Formula 1’s go-to reserve driver, Nico Hulkenberg, has been retained by Aston Martin as their 2021 reserve driver. Nico has a history of filling in for the team when Lance Stroll was out due to COVID-19 in 2020.
The difference now will be that Nico won’t be a last minute call-up but an established part fo their simulation work and potential reserve driver should Lance or Sebastian Vettel cannot race.
Now, I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist but there is a part of me that can’t help but connect dots with team boss Otmar Szafnauer’s comments regarding Vettel’s struggles in testing and the first race in Bahrain. Vettel himself said he wasn’t at home in the car and Otmar said it was too early to speculate about Vettel.
Any team will look to safeguard their performance and for me, it is logical that if you did have concerns over Vettel’s pace and performance arc, you might want to have a backup or safety valve.
Driver contracts have lots of clauses so it is difficult to know if Sebastian or the team have clauses that would allow for a driver change (I don’t think many would unless there was a significant payout). That said, I sense that this is good move to protect the team should they need a reserve driver and locking Nico up keeps him from going to other teams.
This give the team a very experienced driver for simulation work to develop the car and that’s on top of what Sebastian brings.
“It’s great to get this deal signed up with plenty of notice – last year, I didn’t have quite as much time to prepare before jumping in the car!” Hulkenberg said.
“I’m really pleased to once again work with this team – with whom I have driven many times during my career.
“It will also be interesting to help develop the team through the season, and I’m really looking forward to pulling great lap times out of my arm sleeve.”
Team principal Otmar Szafnauer said:
“In these difficult times, the requirement for a capable and experienced reserve driver is especially important.
“Nico proved last year that he could jump in the car and perform superbly at a moment’s notice; now, with additional scope for preparation and integration, we know that we can rely on Nico to do an excellent job.”
I do think Lawrence Stroll, the team owner, is a shrewd character when it comes to his business and would it shock me to see a change mid-season if he didn’t feel Seb was delivering? No. Would it cost him money to make the change? I have to think it would. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that and the team reap the rewards of a 4-time champion driving for them.