What Next for The Hulk?
After the surprise announcement that Haas will retain both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean for the 2020 season, Nico Hulkenberg's F1 career hangs in the balance. Haas were the team most thought the German would end up at, but with the announcement they won't be taking him on we will cover the options available to Hulkenberg and how likely each one is to materialise.
Alfa Romeo looks the most likely destination at this current point in time. With Raikkonen assured of his seat for 2020, it is the fate of Antonio Giovinazzi that hangs in the balance. With Mick Schumacher waiting in the wings for a seat in 2021, the 2nd driver position could be a tempting prospect for Hulkenberg. Kimi Raikkonen's contract ends in 2021 and with the Finn turning 41 by the end of the that contract, Alfa Romeo may look to an experienced hand to help guide the young talent they will inevitably have on the other side of the garage. The 2nd driver spot is owned by Ferrari and with Giovinazzi a Ferrari academy driver that 2020 seat looks more his than Hulk's, however there may be a surprise in store.
The rumours of Hulkenberg and Red Bull have been persistent over the years and now more than ever. Red Bull have had a tumultuous year in finding a suitable team mate for Verstappen, with Gasly being demoted, Albon promoted and the fate of the 2nd seat a mystery. While the team are likely to choose from their junior programme there may be a chance of Hulkenberg bagging the 2nd spot. Red Bull have struggled to have a 2nd car getting consistent points and helping back up Verstappen when needed. The team have been heavily reliant of the Dutch driver and with inconsistency an issue on the other side of the garage, what better driver than Hulkenberg to have. Nico is renowned for his solid season on season points scoring and could be a viable option should Marko and Horner decide they need an experienced hand. It is unlikely, but stranger things have happened.
With Williams confirming that Robert Kubica will leave the team at the end of the season they is the opportunity for Hulkenberg to return to the team where it all started. In 2010 Nico was in his rookie season and impressed taking a stunning pole in Brazil in changeable conditions. Going back would be full circle for Nico but with the team languishing at the back of the grid, it seems unlikely that a man with such experience would want to fight for 19th every weekend. There is also the hurdle of funding, funding which Nico would not bring. Williams are in desperate need of sponsorship money to fund the team and therefore the seat is likely to go to GP2 driver Nicholas Lafiti. While talented, Nico would present a formidable challenge to up and coming driver George Russell. The move is unlikely however and Lafiti is sure to be confirmed with the team.
With options becoming extremely limited, there have been minor rumblings of Hulkenberg providing a year of experience to the Toro Rosso team. Doing so would go against the Red Bull philosophy of picking from their own junior programme, but having a driver with the experience Hulkenberg has may prove beneficial. The move seems very unlikely however, with the team already confirming Daniil Kvyat for the 2020 season and the 2nd seat likely to go to Alexander Albon or Pierre Gasly.
Hulkenberg is no stranger to a test driver position, after doing so for Force India in 2011. While Nico is arguably toward the latter end of his F1 career as opposed to the beginning, there's no denying a man with 10 years experience in the sport would be an asset for any team on the grid. While the days of a thousand miles a day testing are over, simulation work and experience in developing the car are still incredibly important for any team to gain an understanding of what the next race will bring. Nico would bring a wealth of experience and talent to the Test Driver role, however, at 32 waiting in the shadows for a potential opportunity may not be the most attractive prospect.
A Life Outside F1
Barring any major surprises it does seem that Hulkenberg's time in F1 is nearly up, with a life outside of F1 the most likely prospect. If so, there are a number of options available including Formula E, Super Formula or Indycar. Zac Brown, boss of McLaren, confirmed that Nico had rejected a deal to race IndyCar next season for the team because "Ovals aren't his thing", while the options are drying up in Formula E as the new season ramps up. A return to Le Mans and the location of his victory in 2015 could be another option available to Hulkenberg but the sense is that he will try and stay in F1 if possible. Whatever happens Nico has had a great career in F1 but there may always be the sense of what if. Nico deserves to stay in F1, but the circus may move on without him.