Nico Hulkenberg thinks Mercedes should not be discounted from this season’s title battles, expecting them to significantly improve the W12.
The German is now a reserve driver for both Mercedes and Aston Martin and while he has yet to receive a call-up like he did on two occasions in 2020 for Racing Point, this is still a year he will remember for personal reasons.
The 33-year-old recently got married to Egle, who is due to give birth to their first child, a daughter, in September.
But ‘The Hulk’ is also paying close attention to Formula 1 matters and while naturally pleased that his friend Max Verstappen has built up a 32-point lead in the Drivers’ World Championship standings, he expects Mercedes to come bouncing back.
“It’s very simple – Red Bull have a better car, a faster car,” Hulkenberg, who was a contender for the seat alongside Verstappen which instead went to Sergio Perez, told RTL.
“In contrast to previous years, they lost less than Mercedes with the rule changes over the winter. That’s why they are ahead now.
“But I don’t think it’s over yet. I wouldn’t write off Mercedes by any means. They will definitely have something up their sleeve, in terms of updates, and improve their car.”
Being 44 points behind Red Bull in the Constructors’ World Championship, Mercedes have said they plan to bring new bodywork parts to the British Grand Prix, but it remains to be seen whether they will be enough to bridge what was a sizeable lap-time deficit last time out in Austria.
If not, the picture will be looking increasingly rosy for Verstappen to deny Lewis Hamilton a record-breaking eighth world title.
Hulkenberg thinks it could even be the first of several for the Dutchman, who will not turn 24 until the last day of September.
“Max will compete for many world titles,” said the former Williams, Force India and Renault driver.
“He is surfing a really good wave of success at the moment, has super self-confidence and trust in his car.”
On his relationship with Verstappen, Hulkenberg added: “A long friendship connects us. The fact I speak Dutch also brings a certain connection. I think we understand each other quite well and like each other.”