Home » Audi Locks In Driver With Zero Wins, Zero Podiums For New F1 Project

Audi Locks In Driver With Zero Wins, Zero Podiums For New F1 Project

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Audi is getting serious about its move into Formula 1. It’s buying its way into the Sauber team, and it wants fresh talent to lead the charge. Now, they’ve landed Nico Hulkenberg for one of their two seats.

It’s an open secret that Audi is trying to close on the very competitive Carlos Sainz. However, word on the street is that the Spaniard is dragging his feet in the hopes he might land somewhere else. Red Bull is thought to be Sainz’s most valued target, given the team’s domination of the sport in recent years.

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With two seats to fill, and time ticking by all the while, it makes sense Audi would want to lock somebody down. Nico Hulkenberg has been around, has the experience, and he’s even German. But when you’ve only got two spots, and you want to win? I’m not sure he’s the guy I’d choose for the job.

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On current form, sure. He’s been getting into Q3, and he’s regularly outpacing fellow veteran Kevin Magnussen. In Formula 1, the first person you have to beat is your teammate, and he’s regularly doing that. In this way, a good driver can make a name for themselves even in a slow car. The Haas is definitely that, lurking somewhere in the midfield. Certainly nowhere near the front.

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However, Hulkenberg’s track record has some notable absences. Namely, the three years he spent out of the sport from 2020 through 2022. That was because at the end of 2019, he simply couldn’t find himself a seat.

By that point, Hulkenberg had been in the sport for a decade. In that time, he’d chalked up zero wins. That in itself is sad, but not completely surprising. After all, almost every win in that time went to Mercedes, Red Bull, or Ferrari. Worse than that, though, is the fact that Hulkenberg never even picked up a podium. And over the years, many of his teammates did.

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Audi does at least have a killer livery planned for its 2026 entry into the sport.

Hulkenberg doesn’t have age on his side, either. He’s now 36 years old; he’ll be 37 before he starts at Sauber next year. It’s easy to see why he might be picked over Sauber’s current Chinese driver, Zhou Guanyu, who hasn’t proven anything. But he’s also being picked over Valtteri Bottas. Bottas is younger (34 years old), and has spent a hell of a lot more time at the front of the pack. He has a full 10 race wins and 67 podiums to his name.

There are a ton of other options on the grid, too. Esteban Ocon is languishing in Alpine, which can’t seem to get its shit together. He’s got a win on his card, and three podiums to his name. His teammate Pierre Gasly has a win too, and four podiums himself. They’re virtual children at 27 and 28 years old respectively.

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Obviously, Carlos Sainz remains the big target. He’s a race winner, and a recent one at that. He’s also driving his pants off lately, even when he’s down an organ and just weeks out of surgery.

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CEO Andreas Seidl is heading up Audi’s charge into the sport.

Without him, though, Audi risks having a rather poor lineup indeed. Nico Hulkenberg is fine, but fine doesn’t win you championships. There isn’t a whole lot of cutting-edge talent for Audi to choose from beyond Sainz, either. In a worst-case scenario, it would be hilarious to see them end up replicating the current Haas lineup for their big factory-effort debut.

In any case, picking up a 36-year-old driver with no big finishes to his name is a strange move that screams of desperation on Audi’s part. It’s not even obvious why it made that move; it’s hard to imagine the German driver being anyone’s first choice right now, after all.

Regardless, Nico might yet prove us all wrong, and Audi too. I wish them all the best, I just don’t expect it.

Image credits: Audi

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Veil of Farts
Veil of Farts
24 days ago

The Hulk is a perfect choice for a number 2. He’s won LeMans, so he’s no slouch, and can reliably score points in the right machinery.

Most importantly, whoever Audi is courting for their number 1 sees they’ve already locked in a driver they can beat.

Plus, he’s got that sweet hair.

Last edited 24 days ago by Veil of Farts
Spikersaurusrex
Spikersaurusrex
24 days ago

When Nico Hulkenberg debuted, I would have picked him as a future champion. However, he was too big for the cars of the day with the emphasis on smaller and lighter drivers, so he was never able to pick up a seat at the front of the grid. This many years on, he is still a great driver, but he’s not a serious contender when there are so many hot new prospects on the grid as well as in F2. I can only think Audi signed him for his technical feedback to help them develop the car.

