Despite what many consider to have been an impressive rookie campaign in the top flight, Nico Hülkenberg's seat at Williams for F1 2011 is understood to be under increasing threat from one of two potential replacements – Force India ace Adrian Sutil and GP2 Series graduate Pastor Maldonado.
Off the back of a crowning season in GP2 in 2009, Hülkenberg has increasingly settled into his stride at Williams this year, out-qualifying ultra-experienced team-mate Rubens Barrichello on five occasions to-date, seven times making the Q3 top ten shoot-out – with a highlight of a superb fifth at Sepang in Malaysia – and tallying 17 points, with best finishes of sixth at the Hungaroring and a slightly controversial seventh at Monza.
Although he remains a little rough-around-the-edges, there is little doubt that the highly-regarded young German has ably staked his claim to a prolonged future at the highest level. However, with only three races of F1 2010 now remaining and still no contract in-place for next year – whilst Barrichello is all-but certain to stay on-board to extend his career into an incredible 19th consecutive campaign – rumours are rising that Hülkenberg will become an unfortunate casualty of financial necessity.
“I'm doing my job and I'm confident about what I'm doing,” the 23-year-old told German publication Speed Week
. “I cannot do more. I would like to stay with Williams because I believe next year's car will be competitive, because I feel comfortable in the team and get along with my team-mate very well. I'm hoping for a new contract.”
The one thing that the Emmerich am Rhein native is unable to offer Williams is sponsorship, whilst his rivals Sutil and GP2 title-winning successor Maldonado are reportedly able to lay their hands on as much as $3 million and $15 million respectively in terms of backing to clinch the drive. The Evening Standard
newspaper claims that the Grove-based outfit has totalled more than $9 million in losses over the past five years, with a 50 per cent dip in profits last season adding to an ever-mounting debt.
Such financial struggles have been dismissed by the team's minority co-owner Christian 'Toto' Wolff, who presently holds a ten per cent stake in the former multiple world champions but has 'an option' to increase that to a 'strategic investment' of some 49 per cent in future. The wealthy Austrian entrepreneur is known to be a fan of Hülkenberg's, but has conceded that the driver situation for 2011 remains far from resolved.
“At the moment, everything is possible,” Wolff told motorline.cc
. “We are currently trying to get as much information as possible. Generally speaking, the team is making great progress. If you look at the last twelve months, 2009 for us was a good and very profitable year.”