This was originally going to be a Top Ten article that I wanted to write, but I couldn’t find enough information for ten entries. So I re-tooled it as a forum discussion.
With the news that Nico Hulkenberg rejected a drive with Virgin in addition to the Hispania seat he was offered a while ago, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that he won’t be racing in 2011. This means that he won’t be getting race experience up, and it will be harder to impress bigger teams. Combined with his refusal to find sponsors, this is a very silly decision because it does his 2012 prospects no good.
So it got me wondering: which other drivers made stupid mistakes in moving from one team to another?
The first and most obvious is Damon Hill going to Arrows in 1997. By the time he was in contention for the 1996 title, he was already on the outer edge at Williams. It’s not entirely his fault; when 1997 came around, most of the race seats had been full, and Hill had a choice between Arrows or Jordan. I’ve heard he spoke to Ron Dennis about driving at McLaren, but there were concerns about his pay and the existing relationship between the team and Mika Hakkinen.
Another stupid move was Jacques Villeneuve going from Williams to BAR in 1999 (between Hulkenberg, Hill and Villeneuve, Williams drivers going to poor teams will become a recurring theme here). He went from second in the championship to racking up eleven straight retirements. In fact, Villeneuve scored more points in the 1998 season than he did for the rest of his career.
And then, of course, there’s Nick Heidfeld going to Mercedes in 2010. When Jenson Button left the team for McLaren, Heidfeld had his heart set on the Mercedes seat alongside Nico Rosberg – so much so that he didn’t start any discussions with other teams like Renault. But then Michael Schumacher was confirmed at Mercedes for 2010 just a day or two before Christmas, and then Europe shut down. When it re-started in January, Heidfeld had just a few weeks to find a team to get a drive when all of their other potential drivers were already several weeks into negotiations.
So, who else totally dropped the ball and why?