NOVEMBER 22, 2013
Maldonado and Hulkenberg keys to 2014 silly season
Pastor Maldonado and Nico Hulkenberg remain the keys to the last phase of F1's 2014 'silly season'.
PDVSA-backed Maldonado, a grand prix winner, is the powerful 'pay driver' on the move, reportedly with EUR 40 million in tow and on the lookout for a new team after his Williams split.
It is believed that if Lotus' 'Quantum' investment deal falls through, locking the highly-rated Hulkenberg out, Maldonado is in pole position to replace Kimi Raikkonen in 2014.
But Maldonado muddied the waters at Interlagos on Thursday when he told reporters he might not be taking his PDVSA millions to his next team.
"For sure they've been supporting me for a while but maybe they don't want to continue," he said.
"Maybe yes, maybe not."
Maldonado, whose claims he is in the running even in PDVSA's absence raised eyebrows in the paddock, named Lotus but also Sauber and Force India as all "good options" for 2014.
Few, however, believe that, in a straight fight, teams would sign an unsponsored Maldonado over Hulkenberg. Indeed, on Thursday, German Hulkenberg admitted there was a "danger" money matters would leave him without a seat in 2014.
Fernando Alonso, regarded by many as the best driver in F1, said it would be wrong if that happened.
"He (Hulkenberg) is one of the best guys in the field," the Spaniard is quoted by SID news agency, "and not just in the last few weeks.
"He really has a great talent," Alonso added.
TV pundit Eddie Jordan predicted weeks ago that Hulkenberg would eventually be signed by Force India. On Thursday, rumours that a two-year contract is now on the German's table did the rounds at Interlagos.
Hulkenberg, it seems, would not replace his countryman Adrian Sutil, as the German grinned broadly on Thursday when asked about his future.
Asked by Speed Week to rank his worries about 2014 between 1 and 10, Sutil answered: "Zero. I have no worries. I'm very calm."
It is Paul di Resta who is openly worried, and now more strongly linked with his newly-retired cousin Dario Franchitti's Ganassi seat in Indycar than a future in F1.
"I've openly said I would discuss it with Dario," the Scot is quoted by Britain's Sky. "I wouldn't rule anything out."
Force India deputy boss Bob Fernley said the Silverstone based team will not decide its 2014 driver lineup until December.
Further down the grid, Frenchman Charles Pic on Thursday admitted his future at Caterham is not assured. "I think there are still many seats available," he said.
The BBC reported that Swedish GP2 driver Marcus Ericsson could make his F1 debut for the green-coloured team in 2014.