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Hulkenberg’s pole prize could be HRT demotion

Nico Hulkenberg’s backhanded reward for his maiden pole position in Brazil could be a demotion for 2011 to the struggling HRT team.

Williams, facing the loss of key sponsors, is considering a place for the well-funded Pastor Maldonado, meaning either German rookie Hulkenberg or Rubens Barrichello will have to clear a seat.

The British team, set to supply HRT with gearboxes next year, is obviously satisfied with the improving 23-year-old Hulkenberg but also in the position of needing Barrichello’s vast experience to keep pushing the development.

After Hulkenberg put his FW32 on pole at Interlagos, team co-owner Patrick Head was not able to say it had been enough to secure his place for 2011.

He said the team’s next driver lineup will only be confirmed after the season, when Maldonado is scheduled to test the car in Abu Dhabi.

38-year-old Barrichello told Brazilian media earlier this weekend that it was a “crazy” concept to imagine his Williams tenure might be over after just a single promising season.

And he said on Saturday: “I hope Nico stays because he’s a good guy and he’s really, really good.”

But even in the glow of his pole success, Hulkenberg confirmed that he is not yet feeling comfortable about his future.

“I think the situation is still very open,” he said.