As speculation continues at Williams F1 regarding the retention of driver Nico Hulkenberg, Sir Frank Williams has at least settled some dust on the young Germans potential and possible future with the team.
Speaking to the BBC, Sir Frank said:
“It was a little disappointing, maybe, in the first few races, perhaps because he was being over-cautious,” he said.
“But lately he has become very competitive and we have just seen the beginning of something exceptional.”
We, at F1B, couldn’t agree more. Hulkenberg has really started to shine in the latter part of the 2010 season and unlike other rookies such as Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, HRT’s Bruno Senna or Virgin Racing’s Lucas Di Grassi, Hulkenberg is displaying a potential that you can sense is of the Vettel, Rosberg, Hamilton, Kubica style. A young man who could be more than just a really good F1 driver. Williams agrees:
“He won all the way up to Formula 3 and GP2, he has won every single championship and in the right team, hopefully us one day, he will win the world championship as well in Formula 1.”
The rumors are swirling on the back of financial need more than any lack of Hulkenberg’s pace or skill. It has been stated that GP2 champion Pastor Maldonado will be testing for the team and has serious sponsor backing in the millions. It is rumored that Williams F1 desperately needs this cash infusion as they are losing several sponsors next year and a paying driver may be their only option no matter what they think of Hulkenberg.
Chief among exiting sponsors is RBS which, as a bailed-out bank in England, is not comfortable spending tax payer money on sport sponsorship. Hulkenberg is managed by a notoriously wealthy chap named Willi Weber who also manages Mcihael Schumacher and has made an art of big dollar contracts. F1 is, unfortunately for Weber, has been heading toward a pay-to-drive format for young drivers over the last several years and Hulkenberg is rumored to have no sponsor backing at this time.
The simple answer? Does Williams F1 want Hulkenberg for 2011? Sir Frank said:
“Absolutely. We do hope so yes”.
Sir Frank is also very pleased with veteran driver Rubens Barrichello abd besides needing the emotional “atta boy” more frequently than I suspect Patrick Head is used to giving out, the Brazilian’s talent and skill have found a good home at Williams F1.
“He has enormous experience. He is now, without doubt, the most experienced driver in the pit lane and he does demonstrate that very frequently.
“His technique is very understated, he’s a very smooth driver. He likes to be mollycoddled emotionally a little bit, and he likes being told how good he is, but we don’t have any problem in telling him, we believe strongly in him.
“He’s good fun and very experienced and that is a great value to any team.”
Barricehllo has always said that he wanted to drive for Williams since he was a little boy but perhaps he can be instrumental in getting the team back toward the front with his experience. As one of the most experienced men on the grid, he is in lock-step with Mercedes GP driver and old teammate Michael Schumacher with whom he had a tussle at this years Hungarian Grand Prix. Schumacher’s aggressive move was not pleasing to the Brazilian and nor was it well received with Sir Frank:
“It was dangerous and I think he was surprised, having conducted that manoeuvre, about how much opprobrium was thrown at him,” said Williams.
“He was given a very hard time from within the paddock from amongst the teams and within the press and he deserved that. It was very dangerous and totally unnecessary, and totally unsporting too.”
So as Williams marches forward with their veteran in pocket and a youngster to be named later, they attempt to climb the F1 ladder one rung at a time. Whether it be Hulkenberg or Maldonado, Williams can be a good stepping stone toward the front as Red Bull’s Mark Webber learned. Webber’s crash in Korea has placed him behind the eight ball for the title but Sir Frank feels he could do it:
“He did cause himself a lot of damage by crashing out of the last race. It’s easy to be critical, the wet’s a very tricky place to be when you have got 730 horsepower, but he did lose the car.
“Will he win? His chance is still very good but I wouldn’t like to call it. If he keeps a cool head he could think it through.”