Force India has confirmed Nico Hulkenberg is to leave its team at the end of the 2016 Formula 1 season, paving the way for his anticipated switch to Renault.
The German driver had been expected initially to remain with Force India for the 2017 season before emerging as a candidate to join Renault next season after French firm failed in its bid to lure his team-mate Sergio Perez.
Though Renault's own confirmation is pending, Force India's decision to announce Hulkenberg's exit at the end of the season is makes it a formality.
A former Williams and Sauber driver, Hulkenberg initially joined Force India for a single season in 2012 before returning in 2014 at the start of the V6 Hybrid era. Since then, Hulkenberg has always finished inside the overall drivers' top ten, though is now one of the longest-serving F1 drivers (111 starts) yet to stand on the podium.
“Everybody at Sahara Force India wishes Nico well as he embarks upon a different path in Formula One,” said Force India team principal Vijay Mallya. “Having spent five years with us, Nico has become a great friend and contributed a huge amount to the team's success. He's an outstanding driver, who has scored more points for this team than anybody else.
“While it's true we will miss Nico, we respect his decision to explore fresh opportunities and it would be wrong to stand in his way.”
With Hulkenberg expected to be joined by young Frenchman Esteban Ocon at Renault, Pascal Wehrlein is the favourite to join Perez at Force India, the Mercedes-backed driver having previously tested with the team.