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ANALYSIS: Why the Audi factor was too tempting for Hulkenberg to turn down as he signs move to Kick Sauber

F1 Correspondent & Presenter

Lawrence Barretto
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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 06: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Haas F1 attends the Drivers Press

Audi’s F1 CEO Andreas Seidl has made veteran Nico Hulkenberg his first signing, the German joining Sauber from next season before the team becomes the automotive giant’s works squad from 2026. F1 Correspondent Lawrence Barretto explains why…

Seidl keen for experience, Audi keen for a German driver

Seidl is under no illusions about how much there is to do to ensure Audi hit the ground running when they enter F1 in 2026 with their own chassis and power unit combination – and therefore he was keen to have experienced drivers operating at a consistently high level in his cars.

READ MORE: Hulkenberg to depart Haas at the end of 2024

Sources say Ferrari driver and three-time race winner Carlos Sainz is top of his shopping list, Seidl rating him highly having worked with the Spaniard for two seasons at McLaren in 2019 and 2020.

For the second seat, he has long been very keen on recruiting Hulkenberg – another driver he knows well, having run him at Porsche in the Le Mans 24 Hours, with the now 36-year-old winning the famous endurance race in his one-and-only attempt back in 2015.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 02: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Haas F1 VF-24 Ferrari

Hulkenberg won Le Mans with Porsche – and Seidl – in 2015

Hulkenberg has impressed so far this season, scoring points in three of the first five Grands Prix, and his qualifying speed has been particularly strong.

His consistency across the board is exactly what Seidl needs as he looks to morph a Sauber team currently bottom of the constructors’ championship into a competitive outfit.

TECH WEEKLY: Haas's significant Shanghai upgrade – and what it says about Komatsu's approach as team boss

Audi are known to be keen to have at least one German driver in their debut line-up – and thus Hulkenberg ticked yet another box.

And while they wait on Sainz’s decision, signing Hulkenberg nice and early delivers some stability in the interim.

Hulkenberg wants to flesh out his second chapter

Hulkenberg’s Formula 1 career looked to be over when he left Renault at the end of the 2019 campaign, the German holding the unwanted record of most races started without a podium.

He was a super-sub for Racing Point/Aston Martin in 2020 and 2022, those performances so strong, he earned a recall to F1 via Haas for 2023 after three years out of a full-time race seat.

BEYOND THE GRID: Nico Hulkenberg on Haas, his family life, and much more

Though the 36-year-old will have been content if he hadn’t managed to come back full-time for F1, the form he’s displayed at Haas has given him the hunger to try to significantly extend his career in the sport.

With his contract up for renewal at the end of this season, Hulkenberg and his manager opened discussions with Sauber/Audi, who were keen to talk.

Audi Speed83758-11.jpg

Hulkenberg is set to be onboard when Audi come into the sport in 2026

Simultaneously, he started discussions with Haas about staying for a third season – while sources say he had discussions with at least one other team.

Ultimately, Audi’s chase, the strong package they were able to offer him and the chance to race for a works manufacturer – and a German one to boot – was simply too good to turn down.

Audi expands commitment to Formula 1 with 100% takeover of Sauber

Everyone loves to be wanted, especially a driver who has previously been dumped.

And Hulkenberg has a lot of respect for Seidl, knowing what he achieved at Porsche from the inside and following his success story at revitalising McLaren from the outside.

At this stage of his career, Hulkenberg will know this will likely be his last contract in F1.

Hulkenberg has signed a multi-year deal, with options worked into the deal that are believed to offer him the opportunity to race for Audi into his 40s if the partnership works.

And aligning himself with such a prestigious brand leaves the door open for an ambassadorial role when he chooses to stop racing.

With all that in mind, this was a deal too good to turn down.

Hulkenberg pleased to ‘steal’ another point for Haas as Magnussen rues costly contact with Tsunoda

Audi have a plenty of options regarding his team mate

Should Sainz choose not to accept Audi’s advances, the German manufacturer has a flurry of options.

Sources say they are admirers of Esteban Ocon, who is managed by Mercedes and is currently outperforming team mate Pierre Gasly at Alpine.

Valtteri Bottas, who is in his third season with Sauber, also remains in the frame, as does his fellow incumbent Zhou Guanyu, the Chinese driver having stepped up his game this year.

However, they all face a waiting game as sources say Audi will wait longer on Sainz before making their next step.

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