ENSTONE, England (Reuters) - Nico Hulkenberg will have to measure up against new team mate Daniel Ricciardo in what could be a make-or-break season for the German driver, Renault team boss Cyril Abiteboul said on Tuesday.
Ricciardo has joined Formula One’s fourth best team this year after winning seven races in his career with former champions Red Bull.
Abiteboul said Hulkenberg, out of contract with Renault at the end of the year, would be carefully assessed.
“Irrespective of the performance of the team, his own performance will be directly measured. We all know that, he knows that,” the Frenchman told reporters at the launch of the team’s 2019 car.
“He’s experienced enough in Formula One to see that it’s at the same time a year of risk but also one of opportunity.
“It’s his own performance that everyone will be able to read on the basis that he has a proven quantity racing with the same hardware.”
Hulkenberg is starting his third year with the team after previous stints with Force India, Sauber and Williams.
The 31-year-old Le Mans 24 Hours winner holds the Formula One record for most grands prix without ever stepping on the podium — 156 starts to date with a best result of fourth.
“Nico is someone who deserves a race winning car,” said Abiteboul.
“I know I’m not necessarily capable of providing him with a race winning car, but I am capable of getting him to measure his ability against a race-winning driver and that will count.”
Hulkenberg said he was looking forward to the start of the season in Australia on March 17 and showing what he and the car could do.
The vexed subject of standing on the podium was inevitably also raised, and the German fielded the question with weary patience.
“I understand why,” he said. “It’s fine. I do want to be on the podium one day. And I’m working on it.
“If it’s going to be possible this year, it’s impossible to say right now. Hopefully if we are closer to the top three this year, maybe on a given Sunday with a crazy race or favourable conditions it can happen.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis