F1 commentator Peter Windsor is convinced that Nico Hulkenberg would be the “perfect number two” to Max Verstappen at Red Bull after a starring qualifying performance at the Canadian Grand Prix.
A renowned wet-weather specialist, Hulkenberg qualified second in the rain in Montreal with a lap slower only than reigning World Champion Verstappen, who secured his fifth pole position of the 2023 season.
While Verstappen went on to take his 41st win on Sunday, equalling the tally of three-time title winner Ayrton Senna, while Hulkenberg slid back to 15th in a dry race after incurring a three-place grid penalty for a red flag infringement, and a Haas suffering yet again with tyre wear.
Now with a 69-point lead in the Drivers’ standings, Verstappen’s fourth consecutive victory has further increased the scrutiny on team-mate Sergio Perez, who failed to reach Q3 for the third successive race in Canada and could only recover to sixth.
Despite having at his disposal one of the most dominant cars in F1 history, Perez has now qualified in the top 10 at just half of the opening eight rounds of the 2023 season.
Speaking via his YouTube channel, former Williams and Ferrari team manager Windsor thinks Red Bull will be asking if Hulkenberg, 35, may be a better bet than Perez in the second car.
He said: “Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull struggled in Q1, struggled in Q2, couldn’t get temperatures right on the slick or on the intermediate, always seemed to be in traffic at the wrong place at the wrong time and that was the difference.
“You could say: ‘Why didn’t Red Bull bring Sergio Perez into that?’
“Well, there are two sides of the garage at Red Bull as we know going back to the Mark Webber/Sebastian Vettel days and it’s nothing to do with wanting to favour Max or favour Sergio Perez.
“It’s how to get the best from both groups in the garage and on this occasion Sergio Perez just couldn’t get the tyres to work, pretty much as we saw in Melbourne and then in qualifying in the Spanish Grand Prix, so [a] very disappointing moment for Red Bull with that performance again.
“You’ve got to think, when they look at the times, do they think: ‘Well, why aren’t we running Nico Hulkenberg in the other car?’
“Talk about the perfect number two to Max Verstappen. He wouldn’t want to say number two, of course. Great job again by Nico.
“How many times have we seen him go well in these semi-wet conditions, going right back to that pole he had in Brazil for Williams? Just a brilliant drive right out of the box.
“A little bit like Max, straight out and doing that lap time at the beginning of Q3. And just to get through [from] Q2 was a major achievement. His team-mate, Kevin Magnussen, wasn’t able to do that.”
Known to have a friendly relationship with Verstappen, Hulkenberg has been heavily linked to a Red Bull seat on two separate occasions in the recent past.
During his final year at Renault in 2019, Hulkenberg was thought to be an alternative option if Red Bull decided against continuing with Alex Albon, who replaced the underperforming Pierre Gasly for the final nine races of that season.
Red Bull’s reluctance to sign drivers from outside of their own pool of talent was cited as a reason for the decision to outsiders such as Hulkenberg, but the team were forced to reconsider when Albon continued to struggle alongside Verstappen in 2020.
Hulkenberg’s Covid cameos for the Racing Point team, which saw him stand in for Perez and Lance Stroll at Silverstone and the Nurburgring and overcome limited preparation to score points, appeared to launch him back into contention for a drive.
However Red Bull ultimately settled on signing Perez, who partnered Hulkenberg for three seasons at Force India from 2014 to 2016.