Op-Ed: Could HRT not make the grid due to lack of drivers?

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Nico Hulkenberg has a post up on his official web site in which he insists he will be in Formula 1 in 2011. He also speaks politely of the Williams team, focusing on the positives and not the obvious, big negative: their dropping him.

Hulkenberg at this point mainly seems to be tied to a seat at Force India, presumably with Adrian Sutil, or a back-up spot (aka the Heidfeld) at Mercedes.

I suppose either would qualify as “still in F1.”

And this got me thinking. For my money, right now the Force India seat is really the only interesting spot left. (I’ll come back to it in a minute.)

I’m pretty confident that Vitaly Petrov will be back with Renault next season. The looming “Russian bear” market and the fact that Vladamir Putin recently drove an F1 car makes me think there is no way young Vitaly won’t find the money to keep his seat. Plus, I think he did a pretty solid job in 2010.

There’s the second seat at Virgin, where Timo Glock is “100%” committed to sticking with the team. (Another that now has Russian backing. Maybe Vitaly dives over there? Is that possible?) But I don’t think — other than my Vitaly musings — that I’m going to be “wowed” by whoever ends up with Timo.

Toro Rosso doesn’t have an official line-up yet, but it is pretty clear the team will be sticking with Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastian Buemi, at least until mid-year when their contracts are up. Then we should see what Daniel Riccardo is capable of in an F1 car.

So what’s that leave?

Ah, HRT. My question is: Does anyone even want to be in that car? Supposedly Hulkenberg turned it down. Who else might? Would a Lucas di Grassi go there? A Nick Heidfeld?

Seriously. This car seems so bad that there’s no way to really “show your stuff.” Does it just make a driver look un-employably slow? Is it a career dead end?

And if it is, does that mean it is possible that all those drivers chomping at the bit to get a shot in F1 would turn down HRT, figuring a year of doing something else would be better than a year being several seconds slower than the rest of the field?

Could HRT develop a car but not find someone willing to pilot it? At the least, I’m not hearing any scuttlebutt about drivers there.

But I promised we’d return to Force India. I’m interesting in this seat because there seem to be two very strong candidates: Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta, who the team has been heavily supporting and gave Friday time to in 2010. Plus, he just won the DTM title. That seems a difficult choice to me. And so I’m interested to see which way Force India goes. (Does di Resta have to wait another year as a test driver? If so, does Karun Chandhok lose out?)


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