Nico Hulkenberg could be in line for a shock move to Renault for the 2017 Formula 1 season as the manufacturer reportedly makes a late swoop for the Force India driver.
Renault is known to have made ambitious bids for Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas this year, but with the former now confirmed as staying with Force India and the latter expected to remain with Williams, Hulkenberg is now its next target.
According to reports in the German media, Hulkenberg is already in advanced talks with the manufacturer despite having previously stated he would be staying with Force India for 2017.
However, with Force India having never released an official statement declaring as much, Hulkenberg was relatively non-committal about his future when asked about the looming Renault rumours during the Japanese Grand Prix
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“I think so, yeah,” he replied when he was asked whether he was staying with Force India. “I've heard, seen those rumours. Rumours are rumours, facts are facts,”
When asked whether he 'knows so or thinks so' about staying with Force India for 2017, Hulkenberg responded with 'a bit of both'.
After Bottas, Hulkenberg is now the highest-placed driver potentially available to Renault as it looks to lure an experienced name to its latest F1 project. The French firm returned to F1 as a constructor in 2016 but has struggled for form amidst a reshuffle behind the scenes, difficulties that is believed to be putting off potential targets.
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However, with the engine showing well in the back of the Red Bull and Renault's form picking up in terms of reliability and speed in the last couple of races, it is believed to be establishing a solid foundation going forward.
Such a deal would also allow Hulkenberg to get the factory drive he has long craved having previously raced with Force India, Sauber and Williams. Should he join, youngster Esteban Ocon – who is contracted by Mercedes but has close ties to Renault – is expected to partner him.
As for Force India, with Perez now confirmed for 2017, Mercedes-backed Pascal Wehrlein – who has tested with the team before - would be considered a natural target to replace Hulkenberg potentially as part of an engine deal.
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