After much speculation that either F1 2010 rookie Nico Hülkenberg or ultra-experienced veteran Rubens Barrichello will be dropped from the Williams line-up to make way for recently-crowned GP2 Series Champion Pastor Maldonado and his $15 million of sponsorship cash next year, Sir Frank Williams has now hinted that both drivers will in fact be kept on-board.
Whilst Hülkenberg has impressed many during his maiden campaign of top flight competition – seven times making the Q3 top ten shoot-out in qualifying, generally keeping pace with Barrichello and scoring points on six occasions to-date, five of them in the last eight races – the one thing the highly-rated German does not have access to is oodles of sponsorship money, whereas Maldonado does [see separate story – click here
], and the Venezuelan is set to try out for the team in the special end-of-season young driver test immediately after the Abu Dhabi finale.
However, Hülkenberg's fine form of late may just have earned him a stay-of-execution at Williams, with the Grove-based outfit's eponymous founder Sir Frank Williams conceding that he has been mightily impressed by his young charge's performances over the second half of the season – if a touch underwhelmed earlier on.
“He was a little disappointing maybe in the first few races,” the 68-year-old told the BBC
. “Perhaps he was being over-cautious, but lately he's become very competitive and I think we've just seen the beginning of something very exceptional.
“He's one of these drivers, a bit like Lewis [Hamilton], who was moved from 'formula this' to 'formula that' and won that formula, then went from 'formula that' to 'formula something else' and won that, all the way up through F3 and GP2. He has won every single championship, and in the right team – hopefully us, one day – he'll win the world championship in F1 as well.”
When pressed as to whether the 23-year-old will still be on the grid in 2011, Williams answered 'absolutely...we do hope so, yes', whilst the Englishman was similarly effusive about Barrichello's contribution to the Oxfordshire concern's consistently improving form in 2010. The Brazilian's seat was recently rumoured to be in every bit as much doubt as that of Hülkenberg [see separate story – click here
“He has enormous experience,” Williams acknowledged. “He is now, without doubt, the most experienced driver in the pit-lane and he does demonstrate that very frequently. His technique is very understated – he's a very smooth driver. He likes to be mollycoddled emotionally a little bit, and he likes being told how good he is, but we don't have any problem in telling him [because] we believe strongly in him. He's good fun and very experienced, and that is a great value to any team.”