million reasons when looking for a job next year. Like I said I think there are teams here that rate what I am doing and take drivers that don't have big budget and therefore I am optimistic that I am going to be here next year."
MB: Monisha Kaltenborn said she would love to have you stay at Sauber, the guys at Force India I am sure would love to have you back, there is talk about you going to Lotus – we spoke to Mansoor Ijaz and he said 'the money is there, we want Hulkenberg.' Are those the three options?
NH: "Yes they are. As far as Lotus goes, I think they have to sort out there financial package there with the new investor and I understand that that hasn't happened yet. So it is a matter of finding a good deal where the terms are attractive to me and also where you think it is going to be a competitive package next year. It is a bit similar to what I have done this year coming to Sauber because I wanted to achieve good things, but we found ourselves in a bad situation at the beginning – we were pretty far away from where I hoped we would be.
"So it is difficult, there are question marks and we enter a new era and you can't take this year's performance as relative for next year because it is so different. You don't want to get lost in that whole thinking and all the scenarios – sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling, be a bit spontaneous and close your eyes and do it."
11/24/13 (GMM) Nico Hulkenberg has signed a one-year deal to return to Force India next year, Germany's authoritative Auto Motor und Sport reports from Brazil.
Correspondent Michael Schmidt said the 26-year-old German's deal includes 'options' beyond 2014, but the news would tie in with rumors Hulkenberg is first in line for a Ferrari drive should Fernando Alonso jump ship for 2015.
"The deal should be announced in the next few days, and maybe right after the Brazilian grand prix," said Schmidt.
It is expected that Hulkenberg's teammate next year will be Force India incumbent Adrian Sutil.
The German has been hinting for weeks that he is staying put at the Silverstone based team.
"I know it already but I will not say it," the smiling Sutil told the German broadcaster RTL at Interlagos.
"I have had a contract for months, and it is signed. I don't want to confirm it officially, because the team has a rule that you cannot publicly discuss contractual situations.
"But I will definitely be back next year," the 30-year-old revealed.
Complicating the issue for Force India, however, is the presence on the market of the powerful sponsored drivers Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez.
Lotus is the most competitive team with a driver vacancy for 2014, but that team is grappling with the 'will-it-or-won't-it' arrival of crucial investment from the Quantum group.
So, along with Force India, Sauber is next in the queue for the pick of the remaining drivers on the 2014 market, and rumors say the Swiss team is in serious talks with both Maldonado and the McLaren refugee Perez.
Sauber boss Monisha Kaltenborn said the driver decision will be made "soon".
"Maybe in the coming week," she told RTL at Interlagos.
In the meantime, Maldonado's reportedly EUR 40 million in Venezuelan backing, and Perez's EUR 15 million from Mexico, will speak loudly.
Maldonado, however, thinks he is worth signing up for his talent alone.
"I think I would be champion at Red Bull," the departing Williams driver is quoted by Brazil's Totalrace.
Maldonado is also quoted as saying by the EFE news agency: "Of the available drivers on the market, I'm the only one who has won a race.
"The only thing I know," Marca sports newspaper quoted Maldonado as saying, "is that I will be in formula one next year, 100 per cent."
10/30/13 This rumor is downgraded to 'speculation' today. 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.
10/21/13 (GMM) Yet another week, in which the hot speculation will surround Kimi Raikkonen's successor at Lotus, has begun.
It had been thought the Enstone based team was close to announcing the arrival of Nico Hulkenberg for 2014, because the crucial 'Quantum' investment deal was now on the verge of completion.
"There has been a lot of talk," admitted team boss Eric Boullier, "and there are a lot of positive things happening behind the scenes.
"We will certainly be shouting from the rooftops when everything is finalized as we should be exceptionally well placed looking to the future."
German Hulkenberg – who has also been linked with McLaren, Force India, or simply staying with Sauber – also insisted his future is not yet decided.
"There is nothing to report," he told German television ZDF, "and nothing is signed."
10/15/13 (GMM) Nico Hulkenberg, the new key to unlocking the remainder of the 2014 'silly season', has not signed a deal yet.
That was the claim on Tuesday of his manager Werner Heinz, amid reports German Hulkenberg has now committed to a team for next season.
Lotus boss Eric Boullier on Monday was quoted as saying 26-year-old Hulkenberg was the team's "choice" 2014 pick, but he has also been linked to Force India, McLaren, or even staying at Sauber.
"I think Hulkenberg is still a little undecided, because there could be the opportunity to go to McLaren," said Marc Surer, a pundit for German television. "That would be tempting."
McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh said: "Nico is intelligent, he showed good performance in the junior categories, and now in formula one.
"I think he is on some teams' lists," he hinted.
Whitmarsh dismissed the paddock perception that McLaren had ruled Hulkenberg out because of his weight.
