A year ago, I noted how Nico Hulkenberg is now seemingly stuck in the F1 midfield for good, with his move from Sauber to Force India.
While he’s continuously been passed over for that elusive top ride in F1, what he will be able to showcase next year is that the modern F1 driver can be a versatile one, with his announcement on Thursday he’ll be racing for Porsche’s LMP1 program at Spa and Le Mans next season in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Part of the reason drivers such as Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt are regarded as the all-time legends of motorsports is because of their versatility. The top two IndyCar drivers in any order of all-time, Andretti also is a Formula One World Champion, with Foyt having captured the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Dan Gurney. Both are also Daytona 500 winners.
In modern times, drivers such as Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya have stood out for their ability to take up residence in disparate forms of open-wheel and stock car racing.
But in F1 the options are few and far between, frequently due to schedule or political conflicts.
That Force India has been gracious enough to allow Hulkenberg the opportunity to race with Porsche at the two most key FIA World Endurance Championship events in 2015 is a smart, positive development that I wish more teams, or championships, would take note of.
It’s a win-win situation really, for all parties. The media exposure of Hulkenberg racing at Le Mans is staggering, and for nearly every mention of him racing for Porsche will also come the mention that he ranks wherever in the F1 points standings with Force India. Force India will get noticed by the sports car media and world by virtue of its driver doing the running.
For Hulkenberg, it’s a chance to sample machinery of the highest technology besides F1 – the hybrid systems involved in LMP1 are world class by any measure. Mark Webber’s move to the WEC this season was arguably one of the biggest international motorsports story lines. In the same respect, Andre Lotterer’s one-off Grand Prix debut for Caterham at Spa was the story of a guy getting the chance to try out F1 after becoming a sports car star and three-time Le Mans winner, even if he preferred his full-time deal after the trial.
And for Hulkenberg, it’s his opportunity to be in win-contending equipment. Porsche has steadily improved over its first season with its 919 Hybrid and should be even better with another offseason to develop into 2015. Hulkenberg wouldn’t have taken the shot if he didn’t think he could make something out of it.
It gives an extra storyline for F1 during three F1 off-weekends, and it raises the WEC and Le Mans’ profile even more by having a current F1 driver in the field.
By contrast, there’s a conflict going on in Australian motorsport where a date clash of the V8 Supercars test day and the Bathurst 12 Hour GT3 race in February is preventing a crossover of stars.
But for “the Hulk,” Force India, F1, Porsche, the WEC and Le Mans, this signing appears to be a win-win all around.