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Formula 1

Hulkenberg becomes first Audi F1 driver signing

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

Nico Hulkenberg has become Audi’s first driver signing for its impending works Formula 1 team, and will rejoin Sauber for 2025 ahead of its transformation.

Audi is taking full control of Sauber and developing an F1 engine for the first time ahead of a full-scale manufacturer entry for the new 2026 rules.

Though the team will not be known as Audi before then, partly because it needs to see out its customer Ferrari engine deal in 2025, Audi is keen to have its own drivers installed next year - with current Sauber pair Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu likely to make way.

Audi has been courting Carlos Sainz for a long time and its chances of tempting the three-time grand prix winner to the project seemed to be boosted massively when Ferrari announced it would drop Sainz at the end of 2024 to make room for Lewis Hamilton.

But with Sainz waiting to see if any seats at proven top teams, primarily Red Bull, open up for 2025, Audi cannot yet secure its top target.

In the meantime it has looked to lock down at least one driver, with Hulkenberg another to have been coveted for quite some time.

Sauber CEO Andreas Seidl, who will head up Audi’s F1 team from 2026, had already tried to recruit Hulkenberg for 2024 but Hulkenberg’s Haas contract stood in the way.

No such obstacle exists for 2025 so Sauber/Audi moved early to tie Hulkenberg down, as he was known to be of interest to other teams including Williams and Alpine.

Haas announced on Friday morning that Hulkenberg will leave the team at the end of 2024, with confirmation of his Audi deal following soon after.

He has signed what has been described as a "multi-year contract" starting in 2025 and will be "closely involved" in the development of the first Audi F1 car.

The move will also mark his return to a team he drove for in 2013 when he finished 10th in the drivers' championship.

It marks a return to a works team for Hulkenberg for the first time since he was dropped by Renault at the end of 2019.

That left Hulkenberg out of a full-time F1 drive for three seasons, although he did make some impressive stand-in performances for Racing Point/Aston Martin in that time, before unexpectedly making his way back onto the grid with Haas in 2023.

Since then he has proven he has lost none of the speed that has always made him a prodigious qualifier and backed that up with strong race performances in a more competitive Haas car in 2024.

But Haas was never likely to be able to compete with Audi’s resources and by extension what it could offer Hulkenberg long-term, which has made this switch seem inevitable for a long time.

The Race says

Edd Straw

When Nico Hulkenberg walked out of the paddock after the 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and headed into the Formula 1 wilderness, he knew there might be no way back. The notion that he’d be one of the most in-demand free agents for the 2025 silly season, and now signed up for a works project, would have been fantasy that transcended even optimism. Yet that’s exactly where he's found himself.

Clearly, Haas wold have been keen on keeping Hulkenberg. Why wouldn’t it given he’s done exactly the job he was brought in to do? Former team principal Guenther Steiner took some flak for bringing in the old stager in place of Mick Schumacher for 2023, but his reasoning was rock solid. It was a low-risk move, giving Haas a driver with speed, experience and doubtless at a good price given Haas was the only team interested in his services.

But it was well well-known that the Audi/Sauber team was interested in Hulkenberg, and even flirted with signing him for 2024 at a time when it was unclear whether Zhou Guanyu would stay on. An existing Haas contract kept Hulkenberg stayed where he was, but that genuine interest from Audi remained - even if Carlos Sainz is the big target the team is waiting for.

As Hulkenberg has proved in the far more ‘raceable’ Haas in 2024 by taking his tally of points finishes in F1 to 101 with his 10th place in China he’s a driver who can do an effective job for a team in the second half of the grid. Given points make (financial) prizes for teams, that makes him a bankable, but unfashionable, asset.

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