'Sauber would bring Hulk closer to Ferrari'
Ted Kravitz suggests any Sauber switch would allow Ferrari to assess Hulkenberg for a future promotion
Last Updated: October 26, 2012 9:13am
Sky Sports F1's Ted Kravitz believes Nico Hulkenberg's prospective 'sideways' move from Force India to Sauber would nonetheless bring the German driver a step closer to a Ferrari future.
Amid an increasingly impressive first season back in F1 after a year on the testing bench at Force India, Hulkenberg has been strongly linked with a switch to Sauber at the end of the season to partner Mexican youngster Esteban Gutierrez in an all-new line-up at the Hinwil-based outfit.
But although Sauber have enjoyed an uncharacteristically competitive season, and are chasing down German giants Mercedes for fifth place in the Constructors' Championship, Force India are just behind them in the standings and could still mathematically overhaul the Swiss team over the final four races.
Some paddock observers have therefore suggested that any such switch for Hulkenberg would be a sideways career move. However, while discussing the issue during Sky Sports F1's live coverage of Practice One in India with commentators David Croft and Johnny Herbert, Ted explained that there could be an underlying motive behind the prospective move.
"It's a sideways move but a move with potential to go to Ferrari later on in Hulkenberg's career," Ted observed.
"The first thing I should say is I asked Nico Hulkenberg about it straight out and said 'look, are you going to Ferrari next year?' but he played a pretty straight bat and said 'I couldn't comment on that'.
"So I said 'but if you did go to Sauber next year wouldn't it be a sideways move?' and he wouldn't really comment on that either.
"I refer you back to some pretty strong rumours we heard earlier in the season that Ferrari were interested in Hulkenberg in terms of taking over from Felipe Massa. Some Italian journalists even reported that Hulkenberg had a contract to replace Massa at Ferrari. So these are all pointers to perhaps Ferrari wanting to know a little bit more about Hulkenberg.
"Yes, he's had a pole position in difficult conditions in the wet in Brazil when he was driving for Williams and yes he's undoubtedly fast but because Sauber are a bit of a satellite Ferrari team this is a way, potentially, for Ferrari getting to know Hulkenberg better with an eye to maybe replacing Massa in 2014."
However, although strong speculation after the last race in Korea pointed to Hulkenberg's Sauber move being confirmed in a matter of days, Crofty suggested Force India hadn't actually given up hope of retaining the same driver pairing for 2013.
"The paddock whispers next year are that Sauber next year will be Esteban Gutierrez and Nico Hulkenberg," he said.
"However, you talk to Force India and people within Force India and they're pretty much still expecting Nico Hulkenberg to be their driver for next season.
"The one thing we do know is Force India aren't planning to make a driver announcement until after the season's finished. But they won't say for definite just as far as we're concerned that Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg will be our driver pairing for next year."
Indeed Johnny suggested Force India had an option on Hulkenberg for 2013 which could yet be activated depending on where they finish in the standings.
"They seem to have an option with his contract which is all based on where they are in the Constructors' which is quite interesting," he said.
Then asked by Crofty if this potentially meant they would retain his services if Force India pipped Sauber to sixth place, Johnny replied: "It could be that absolutely or it could be the sheer position where they finish in the Constructors' Championship as well."