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Have Williams made the right decision? // Letting Nico Hülkenberg go could cost the team in 2011

Published by Joe Ryland

Hülkenberg waves goodbye to Williams
Hülkenberg waves goodbye to WilliamsCredit: Joe Ryland

In mid-November, Williams announced that Nico Hülkenburg would not be racing for them in 2011. It had been rumoured for a while, but even so, the announcement did surprise a lot of people. Hülkenburg may not have had a brilliant season, but after achieving a pole position and 14th in the World Driver standings in a very competitive season, he did do very well for a rookie.

For the last few seasons, we have seen many rookies struggle under the pressure of driving in Formula 1. But increasingly the new up and coming drivers have a string of bad results and are ditched. Is this the right thing to do? In most cases the answer is no.

Even though most team principals are very careful to make the choice of what drivers to use, they often get it wrong. Surely it is worth sticking it out for a while, even if the driver is not up to scratch. This year especially it has been hard for new drivers, with one of the most competitive seasons for years many drivers can become overwhelmed. Even the master that is Michael Schumacher hasn’t been able to prove his true ability.

If I was a team principal, I’d like to think I would let a driver blossom. Toro Rosso have certainly been going in the right direction with Jaime Alguersuari. In the half of 2009 he participated in, he drove pretty poorly, and some would have called for him to be sacked. But he was still young and needed time to improve and get used to the life of F1. The team though didn’t just fire him and pick from their extensive young driver academy, but kept him to see how he might improve.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Jaime certainly hasn’t had a spectacular season, but he has improved and been solidly around the tenth place mark. A new driver in the Toro Rosso would have probably struggled to get a point this year. Next season, Jaime would have probably improved even more. The new tyres and regulations will shake things up which means the newer drivers will be put at more of a level pegging compared to the established drivers.

So should Williams have discarded Nico Hülkenburg quite so quickly? He may not have been super fast but not many drivers can say they had a pole position in their first year. Many times through the season Nico was as quick as, and quicker than, his teammate Rubens Barrichello. I thought from early on in the season that he was a talent and I believe that he should be with a strong team for next season, and certainly not a reserve driver.

But is Hülkenburg’s replacement going to be worth losing him? Pastor Maldonado didn’t follow the likes of Hülkenburg and Hamilton by winning the GP2 crown in his first season, but he is a good champion. Although, will he be as strong as his predecessor? I can only imagine it won’t be the case, and he’ll be like any other rookie that has arrived in Formula 1. A driver that is good enough will improve year on year, and become a good investment for the long run. Having a new driver each season won’t make any ground within the team, stability is necessary to do well.

The only reason that I can muster for Hülkenburg’s replacement is Maldonado’s sponsorship money that will do the team favours. Williams have lost four sponsors this season and obviously they’re going to be short of money, but it’s a difficult balance, choose a driver that could get you points and chance of new sponsors or find a driver with strong connections and plenty of sponsor money up front.

I’m sure Williams have done what is best for the team but I can’t help feeling that Hülkenburg would have been a great investment for the future. I’m also sure that Maldonado will do well in 2011 and will give the team the money they need. But at the end of the day, I’ve got to say it looks like Williams have gone down the wrong route with this decision.