"There was a lot of talk about this recently," he said, "but I don't think he is so big that he can't fit into a cockpit.
"I think he's good enough to be in formula one next year, and I'm sure he will be," Whitmarsh added.
The problem, Surer explained, is that Hulkenberg would replace the underperforming Sergio Perez, while McLaren and Honda hope to sign Fernando Alonso for 2015.
"So they would not give anyone a long-term contract because they are holding a place (for 2015) open," he said.
"I wouldn't go to McLaren for just one year. I'd rather go to Lotus," said Surer.
It wasn't too long ago that some feared Hulkenberg might be lost to F1 altogether, because he is not heavily sponsored, and because he is too heavy for the new, V6 engines.
Did Lotus' serious interest in the German trigger a tug-of-war for his services? "Maybe it did," smiled Boullier.
"I don't know. I think in a few days we will decide something."
Hulkenberg's manager denied that a deal has already been done.
"We are continuing to sort through the options. No decision has been made," Heinz is quoted by the SID news agency.
"His chances have definitely not been made worse by his recent good performances. So I'm not worried and I am firmly convinced that Nico will continue to drive in formula one," he added.
10/14/13 (GMM) Eric Boullier has admitted Nico Hulkenberg is Lotus' "choice" successor for the Ferrari-bound Kimi Raikkonen.
Raikkonen recently said he decided to leave the Enstone based team only for financial reasons.
Lotus has been sweating on a deal with a group of private investors originally called 'Infinity Racing', who in June committed to buying 35 per cent of the team.
But team boss Boullier admitted as recently as at the weekend in Japan that the deal is still not sealed.
In the meantime, Infinity has changed its name to Quantum, to avoid confusion with Infiniti, the luxury Nissan brand that is Red Bull's title sponsor.
"We want to now close this Infinity partner story because this should give us the ability to at least be secure and move us on to the next step," said Boullier.
An obvious 'next step' is the identity of Raikkonen's successor.
The clear frontrunner is German Hulkenberg, who was also considered by Ferrari and McLaren for 2014, and remains in the running either to return to Force India or stay at Sauber.
But if the 'Quantum' deal falls over, Boullier may have to go down the path of a pay-driver, even if the Frenchman admits "This is not the way to go".
Boullier hinted at Suzuka that he is also in talks with a sponsor, as well as engine supplier Renault, who could deepen their relationship with Lotus in 2014 and beyond.
If all the pieces fit together, Hulkenberg will surely be signed.
"Since he has been talking to us he has been doing a good job," said Boullier.
"I would love to (sign him)," he is quoted by Sporting Life. "He (Hulkenberg) is our choice."
10/14/13 (GMM) The hot rumor at Suzuka after Sunday's Japanese grand prix is that Nico Hulkenberg's future is now secure.
"The German will team up with (Romain) Grosjean," announced Italy's authoritative La Gazzetta dello Sport, hinting at Lotus' 2014 lineup.
Some well-connected paddock figures, however, think a return to Force India will be Hulkenberg's next move, while others say remaining at Sauber also has not been ruled out.
Former F1 team owner Eddie Jordan, now a full-time pundit for British television BBC, said on Sunday he is "certain" Hulkenberg has signed for Force India.
Hulkenberg gave nothing away.
"My future will sort itself in a couple of weeks," he said, denying he has "signed anything" for 2014.
But another British pundit, the former F1 driver Martin Brundle, said on Sunday he has heard that Hulkenberg has definitely signed a deal for 2014.
Brundle however refused to say for what team, explaining that the reason people confide in him is that they know he will not breach that confidence.
Brundle made the comments in the presence of Sauber boss Monisha Kaltenborn, who insists Hulkenberg remains an "option" for the Hinwil based team in 2014.
A report by the German-language Spiegel said a move to Lotus is on the cards for Hulkenberg, but the 26-year-old is "waiting until after the talks with Sauber before making a decision".
Much more certain is that Romain Grosjean is staying at Lotus next year, particularly after yet another strong drive to the podium at Suzuka on Sunday.
Exactly a year ago, Mark Webber wrote off the Frenchman as F1's 'first lap nutcase', but on Sunday he was much more complimentary.
"We're not here to blow smoke up his arse," said the always-blunt Australian, "but in the end he's doing a very good job this year."
Lotus boss Eric Boullier said re-signing Grosjean is now just a formality.
"I need to get the written permission of my board but then we'll see," he said.
Indeed, Grosjean's form might be giving Ferrari food for thought, as the Frenchman seems to be consistently outperforming its 2014 signing, Kimi Raikkonen.
Former F1 driver turned French pundit Patrick Tambay said Grosjean is riding a wave of new confidence.
"Everything started for him since the announcement of Raikkonen's departure next season," he told RMC Sport.
"There was also transfer of psychological and technical support, and (Grosjean) has reached a new level," added Tambay.