Williams F1 co-owner Patrick Head has admitted that expects next year's driver line-up to be decided, in part at least, by the team's financial position, reinforcing rumours that rookie Nico Hulkenberg may be cut before the end of his contract.
The German was signed to a long-term deal after founder Sir Frank Williams expressed his frustration at losing another GP2 Series champion, Nico Rosberg, just as he was becoming established in F1, but, with sponsors also electing to withdraw from the sport at the end of the current season, commercial interests may ultimately dictate whether Hulkenberg is retained alongside Rubens Barrichello for a second year.
Reigning GP2 Series champion Pastor Maldonado, who was overshadowed by Hulkenberg when the German took the title in his first season in 2009, is being tipped to fill the second seat next season, primarily due to a reported $15m budget that he can bring from Venezuelan state petroleum company PDVSA. Head, however, would not comment on specifics, despite admitting that a balance would have to be struck between talent and budget.
"Those are things which we will weigh up," the experienced technical chief conceded to Reuters
, "It's terrible to hide behind a board, but these things will be debated - and are being debated - in the Williams board.
"At the moment, we are not in a position where we are making any final decisions. I know it sounds very superior to say so but, when we are ready, we will be saying what we are doing."
Head admitted, however, that he believed Hulkenberg had shown enough of an improvement over the course of the season to warrant a place on the grid next season, and hoped that he would find a drive somewhere else, if not at Williams. The German, though, insists that he is not prepared to reinvent himself as a pay driver just to secure a ride.
Interestingly, respected F1 scribe Joe Saward believes that there will be no
change in the Williams line-up next season, having been told that a reasonable budget is already in place at the Grove team.
"My spy at Williams tells me that there is no plan to change the current two drivers, as both Rubens Barrichello and Nico Hulkenberg have done decent jobs this year: Rubens bringing his enthusiasm and experience to the task, and Hulkenberg pushing him all the way, particularly in the second part of the season," he wrote on his blog from Korea, "It is a classic mix of experience and youth and there really is no need to change that as Hulkenberg should get stronger next season and Barrichello will have to dig deep to keep up. It is an interesting question as to whether the team needs money, but from what I hear there is a decent budget in place and there is no need to sell the second seat to a pay-driver such as Pastor Maldonado."
Saward did concede, however, that the mercurial Venezuelan - who claimed his GP2 title at the fourth attempt - would be a useful addition to one of the tail-end teams, particularly if his PDVSA budget was of the size sources in Caracas claimed earlier this week.