Nico Hulkenberg in talks with Lotus?

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With not even half of the 2013 season complete, the annual event of Formula One’s rumor mill going into overdrive concerning next year’s driver market – a.k.a ‘silly season’ – has begun in earnest at the German Grand Prix.

After Mark Webber confirmed last weekend that he would be retiring at the end of the season, all eyes have been on Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne and Kimi Raikkonen who are the contenders for his seat at Red Bull. Despite all three drivers refusing to jump to any conclusions or reveal any details, the knock-on effect of any move has now been considered.

According to German publication Bild, Nico Hulkenberg is thought to be in talks with Lotus F1 Team over a potential move as the rumors concerning Sauber’s financial state continue to intensify. Hulkenberg joined the team at the beginning of the year from Force India, but he has scored just six points whilst his former employers enjoy their best-ever start to a season.

Furthermore, Bild reports that Hulkenberg has already cancelled his contract with Sauber beyond the end of this season, failing fresh investment at Sauber.

Should this rumor materialize, it would imply that Kimi Raikkonen may be poised to join Red Bull, thus leaving Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso for the foreseeable future. Alternatively, Romain Grosjean may be facing the exit at Enstone after a string of poor results – or perhaps a combination of both, with Lotus taking on Hulkenberg and promoting Davide Valsecchi from the reserve driver role for next season.

Either way, silly season has well and truly begun in 2013.

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/