It’s also worth remembering that Hülkenberg ended his association with Weber half way through 2011. Perhaps he realised a bad decision had been made on his behalf in 2010, and wanted to take control of his own affairs. A few months later he had signed for Force India.
Managers don’t made decisions for drivers. They are there to help drivers make the best decisions, and to work out the details of an arrangement. But the final say rests with the driver. So Weber couldn’t simply approach Frank Williams and say “No, we don’t want to find sponsors” without consulting Hulkenberg. Even if he put the idea that Hulkenberg deserved to be judged on his talent and his talent alone, Hulkenberg still has to agree with it. Given than Willi Weber was once Michael Schumacher’s manager, he had to know the state that Williams was in at the time. They were losing four major sponsors in one go, and they knew it was coming. There is no way Weber could have missed that, because it was obvious to anyone who looked at the team. So I find it strange that, despite all of this, Weber somehow encouraged Hulkenberg not to find sponsors. That’s just bordering on incompetence.
I suspect what happened was that Hulkenberg had had Williams’ support all through his junior career. They got him through F3 and GP2, and he regularly worked on their simulator and was their test and reserve driver. He’d been a part of the team for years, but then they asked him to find sponsors. Williams then asked him for sponsors, but Hulkenberg, who had had his career mapped out for him up until this point was caught off-guard. He may have parted ways with Weber when he realised he had made a huge mistake and could have raced in 2011.
But wherever the ultiamte responsibility lies, you can’t deny that a rookie driver saying “I deserve to be judged on my talent and my talent alone” is an incredibly arrogant move. Sure, every driver deserves to be judged on his talent, and Formula 1 would probably be far more competitive if the twenty-four most talented men in the world were racing. But the accepted reality is that drivers find sponsors. Drivers have sponsors. The stigma of the pay driver is gone because the demand for a superlicence and the extended and staggered feeder series mean that a driver has to a least have a little bit of talent before Formula 1 teams will pay attention to him. And a driver as highly-rated as Nico Hulkenberg should have had no problems finding sponsors. He was in the best possible position for a driver to be – plenty of talent and potential, working with an established and respected team, represented by one of the most prominent managers in the sport, and the occasional result that piqued everyone’s curiosity – and he still said no. Something obviously went horribly wrong, and I think the most likely culprit is Hulkenberg himself. Whether he was naive (at best) or arrogant (at worst) he threw it all away. So despite all the planets aligning in his favour, it was his attitude that meant he lost his season for 2011.