Why playing the waiting game can reap rewards

By on Thursday, November 14, 2013
Lotus F1 Team

Lotus F1 Team

In a sport where getting around as quickly as possible is the ultimate goal, playing the waiting game can sometimes pay dividends.

In a driver market with more fluidity than the River Nile, Nico Hülkenberg’s decision to remain with Sauber, rather than replace the injured Kimi Räikkönen at Lotus, leaves him with more options on the table for 2014.

Hülkenberg could have moved teams for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, but opted to stay with Sauber due to reservations over 2014.

“Of course it is attractive. It sounded attractive from the outside," said Hülkenberg.

"But it's for the last two races, which brings also some risk with it, and you have to see the bigger picture beyond those two races, and see what can happen then. And that's why we came up with this decision."

"Stepping into a new car which you don't know... If I had stepped in I don't think people would have expected me to beat Romain [Grosjean] right away. He's delivering very good results. So it was from that point of view."

"I went there [to the Lotus factory in Enstone] to speak to [Lotus principal] Eric [Boullier] face to face about these two races and beyond that as well, because next year is important as well."

Hülkenberg’s decision to stay loyal to Sauber means that staying with the Swiss team remains an option for 2014, especially – given that Boullier evidently couldn’t give Hülkenberg assurances over Quantum’s money arriving – Lotus may have to opt to take on a driver with financial backing, such as Pastor Maldonado, next season.

Hülkenberg’s decision to play the waiting game thus opens the door for a driver who has been on the substitute’s bench all season.

Sauber F1 Team

Sauber F1 Team

Heikki Kovalainen found himself without a race seat at the end of 2012 and was initially reluctant to take up a reserve role. However, following the opening flyaway races, he and Caterham resurrected their relationship and he has since participated in six free practice sessions for the team with which he raced for three years.

“Of course, I want to race in the future and being here puts me in a better position if there was ever going to be a race drive available here or somewhere else, so that's good for me,” he said, prophetically, back in April.

Sitting out of action was frustrating for a race winner with over a century of starts in the sport but by biding his time, Kovalainen has a strong car underneath him for the first time in several years. Returning to competitive action will prove a challenge, especially up against Grosjean, but it is a huge opportunity for the Finn. He could score his points for the first time since 2009 (it really has been that long) but more importantly a couple of strong drives will put him in the shop window for 2014.

Playing the waiting game on the driver market could also play into the hands of Sauber and Force India. Neither team has announced their line-up for 2014 and now not only Maldonado but Sergio Pérez is unexpectedly a player in the game.


Lotus F1 Team

But sometimes, patience goes unrewarded, so spare a thought for Lotus’s reserve driver Davide Valsecchi. The Italian has driven the Lotus E21 a couple of times this year but Valsecchi has spent most of the season lurking in the Lotus motorhome twiddling his thumbs. He twice came close to replacing Räikkönen earlier in the year (Singapore & Abu Dhabi) but when the golden opportunity arose, he was overlooked.

“[Davide is] a talented young driver that has shown a great deal of promise – and on the other we had the opportunity to bring in a seasoned Formula 1 competitor in Heikki,” said Boullier. “Whilst we have every faith in Davide’s abilities, we are obviously involved in a tight Constructors’ Championship battle, so it was decided that the experience Heikki could bring to the team would be invaluable as we aim to finish the year in the best position possible.”

Inevitably, not everyone can win the waiting game.

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