Dangerous_Daveo
Dangerous_Daveo
25 days ago

My guess, he’s cheap, still very motivated to get at least a podium. But likely most of all, he’s driven a bunch more different cars than Bottas has. Bottas has driven a car that was designed to run at the front, and wasn’t much good if it wasn’t, and the Sauber.

Also, they know the seat actually isn’t that attractive until everyone knows what the Audi drive unit is like, which realistically isn’t until sometime in 2026. Carlos will come across because of his dad, an insane amount of money and knowing he’s actually #1 driver. For all we know too, Carlos may have requested him.

Anyway, Bottas will be in the Pro Pelton next year…

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
25 days ago

I get that they want someone experienced to fine tune their new car, but shouldn’t they choose someone who has experience fine tuning a car to actually win?

That’s a huge part of a driver’s job; to instruct the crew how to set the car up to win. Nico has exactly zero experience doing that.

Lotsofchops
Lotsofchops
25 days ago

You have to expect that Bearman will be in F1 next year after his substitute driver, unless his F2 season absolutely implodes. And since Ferrari is full it will be Haas. As you say Hulk is performing K-Mag, but maybe he just wants a change. And Audi probably can offer more money than Haas.

Last edited 25 days ago by Lotsofchops
Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
25 days ago

The Hülk has this big himbo energy to him I can’t unsee (…especially when he comments on things he really shouldn’t), but to be fair, he’s also got a ton of experience developing a car. Sure, I’d rather see Bottas or someone else more exciting there, but this seems like a safe pick in case Audi doesn’t land who they want in the other seat. Half the battle seems to be getting the car right, and a newer team is going to want someone with a lot of experience with that in at least one of its driver seats.

Last edited 25 days ago by Stef Schrader
Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
25 days ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

“…big himbo energy…”
You say that like its a bad thing…

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
25 days ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

Himbo (extremely derogatory), in this case. He’s said some really empty-brained things about women in racing and grid girls over the years. Just bog standard dumb misogyny.

That’s my main reason for wanting to see someone else in that seat, but yeah. There are reasons why newer teams go with these mid-as-hell but experienced drivers, and you can’t get more mid than the Hülk.

Last edited 25 days ago by Stef Schrader
Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
24 days ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

Oh – I consider himbo as just a good-looking dumb dude.
I know some very kind himbos.

You’re talking misogyny – that’s just douchebaggery.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
21 days ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

yeah, there’s a vast difference between himbo (endearing term) and himbo (derogatory term)

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
25 days ago

Seidl – What shape is the container of your favorite coffee beverage?
Hulkenberg – Square, of course.
Seidl – You’re Hired.

Anders
Anders
25 days ago

When the most important criteria for the new Audi driver is a German nationality, they’ve surly could have done a lot better. I’ll bet Walter Röhrl or Hans Stuck would be up for a bit of fun and action and if not, why not go full in on a German nobility with Albert von Thurn und Taxis?

Phuzz
Phuzz
25 days ago

Yet another thinly-disguised shill for Valtteri Bottas, clearly The Autopian is in the pocket of Big Bottas!

/s

Phuzz
Phuzz
24 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

I like Big Bottas and I cannot lie,
all you other brothers can’t deny.

Jj
Jj
25 days ago

Hulkenberg doesn’t seem like a bad choice. He’s experienced, he’s German and he still seems able to get a lot out of that terrible Haas.

I wouldn’t touch Ocon. I know they have money behind them, that doesn’t mean they should waste it rebuilding both cars after every race because Ocon decided to run his teammate into the wall.

SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
25 days ago

You know who had a win in the Mercedes era and is available?
Pastore Maldonado

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
25 days ago
Reply to  SNL-LOL Jr

That was still the first Red Bull era

Alexk98
Alexk98
25 days ago

This is a huge win for Audi, a massively experienced veteran that can bring in seriously helpful feedback is worth infinitely more to a fledgling works team than a younger, slower driver with more marketing potential like Zhou. Hulkenberg will be the perfect number 2 for the team if they can land Sainz.

Audi has the full financial weight of VAG behind it, and has zero space for a pay driver. Reasonably quick veterans that can jump in and quickly hone the car in will be critical to accelerating Audis development. It won’t be a front runner in a year or two of course, but a good pair of veterans will easily help shave a year or two off that timeline.

W124
W124
25 days ago

I just hope Audi doesn’t do Toyotas. While Toyota spent literal billions in its F1-program, it had allways very mediocre driver pairings which I think is one of the reasons they never won a race despite huge amounts of money they burnt.

