Former Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn has revealed Nico Hulkenberg was next on Mercedes’ list to sign in 2013 if Lewis Hamilton had turned down a move.
Hamilton was signed by Mercedes in late 2012 as a replacement for seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, who retired at the end of that season. He has since gone on to win five drivers’ championships during an extended period of Mercedes domination, but after Hulkenberg impressed with a substitute appearance for Racing Point at Silverstone, Brawn – who is now F1’s managing director of motorsport – said he wanted to sign the German if Hamilton didn’t join.
“It was going to be an incredible physical challenge for Nico Hulkenberg and I don’t know how much he hurt at the end of the race, but it was great performance all weekend by someone who had just been dropped in the deep end,” Brawn said.
“I almost signed him years ago, when I was in charge at Mercedes. If Lewis hadn’t joined Mercedes when he did, Nico was our next choice. I’ve always respected Nico enormously as a driver. He’s a very strong driver who should be in Formula 1.”
Hulkenberg was also linked to a seat at Ferrari in the past and is believed to have been on the team’s radar to partner Charles Leclerc in 2021 before it opted to sign Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard will replace Sebastian Vettel, who is having a tough season, and Brawn believes it’s important the team and Vettel discuss the problems to try and keep the relationship workable this year.
“It was another difficult weekend for Sebastian,” he said. “When I met these situations in my career, I’d sit down with the driver one-to-one and understand what the issues are.
“Then you look at bringing people into the discussion, engineers, etc, that are going to be helpful to improve things. It’s going to be a measure of Sebastian and the team how they deal with the rest of the season.
“They clearly have a very frustrated driver, and they need to find ways of keeping it together for the rest of the year for the interests of both of them. They need to try to turn a lose-lose into a win-win.”
Brawn has first-hand experience of working for Ferrari, playing a major role in Michael Schumacher’s success with the team, and he sees similarities between the sport’s most successful driver and Max Verstappen after the latest victory for the Red Bull youngster.
“Max was simply sensational at Silverstone,” he said. “He reminds me of Michael Schumacher in many ways. When you listen to his radio, he’s clearly got spare capacity. The limit of the car is not the limit of Max Verstappen. He is able to feel the subtlety of the car and respond perfectly. I remember Max’s early days in Formula 1 where his speed was clear – he has now matured in to an exceptional racing driver.
“I loved his radio, particularly when he said he didn’t want to “drive like a grandma” when the team asked him to manage his tires. It shows huge confidence and a relationship in the team, which is very strong.”