Image: Wikimedia Commons
With F1 silly season almost over, it seems quite silly indeed for Force India’s Nick Hulkenberg to join Renault for 2017.
Judging by 2016’s results, switching from a respectable Force India to join a struggling Renault seems quite a bizarre one. In footballing terms, it would be like leaving Tottenham Hotspur to join Bolton Wanderers. It surprised most of the F1 community, not least former team mate Sergio Perez.
According to an interview with Autosport, Perez was “quite stunned about” Hulkenberg’s move to Renault, a team that scored only three points finishes last season. “I knew Nico was very high on their list and I knew if I didn’t go there they’d definitely look at him. Only time will tell who took the right decision but I’m happy with the three seasons that I had together with him.”
Hulkenberg’s switch is certainly a puzzling one. After all Kevin Magnussen jumped ship at the first opportunity by signing for a Haas F1 team still in infancy yet still managed 21 more points than the established French manufacturer. This left a vacant spot in the Renault garage to keep Jolyon Palmer company.
A few names would have jumped at the prospect of the empty Renault seat, such as a possible return Pastor Maldonado *shudders*. Few suspected it would be Hulkenberg, a very talented and under rated driver who perhaps should be dicing with the Hamilton’s and Vettel’s of the world in that group of elite F1 drivers of the current grid. A man who dominated in virtually every junior formulae and showed his wet weather capabilities during qualifying for the 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix where he set pole position in a below-par Williams.
There’s a whiff of Jos Verstappen about the Hulk. An immensely talented driver that never had a decent car to emulate that skill. That’s not to say Force India are on par with the Arrows and Minardi’s of yesteryear as to do so would be shambolic. Vijay Mallya’s team wrapped up 2016 with their best ever finish since their 2008 bow after a topsy-turvy battle with Williams for fourth spot in the Constructors Championship.
Nico Hulkenberg leading Porsche to Le Mans victory in 2015. Image: Sydney Morning Herald
So why would a Le Mans-winning, GP2 dominating experienced F1 driver join a struggling Renault? A team that are still showing scars of the disastrous period under the various Lotus/Renault guises that culminated during the 2013 Indian Grand Prix. “Get out the f****ng* way” yelled Alan Permane at then-Lotus driver Kimi Raikonnen which unearthed the downfall and demise of the Lotus F1 Team that went from podium regulars to bottom-feeders in the space of four months. A high-earning team that suddenly found themselves millions in debt, signing Maldonado purely for monetary gains rather than performance.
Renault however seem quietly confident about the upcoming campaign. Despite their well-noted struggles with the new turbo era F1 engines unearthed by Red Bull boss Christian Horner, the privateer are now tooting Renault’s horn prior to the 2017 campaign. Red Bull chief technical officer Adrian Newey has described the Renault power units as “a good step forwards” adding that “Renault are definitely going in a very good direction at the moment”.
Renault have also added a second generation Energy Recovery System to help improve the power unit further. Toro Rosso are back to using Renault power units so it won’t just be Renault themselves hoping for decent power output for Hulkenberg and Palmer come March.
Only time will tell before we see Hulkenberg’s Renault on the podium. We can speculate all we want but for now, here’s a video of the Hulk’s first lap in a Renault.