With the surprise events at Scuderia Toro Rosso earlier this week, it may not be a good time for Nico Hulkenberg to feel too confident about his chances of stepping up to a race seat with Force India in 2012.
The German has been the hot tip to partner Paul di Resta for much of the past few months but, given that both Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari recently expressed similar optimism over remaining at STR next season, nothing should be taken for granted.
Indeed, even as Force India prepares to announce its 2012 line-up, some respected F1 insiders are rearranging their predictions in the belief that di Resta will once again be partnered by Adrian Sutil, after the German secured a top ten championship position, and helped the team to sixth overall in the constructors' standings. Sutil had called on team owner Vijay Mallya to make an early decision, presumably in the belief that he would be the odd man out, but, despite the Indian saying that he would announce his choice around the time of the Abu Dhabi GP, the F1 world is still waiting...
Hulkenberg, meanwhile, continues to act as though he expects to be granted a return to a full-time race role, having been ousted from the Williams line-up in favour of the better-funded Pastor Maldonado for 2011.
“My preparation schedule is quite normal, with a training camp in January and then the usual routine throughout the year,” the 24-year old German told national news agency DPA
, before admitting that he isn't bothered whether it is Sutil or di Resta lining up alongside him, “For us drivers, it's really not that important. I get along with Adrian just as well as I do with Paul.”
The pertinent question is whether Hulkenberg can get along as well with Maldonado, who he out-classed during their time together at ART in GP2. Indeed, that season, Hulkenberg became only the second driver, after Lewis Hamilton, to claim the series title in his rookie season (inaugural champion Nico Rosberg doesn't count) and moved up to F1 with Williams for 2010, claiming pole position at the Brazilian GP.
Whether it is Sutil or Hulkenberg who is shown the door at FIF1 this week, they will find themselves in a good position to join Williams, which is hesitating over the identity of its second driver. Veteran Rubens Barrichello has made no secret of his desire to remain onboard, but the Grove-based team appears keen to inject fresh blood alongside Maldonado as it looks to improve on 2011. The team has already secured a return to Renault power for next season, and has a new technical team in place to try and turn its fortunes around after a disappointing year that saw it slip to ninth in the standings.