Renault is the great mystery for 2017, with little known about who they would favour in their driver line up, given it the first season they will have complete control. One of those suggestions is Nico Hulkenberg reported by Bild, after Sergio Perez confirmed he is to stay at Force India.
Yes, the performance of the team has been woeful this season and that can’t be unexpected given the financial problems last season putting development behind and then switching back from the Mercedes to Renault engine after just one season. That aside late entrant Kevin Magnussen has done a competent job at steading the ship, although hasn’t really outperformed Jolyon Palmer in a way which makes you think he is a superstar.
One big player was, and possibly still is would be Red Bull’s Carlos Sainz. The suggestion over the weekend that Renault have even offered free engines to Red Bull in exchange for the highly rated Spaniard, someone who they are extremely reluctant to let go of, considering there is a lack of talent immediately below him to take his place in the Red Bull Junior team. Pierre Gasly has blown hot and cold in GP2 and anyone below him would be a big risk. That could ultimately seal the deal for Daniil Kvyat to stay. Earlier indications also linked Spanish media group Movistar to Renault, along with the Spanish bank BBVA, which would create an interesting partnership.
You then have to look at other experienced drivers who are not linked to big teams. One of the top on the list would be Nico Hulkenberg. He has experience, and comes highly rated after winning Le Mans last season, although results haven’t always been forthcoming in Formula One. He is a safe pair of hands, in a team which is rebuilding and has similar attributes to Jenson Button in producing great results in difficult conditions. It would be his last roll of the dice though at getting to the top in Formula One after missing out on the Ferrari drive when Felipe Massa left and before that at McLaren.
It is said that Renault would want a French driver alongside Hulkenberg if this does turn out to be the case. Given the rumours that Fred Vasseur is to lose out in a power struggle for the control of the team, that is now unlikely to be Mercedes backed Esteban Ocon, a driver in which the highly rated team manager backed. One bargaining tool for Red Bull could be to sacrifice GP2 driver Pierre Gasly who could fill that role nicely, especially if he wins the championship. That could be tricky as he is locked in a tight battle with teammate Antonio Giovanazzi.
Although we have seats at Williams, Sauber, Manor and Haas to confirm, it is Renault who is holding up the driver market for the moment.