Mercedes are close to agreeing a deal with Nico Hulkenberg that would see the 33-year-old take up the role of reserve driver at the Silver Arrows, according to team principal Toto Wolff. Hulkenberg stepped in for Racing Point on three occasions last season in place of Sergio Perez, who tested positive for COVID-19 in August, and Lance Stroll after the Canadian fell ill before the Eifel Grand Prix in October.
If Mercedes can add Hulkenberg to their ranks, his presence would likely put an end to George Russell’s hopes of getting another shot with the German outfit in 2021.
The Williams star was drafted in to replace Lewis Hamilton at last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix in November, and came close to sealing a maiden victory after flying past team-mate Valtteri Bottas on the first lap.
However, Russell was cruelly denied by a pit-stop calamity and then a slow puncture during the closing stages of the race.
Mercedes can also call on Stoffel Vandoorne or Nyck de Vries if a replacement is needed, but Wolff is aware that they are likely to be unavailable for much of the season as a result of their Formula E commitments.
He has confirmed that Hulkenberg is being lined up to provide a strong reserve option, but stressed that a deal is still in the works with just over a fortnight to go until the first Grand Prix of the new campaign.
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“There is a situation where our two reserve drivers, Stoffel and Nyck, are racing in Formula E, and there are certain races where there is an overlap,” Wolff told reporters on the first day of pre-season testing in Bahrain.
“Nico knows the current generation of Formula 1 cars and the tyres, and it would be good to have him in the line-up as a solution, maybe to be shared with other teams because he’s a known quantity and well respected.
“So, it would be good, but we didn’t put pen to paper.”
Hulkenberg, who has never finished on the podium despite making 179 Grand Prix starts over the course of his career, was recently the subject of a failed bid by Gerhard Berger to secure his immediate future in DTM with Lamborghini.
It now seems clear that an F1 return with Mercedes is the German racer’s preferred option.
After Wolff’s revelation, McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl suggested that Hulkenberg could also be set to feature for the Woking-based outfit this season in the event that Daniel Ricciardo or Lando Norris are ruled out of any race weekends.
He claimed that McLaren and Mercedes will extend last year’s deal to ensure that reserve drivers can be shared between the two teams as and when they are needed.
“On our side, we will do the same again as last year,” explained Seidl.
“We will have an agreement again with Toto, with Mercedes, to use their reserve drivers in case of an emergency. We are happy with that.”
Hulkenberg raced for Force India, Sauber and Renault during an uninterrupted eight-year spell in the paddock between 2012 and 2019.
The experienced head has finished in fourth place on three occasions, seeing a number of potential podiums derailed through errors and mechanical problems.
He was tipped as a serious contender to replace Alex Albon at Red Bull for the upcoming season, prior to the announcement of Sergio Perez as Max Verstappen’s new partner.