Nico Hulkenberg could be ‘replaced by a superstar’ as Guenther Steiner spots potential scenario

Oliver Harden
A close-up shot of NIco Hulkenberg with a prominent Audi logo alongside him

Nico Hulkenberg will race for Audi in 2026, but who will be his team-mate?

Guenther Steiner has outlined his fear that Nico Hulkenberg could be “replaced by a superstar” once Audi F1 find their feet in the sport following the German manufacturer’s F1 2026 entry.

Hulkenberg was announced as the first driver signing of Audi’s highly anticipated F1 project last month, with the veteran poised to join the existing Sauber team a year in advance of Audi’s arrival.

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His move comes after a series of impressive performances by Hulkenberg since his return to the grid with Haas in F1 2023, with the 36-year-old claiming three points finishes in the first six races of the new season.

A switch to Audi F1 marks Hulkenberg’s second shot with a full-blown factory team, having spent three seasons with Renault (now Alpine) between 2017 and 2019.

Hulkenberg worked under Steiner at Haas during his comeback season with Haas in F1 2023, producing a number of eye-catching qualifying performances – including second on the road, behind only Max Verstappen’s Red Bull, in changeable conditions in Canada.

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Steiner, who was replaced as Haas team principal by Ayao Komatsu for the F1 2024 season, is thrilled that Hulkenberg’s performances have been rewarded with a big move to Audi.

But he fears the team could seek to attract a bigger name than the 36-year-old once Audi establish themselves on the grid.

“He has earned it, his performance is top,” he is quoted as having told Bild Am Sonntag.

“For Nico’s sake, I hope that he doesn’t do all the backbreaking work and then, when things go well, is replaced by a superstar who settles into the nest he has made.”

According to recent reports in the German media, Hulkenberg is in line for an eye-watering €5million-per-year salary boost at Audi – a considerable increase from the €2m he is said to be currently earning with Haas.

The identity of Hulkenberg’s F1 2025 team-mate remains a mystery, with Audi heavily linked with a move for outgoing Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz over the last 12 months.

Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko revealed last month that his team are unable to match the “very lucrative offer” of a three-year contract presented to Sainz by Audi.

Sainz previously worked with Sauber Motorsport chief executive Andreas Seidl at McLaren across 2019/20, but is believed to be keen to keep his options open in the hope of potential openings at Red Bull and Mercedes, teams with more immediate victory prospects.

Current Red Bull driver Sergio Perez is out of contract at the end of F1 2024, while reports persist that reigning World Champion Verstappen could be persuaded to replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes.

If Mercedes are unable to lure Verstappen from Red Bull, Sainz would likely emerge as an appealing stop-gap option for at least F1 2025.

Both of Sauber’s current drivers, Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, are increasingly unlikely to be retained for next season.

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