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Nico Hulkenberg

How Hulkenberg to Audi would affect Stake and Haas

The rumour mill is in full force and the latest speculation is that Nico Hulkenberg is about to sign a three-year deal with the Audi F1 project, that will see him join Stake from Haas for the 2025 season. But what does that mean for the drivers at those two teams?

Hulkenberg Australia
Analysis
To news overview © Haas F1

The F1 driver market is no zero-sum game - but for every move there are winners and there are losers.

And with the heavy speculation Nico Hulkenberg will be signing on to the Audi project imminently, it is time to assess what that means for the drivers linked to both Haas and Stake F1.

The German’s career revival is something to behold. After being axed by Renault at the end of the 2019 season, he had to settle for the odd stand-in drive for Racing Point and Aston Martin.

However, when Haas were looking for a driver with the same passport as Mick Schumacher but with more F1 experience, Hulkenberg was the obvious choice – and he more than took his second chance.

Despite a difficult first season for the team, Hulkenberg impressed. This term, with improved tyre wear and race pace, the 36-year-old has brought Haas points in three of the opening five rounds of the year, corralling that form into a contract with Audi in the process - or so RacingNews365 understands, at the moment.

Naturally, the winners and losers of this likely move are drawn down team lines, with the winners in the Haas camp and the losers at Hulkenberg’s home for 2025 – Stake.

The winners

Oliver Bearman is the most obvious winner from Hulkenberg leaving Haas. The F2 driver made the F1 world stop and take notice when he deputised for Carlos Sainz at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

However, given the quality of that last-minute stand-in performance, there was always the sense he would find himself in a full-time F1 drive sooner rather than later, and Haas was the obvious home for the Ferrari junior.

So, whilst Bearman might be the name that first springs to mind, the biggest winner in all this has got to be Hulkenberg’s current team-mate, Kevin Magnussen.

The Danish driver also got a second shot at F1, returning to Haas to partner Schumacher in 2022 when Nikita Mazepin was fired in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

After handily beating Schumacher, Magnussen has been left somewhat in Hulkenberg’s shadow over the past year. Whilst the 31-year-old has taken a step forward this season, with Bearman knocking at the door, he was the obvious candidate to make way at Haas. But not anymore.

Haas will understandably want to partner Bearman with experience – the team learned the hard way that youth paired with youth does not always work with the aforementioned Schumacher and Mazepin.

And who better to lead the team than a driver who knows it inside and out?

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

The losers

There are two sides to every coin (let’s not do the whole ‘actually there are three’ thing), and it is starting to look like either Valtteri Bottas or Zhou Guanyu will pay the price.

Audi have been courting Sainz for some time, so both drivers have been operating with the understanding that one of them would likely be making way for the Ferrari driver come 2025.

But with Hulkenberg’s name being increasingly linked to the project in recent weeks, there is a chance both will be moving on next year.

The surprise loser in this scenario is Bottas, whose options are starting to thin – even if his glorious mullet is not.

Hulkenberg joining Stake would effectively take his future out of his hands. If Audi can woo Sainz, he’ll be looking elsewhere. If that does come to pass, the obvious home for him would be Williams. But again, that would likely be dependent on Mercedes’ call on Andrea Kimi Antonelli.

Could he make a case for Magnussen’s seat at Haas? Maybe. But outside of that, it is not clear where he would slot in.

Whilst Bottas is the surprise loser, Zhou is undoubtedly the biggest loser.

Even without Hulkenberg and Sainz in the picture, his place in F1 was looking precarious. Now, it’s looking downright untenable. Yes, he’s an incredibly marketable driver – we saw that at the Chinese Grand Prix, but beyond that, it is hard to make a case for the affable Shanghai native.

Zhou would still have been at risk of being replaced by either Theo Pourchaire or Zane Maloney – and it is hard to see him being offered a drive elsewhere in the paddock, regardless of commercial elements or how much it might financially benefit F1.

If we are being honest and fair, his time in F1 is coming to an end. And at the right time, too.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

The losers - extra

But what of Pourchaire and Maloney? Maybe there are three sides to this coin, after all.

When Pourchaire burst onto the support paddock scene in 2020, the idea he might not ever race in F1 seemed ludicrous. The Frenchman ran Oscar Piastri close in the fight for the FIA F3 title that season and he became the youngest-ever feature winner in F2 or GP2 less than a year later.

But his career has stalled. After falling apart in the 2022 F2 championship run-in, he put it back together to win the drivers’ crown last year, but fitting of the prevailing trend, no F1 seat came. Now it’s looking like the Sauber junior might be consigned to the ever-growing list of ‘almost made-its’.

As for Maloney, he has started his sophomore F2 campaign in fine form and leads the way by 15 points after three rounds.

Having joined the Sauber programme from Red Bull at the turn of the year, some had wondered if a strong F2 season might see him usurp Pourchaire as heir-apparent at Stake F1.

But with Hulkenberg expected to be locked into a three-year deal and Sainz perhaps also signing on for the long-term, both Pourchaire and Maloney will have to find opportunities elsewhere.

Fortunately, IndyCar and Formula E look to be viable options for them, respectively.

Pourchaire impressed on his IndyCar debut for Arrow McLaren at the Grand Prix of Long Beach, scything through the pack to finish P11 having qualified P22. He will get a second shot to impress at Barber this weekend.

Maloney, on the other hand, is reserve and development driver for Andretti in Formula E. As part of his duties, he enjoys a slate of testing across the year. Whilst reaching F1 is still his main focus, Maloney may find opportunities to race in Formula E.

Plus, being in the Andretti camp could well be his smartest play. If the American motorsport giant is ultimately successful in its bid to reach the F1 grid, the boy from Barbados may be a beneficiary.

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