* German signs contract extension to 2017
* Le Mans winner says long-term commitment makes sense (Adds detail)
By Alan Baldwin
LONDON, Sept 1 (Reuters) - German Formula One driver Nico Hulkenberg has signed a two-year contract extension to stay with Force India until the end of the 2017 season, the Silverstone-based team said on Tuesday.
“I know this team inside out and I feel at home here so it made perfect sense to make a long-term commitment,” the Le Mans 24 Hours winner said in a team statement ahead of this week’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
Hulkenberg, 28, has been with Mercedes-powered Force India for four seasons in total after joining them from Williams in 2011 and then spending a year at Sauber in 2013 before returning.
The German had been seen as a possible candidate for Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari seat but that possibility disappeared when they confirmed the 2007 world champion was staying.
He has yet to appear on the podium, with fourth his best result so far. He also has one pole position, with Williams in Brazil 2010, to his credit.
This season, the German finished sixth in Austria but did not start the most recent race in Spa last month due to a loss of power on the parade lap.
“The progress the team has shown over the last two years has really impressed me and gives me confidence for the future,” he said on Tuesday.
“It’s a great group of people who are hungry for success and want to keep improving year-on-year. I think we have the important things in place going forward and I want to continue growing with this team as we move even further up the grid.”
Team principal Vijay Mallya said he was a big fan of the driver.
“He has spent almost four years with us already and in that time we’ve seen him develop into one of the best racing drivers in the world,” he said.
“Nico has the speed, the technical knowledge and the maturity to help us achieve some great results in the years ahead. We will do everything we can to continue delivering a car to match his talent.”
Hulkenberg’s decision to stay removes another big name from a driver merry-go-round that has yet to acquire any momentum as the sport enters the second half of the season.
With Raikkonen and Hulkenberg staying put, the focus will turn to Valtteri Bottas at Williams -- with the Finn expected to stay put -- and continuing speculation about Jenson Button’s future at McLaren. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Julian Linden/Amlan Chakraborty)