Calendar clash scuppers Hulkenberg’s Le Mans defence plans

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Nico Hulkenberg’s hopes of defending the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Porsche next June have been scuppered by the updated Formula 1 calendar that the World Motor Sport Council released on Thursday.

The original provisional calendar safeguarded the Le Mans weekend, as has been commonplace in the past few years, allowing Hulkenberg to return to the Circuit de la Sarthe and defend his win in 2016.

Hulkenberg played an instrumental role in winning Porsche its first overall Le Mans victory since 1998 in June, racing alongside Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy in the no. 19 car.

However, the updated F1 calendar now sees the European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan move forward by one month, forming a somewhat trying back-to-back with the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

As a result, the race in Baku now clashes with Le Mans, which looks set to prevent Hulkenberg from defending his title alongside Bamber and Tandy.

It is worth stressing that, for the time being, the F1 schedule for 2016 remains provisional, and is unlikely to be firmed up until the last WMSC meeting of the year in December.

In a report from motorsport.com, a Porsche insider said that the German marque would wait until the calendar had been approved before finding a replacement for Hulkenberg, leaving the door open for the Force India driver.

Said insider also suggested that any replacement for Hulkenberg would already be working within the Porsche setup, as opposed to an outsider such as IndyCar driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who is due to test the team’s 919 Hybrid LMP1 car soon.

The ‘Le Mans or F1’ decision will not be one that fans are left with, though, as the FIA stipulated in its statement that the grand prix in Azerbaijan would start after the 24 hour race had finished.