Nico Hulkenberg Has Not Yet Done Enough to Secure a Top Seat in F1 in 2015

Oliver HardenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2014

SAKHIR, BAHRAIN - APRIL 03:  Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Force India attends the drivers press conference during previews for the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 3, 2014 in Sakhir, Bahrain.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

For someone who is widely regarded as a Formula One world champion in waiting, Nico Hulkenberg has done an awful lot of waiting around. 

In an era in which teenagers such as Max Verstappen are fast-tracked to the top, Hulkenberg's progress has been stopped in its tracks.

The German has, in his three-and-a-half seasons of F1, made a career out of dragging relatively average cars toward the front—but no team at the front seems willing to take him on.

In the last two years alone, Hulkenberg has either been overlooked or not considered for vacancies at McLaren (twice), Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 25:  Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Force India drives during practice ahead of the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix at Hungaroring on July 25, 2014 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Drew Gibson/Getty Images)
Drew Gibson/Getty Images

And although seats could again be available at both McLaren and Ferrari in the coming weeks and months—depending on the futures of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button—don't bet on Hulkenberg's name being seriously mentioned to replace either world champion.

This year, he has been overtaken in the race for leading drives by the likes of Valtteri Bottas, the Williams driver, and Jules Bianchi, despite the Frenchman scoring 204 fewer career points than Hulkenberg.

Bottas and Bianchi, along with Daniel Ricciardo, Daniil Kvyat and Kevin Magnussen, are members of the next generation.

And Hulkenberg? Well, does he really belong to a generation?

At 27, the same age as four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, he doesn't belong under the umbrella of the old generation. But in an era in which first-time title winners are becoming ever younger, you wouldn't necessarily refer to him as a star of tomorrow, either.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 06:  Pole sitter Nico Huelkenberg (C) of Germany and Williams celebrates in parc ferme with second placed Sebastian Vettel (L) of Germany and Red Bull Racing and third placed Mark Webber (R) of Australia and Red Bull Racing fo
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

It is a reflection of his time in F1 as well as his status as the sport's ultimate halfway house.

He is far too talented for his current level—but not quite brilliant enough for the next one.

Why Hulkenberg, one of four German drivers on the 2014 grid, continues to miss out on a promotion remains something of a mystery.

The ability to transcend the level of his machinery—something Hulkenberg has done with every F1 car he has ever driven—is, after all, the telltale sign of someone marching his way to greatness.  

But could the nature of his performances, as assured as they are, be at the root of his stuttering career progress?

Hulkenberg's consistency is arguably his defining quality.

Until he ploughed into Sergio Perez, his Force India teammate, and consequently retired from July's Hungarian Grand Prix, the 11th event of the season, the German was one of only two drivers—Alonso the other—to have scored points in every single race.

It was, while it lasted, an impressive statistic—but nothing more than that.

Steady rather than stunning.

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 10:  Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Force India drives uring qualifying ahead of the Spanish F1 Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 10, 2014 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Leading Formula One teams, you see, are no longer swayed by consistency alone.

Consistency, especially in modern-day F1, is not so much a reflection of driver skill as it is an indication of the merits of a particular car or team.

If, for instance, a driver is sitting in a car that is comfortably the fastest in the sport and is owned by a well-drilled outfit—as Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have had the privilege of doing at Mercedes this year—he will more often than not find himself within the top two places.   

Instead, it is the out-of-the-blue, shock results that really make teams sit up and take notice of a driver's talent.

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 25:  Sergio Perez of Mexico and Sauber F1 celebrates on the podium after finishing second during the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit on March 25, 2012 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Ker Robertso
Ker Robertson/Getty Images

After all, Perez's three podium finishes in Malaysia, Canada and Italy in 2012 meant his failure to finish any of the other 17 races of that season in the top five was conveniently forgotten by McLaren, who went on to dump the Mexican after one season—after having a closer inspection, in other words—at the end of 2013.

Despite Sir Frank Williams telling BBC Sport's Andrew Benson that Bottas was "one of the most talented young racing drivers we have ever come across," the Finnish driver's true credentials were hidden from the wider world until he embarked upon a run of three consecutive top-three finishes earlier this summer.

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 20:  Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Williams celebrates on the podium after claiming second place in the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring on July 20, 2014 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The moral of the story?

There is no boost to a rising Formula One star's prospects quite like a podium finish—something Hulkenberg, for all his talent, has yet to achieve.

Having your champagne-soaked face beamed around the globe, alongside those of Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton—to name the three elite drivers on the current grid—carries obvious benefits.

It enhances your profile.

As Ricciardo has proved, it can very often lead to dramatic increases in confidence, belief and form.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 27:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing celebrates victory on the podium next Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP after the Hungarian Formula One Grand P
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

And it tells the millions of onlookers—sponsors, fans and, indeed, team principals—that you are on a par with the best.  

Hulkenberg's pole position for Williams in wet conditions in the 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix and his challenge for victory for Force India at the same event two years later remain the German's career highlights, but they have only ever hinted at what he could become. 

As such, leading teams, you can only presume, continue to have lingering suspicions.

The main target for Hulkenberg over the remaining seven races of the 2014 season is to make his doubters run out of reasons to disregard his talent.

That elusive podium finish, that day in the sun, is now a matter of urgency.