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
25 days ago

Nico UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUuuuuuuuuuuuulkengerg is a good move for Audi.
Esteban Ocon is still managed by Mercedes and is still a probable contender for the Mercedes seat.

Matt Sexton
Matt Sexton
25 days ago

I call Ocon The Invisible Man because he seems to be completely devoid of any personality and seems to have never done anything memorable. I always forget he’s even out there. I’d like Jack Doohan in the Alpine next year if for no other reason than he’d hopefully at least make it interesting.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli is the front runner for Lewis’ seat in my mind, and that of many others. It’s been interesting to watch him in F2 this year. Note that regardless of how he finishes this season, he already has enough Super Licence points to race in F1, having won both FRECA and FRMEC last year.

sentinelTk
sentinelTk
25 days ago

I seem to remember a lot of talk about him offering good, veteran feedback to a floundering Haas when he was brought on. Folks forget, there is significant value in F1 outside of what happens at races: testing, development, driver reliability.

Is Hulkenberg going to be the one to make Audi competitive? No. But is it just as critical for a “new” team to have a #2 that brings off-track benefits to the team and won’t bin the car regularly? Absolutely.

Hiram McDaniel
Hiram McDaniel
25 days ago
Reply to  sentinelTk

This is a spot on comment, and nicely states why Hulk is a good fit. No matter what they do, Audi is not going to be front of pack in year 1. They just aren’t. So development is the main goal next year.

sentinelTk
sentinelTk
25 days ago
Reply to  sentinelTk

And side note….by my count, half the current F1 field has no wins including 3 teams with zero wins on their rosters….

Vanillasludge
Vanillasludge
26 days ago

F1 is 75% the car/team and 25% the driver. Being plugged into shitbox cars that have little to no hope of winning can distort a driver’s record.

In that sense Hulk’s biggest failure has been in managing his career, not his driving skills.

One needs only to look at Martin Brundle as an example of an outstanding driver who never had the stars align for a win. The playing field is never level in F1…In that way it perfectly represents life.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
25 days ago
Reply to  Vanillasludge

Great summation, and jibes with the observation that Fernando Alonso may in fact be the best driver out there, as he’s done better with worse stuff than others.

For me as a racing fan, I feel like I appreciate F1, but I find I don’t actually enjoy watching it so much.

W124
W124
25 days ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

I’m not so sure about Alonso being nearly the best among current drivers. I think Stroll as a team mate is flattering him. He was after all not so far away from Ocon on their shared time at Alpine, and I think Ocon is at his best a decent mid-fielder.

R Rr
R Rr
25 days ago
Reply to  Vanillasludge

I was with you right until you put ‘Martin Brundle’ and ‘outstanding driver’ together.
All you needed was to watch him race and to have working eyes to tell he was a shit driver (just like he’s a shit commentator these days). In championship-winning cars he would barely scrounge some podiums while his teammate would lift the big cup at season end.

Emma P
Emma P
26 days ago

It’s surprising they wouldn’t give Zhou a run, he seems like good advertising for the Chinese market if nothing else, and he had a bunch of support at the Shanghai F1. He also has a similar record sheet to Hulkenburg, if rather a lot shorter.

Vanillasludge
Vanillasludge
26 days ago
Reply to  Emma P

I think the Chinese market angle is more important to Liberty Media than it is to Audi.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
25 days ago
Reply to  Emma P

Zhou isn’t half the driver that Hulkenburg is.

sentinelTk
sentinelTk
25 days ago
Reply to  Emma P

Based on their public comments, Audi isn’t focused on growth via just presence. They want to be the next Red Bull and engineer a jump to the front of the field. Short term benefits of Zhou and the Chinese market don’t move the needle enough when he isn’t the one to get them to that upper echelon. Nico doesn’t either, but he brings a lot more experience.

Alexk98
Alexk98
25 days ago
Reply to  sentinelTk

Especially because this is Audi with the full financial weight of the VW group behind it. They really don’t need the money or the marketing boost, but a boost in talent to help bolster their success, and even if Hulkenberg isn’t one of the top drivers in the sport, a decade of experience that can be brought in to more finely tune a car for a new time is worth its weight in gold, while Zhou has proven to be merely average, and with so much less experience, has next to no upside to Audi with what it wants.

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