Hulkenberg’s lack of promotion emblematic of F1’s midfield struggle to advance

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It seems unfathomable that another Formula One silly season will come to pass without Nico Hulkenberg making the jump from a midfield squad to a perennial contender, but with Pastor Maldonado having been confirmed at Lotus on Friday, that appears to be the case.

Still, with three full seasons complete at three different teams –Hulkenberg has never raced for the same team in successive seasons – it does beg the question whether there is something abnormal at play.

Or, alternatively, Hulkenberg could just be the latest talented midfield driver who appears perpetually stuck there. It’s just that Ferrari, McLaren and Lotus would seem to have had their chance to secure his services in the last two years, and have gone different directions.

Hulkenberg was dumped by Williams after his rookie campaign in 2010, incidentally, for Maldonado. That led to a year’s testing with Force India before a race seat in 2012. Again, he outperformed Paul di Resta, and was thanked with a pink slip before switching laterally to Sauber for 2013. But his bridge may be burned there because of his wanting to investigate his options with other teams, and Lotus has now gone for Maldonado’s millions instead of talent. Hulkenberg has scored points in 28 of 58 career races (48.28 percent), while Maldonado is just 7/58 (12.07%).

The Williams and Lotus situations were understandable purely from a financial standpoint, but Hulkenberg’s being passed over by McLaren – twice – and Ferrari is very strange when you consider he’d be worth the long-term investment from both a points-scoring standpoint and a potential team leader standpoint.

McLaren went with Sergio Perez first, and now rookie Kevin Magnussen, for 2014. The Magnussen move makes sense because he’s a McLaren Junior driver and has excelled in his simulator work and first two F1 tests. If he progresses as quickly as the team expects, they’ll have made a wise choice. Additionally, McLaren didn’t have anywhere to place him among teams which they might share a technical partnership, so that opened the door at the iconic team itself.

Ferrari is more puzzling. No one doubt’s Kimi Raikkonen’s ability or his laconic, “don’t give a-you-know-what” attitude. What one would doubt is Ferrari investing in its future, and while Raikkonen is an excellent short-term prospect for the next two or three years, Ferrari may have missed its shot at bringing Hulkenberg in and, crucially, keeping him away from other squads that could hurt them in the future.

Ferrari though has rarely gone the “bold” route on the driver front. They’ve largely stuck by “their guys,” and it was a theory that cost them dearly when neither Luca Badoer nor Giancarlo Fisichella was able to get anything out of the car in substitute roles in 2009. Felipe Massa, for all the good he did for Ferrari, had dented confidence after the 2010 German Grand Prix fiasco and was never able to regain the consistent spark or form he showed in his first three seasons with the team.

The relative stagnation for the top teams in the driver market, though, has meant that we haven’t seen the same number of young talents rise from the midfield into a top seat. Red Bull, when given the opportunity, has promoted from within: Sebastian Vettel and now Daniel Ricciardo are Toro Rosso graduates making the leap to the “Mothership.” And Ricciardo jumped from HRT to Toro Rosso to begin with; that’s not exactly going from Sauber to Ferrari.

Other than Maldonado and Perez, you’d have to go back to Nico Rosberg, moving from Williams to Mercedes in 2010, as the last real example of a midfield driver moving up to an opportunity in a top squad. And even in that case, Williams has a historic pedigree, but isn’t what you would call a “tail-ender” of a team. Prior to that, you could argue Mark Webber going from Jaguar to Williams before 2005 was the last real “midfield to top” jump.

Consider Alonso started with Minardi in 2001. Raikkonen and Massa began with Sauber in 2001 and 2002, respectively. And that’s really it for the current grid as far as “midfield drivers advancing into top teams later in their careers.”

Lewis Hamilton? Nurtured by McLaren, now with Mercedes. Jenson Button never really raced with a “midfield team,” but did race with Benetton/Renault and BAR/Honda when they weren’t great. Romain Grosjean’s been with Lotus in two different guises. Meanwhile Red Bull has its factory of four drivers on the 2014 grid. But Hulkenberg? Di Resta? Adrian Sutil? Perez again? All resigned to the midfield, it seems.

Few would argue Hulkenberg, along with Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Marussia’s Jules Bianchi are the “stars-in-waiting” of F1’s new generation of drivers that have already proven themselves in less than top machinery. But until they get their shot at the big teams, we can only imagine what they could do.

