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Renault F1 pursuing Nico Hulkenberg, where would Force India turn?

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Renault F1 pursuing Nico Hulkenberg, where would Force India turn?
Oct 10, 2016, 11:21 AM

Nico Hulkenberg is being tempted by a big money offer from Renault, as the French manufacturer looks to step things up in year two of their F1 retu...

Nico Hulkenberg is being tempted by a big money offer from Renault, as the French manufacturer looks to step things up in year two of their F1 return. So will he go and who would Force India take as a replacement?

This year the team has been compromised by the late decision to acquire the Lotus team and rebrand it as well as to replace the Mercedes engine with a Renault. They have been playing catch up on engineering every since and although recently they have had the pace to finish ahead of Toro Rosso, McLaren, Sauber and Manor at times, in general this has been a season of treading water until 2017 when the new F1 rules offer a fresh start for everyone. So most of the resource has gone into that development programme.

The management has acknowledged that it is still too early to go after a big name driver, a GP winner or world champion, as they are looking at a five year cycle to reach the level where they should be fighting for the championship.

Nico Hulkenberg

Behind the scenes they have tried to tempt Carlos Sainz away from Toro Rosso, but he's signed up for 2017 and the option lies with Red Bull, not with the driver. The latest driver to receive an offer is Nico Hulkenberg and this one might work. The German is still looking for his first F1 podium, but is considered to be among the best drivers in F1's second tier and he consistently teas the Force India into the positions behind the top three teams in qualifying and the race.

If he were to ask to be released by Force India, the buyout would be cheaper than other drivers they've looked at and the door would also be open for Force India to house one of Mercedes' up and coming proteges.

The two Manor drivers, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon are gaining experience, with Wehrlein in the car since the start of the season as well as several test outings in the Mercedes. Ocon only came into F1 part way through the season and has taken his time to find his feet. But his last two races have shown some strong performance.

Esteban Ocon

The clincher however is that Force India has already tested both drivers and made its own internal assessments. They feel Ocon is the more promising driver. He has a complicated contractual situation in one sense; he's a Mercedes development driver (bought from Gerard Lopez' Gravity Management, having been discovered by Eric Boullier when he worked for Lopez) on secondment to Renault.

This would seem to have the makings of a deal that can be done, however as Renault gets Hulkenberg and Mercedes can progress one of its proteges up the grid. It would be tough on Wehrlein, who is the next cab off the rank and Wehrlein clearly has support from powerful entities within the Mercedes German hierarchy.

Esteban Ocon Pascal Wehrlein

But this is about developing the replacement for Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg and an empty seat at Force India is an ideal stepping stone for the next two seasons.

Who do you think Renault and Force India should hire for 2017? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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