On the bright side, at least these drivers have made it into F1 without needing huge commercial budgets. Meanwhile drivers like Sam Bird, Robin Frijns, Luca Filippi, Davide Valsecchi, Fabio Leimer and Luiz Razia appear to have had their F1 chance pass them by.

Formula 1: Recapping the past week’s news

Photo: Getty Images
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The aftermath of the Chinese Grand Prix has centered around Red Bull Racing and its two drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

While Ricciardo has garnered praise at every turn for a masterful drive from sixth to first in the second half of the race, Verstappen has again come under criticism for overzealous driving in the wake of contact with Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

A recap of the past news week for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, and the attention both Ricciardo and Verstappen have garnered, is below.

Ricciardo Surfaces as Outside Title Contender After Chinese Grand Prix Win

Race winner Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing celebrates after the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Prior to the Chinese Grand Prix, few would have labelled Ricciardo as a possible title contender, especially in the wake of a mechanical failure in the opening laps of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

However, Sunday’s victory in China not only provided a number of thrills for onlookers, it also gave Ricciardo a major boost of confidence, and he asserted afterwards that he thinks a championship push is possible.

“I really feel like, I’ve said a few times, just give me the chance to be in a title hunt and I really believe I will take it,” Ricciardo said in a piece posted on Crash.net. “I feel like I can capitalize on opportunities and I guess [China] was a good example even with a fat lip I am still pretty fast and pretty good on a Sunday.”

The victory also comes at an interesting time in Ricciardo’s career, as the 2018 season is the final one in his current contract with the Red Bull team. On the market for a new contract, Ricciardo mentioned that he’s seeking a two-year deal with whichever team he signs with.

“I don’t want to sign anything too long because I don’t know where the sport’s going,” Ricciardo said in an interview with The Times newspaper.

He added, “Ideally, I’d sign a two-year contract. I think two years I can definitely be comfortable with and then see it from there. That third year will be the rule change so I will probably wait and see what happens then.”

Ricciardo also added that whether or not he returns to Red Bull is entirely down to the team’s performance this year.

“I kind of feel like if they want me to race for them they should contact me, but they haven’t,” he said. “If we win this year then I’m staying with Red Bull. It’s pretty simple. It’s really just about performance at the moment.”

Jos Verstappen Offers Constructive Criticism to Max

Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing looks on in the garage during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 14, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Max Verstappen has again come under fire for overzealous driving, and not just from rivals this time.

Perhaps most notably, Max’s father Jos Verstappen, a former Formula 1 driver in his own right, offered his thoughts this past weekend, asserting that Max needs to show more patience and a little better judgment in his overtaking moves.

“The overtake on Vettel really wasn’t on. It wasn’t possible. It was an error of judgement. In some circumstances Max just has to think more,” Jos told Ziggo Sport’s Peptalk, referenced in a Crash.net story.

However, Jos also praised his son’s driving style, noting that he hopes that part doesn’t change.

“I don’t want him to change his driving style. He passed two people at the start. He did that perfectly,” he added. “That’s what we all want to see. But we don’t want to see these kinds of actions. He needs to have it under control. He needs to think.”

In addition to receiving a 10-second penalty for the incident, Verstappen also received two penalty points, bringing his total to five. A driver who gets 12 penalty points within a span of 12 months is automatically given a one-race ban.

Rubens Barrichello Recovering from Brain Tumor

Former F1 driver Rubens Barrichello. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Rubens Barrichello has revealed that he was diagnosed with a brain tumor earlier this year after collapsing in the shower.

After going quiet on social media for several months, the 45-year-old posted a message reassuring fans of his health, and then revealed more in an interview with Brazilian TV network Globo.

“Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my head. It seemed to be exploding, I had to fall on the ground and only after a few minutes I managed to reach my wife Silvana to ask for help. I immediately realized that it was a serious problem,” Barrichello said of the ordeal in an emotional interview.

Barrichello, whose health has appeared to improve in recent weeks, revealed that the recovery process has been nothing short of miraculous.

“I feel like a miracle,” he said. “(The doctors) told me that only 14 percent of the people who suffered this type of problem then managed to recover completely.

“I am still going through exams and so on, but I am honestly great and the difficulties in life are the ones who show us how to grow and how to be better.”

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