Williams team boss Sir Frank Williams has praised Nico Hulkenberg's recent performances and says he would like to see the German win the title with his squad, as speculation continues over his future with the Williams team.
News that Pastor Maldonado, Hulkenberg's successor as GP2 champion, will test with Williams in the young driver sessions following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has heightened the uncertainty over Hulkenberg's place with the team. Williams is losing several sponsors for 2011, and Maldonado is believed to have substantial personal funding that he could bring to an F1 team.
But in an interview with the BBC, Williams said Hulkenberg had blossomed into a very impressive prospect in recent months.
"He was a little disappointing maybe in the first few races," said Williams. "Perhaps he was being over-cautious. But lately he's become very competitive and I think we've just seen the beginning of something very exceptional.
"He's one of these drivers, a bit like Lewis [Hamilton], who was moved from 'Formula this' to 'Formula that' and won that formula, then went from 'Formula that' to 'Formula something else' and won that. All the way up through Formula 3 and GP2, he won every single championship.
"And in the right team – hopefully us – one day he'll win the World Championship in Formula 1."
When asked if he hoped to run Hulkenberg next year, Williams replied: "Absolutely, we do hope so."
In Korea last weekend Williams' technical chief Patrick Head also paid tribute to Hulkenberg, saying he had fully justified his place in F1, but stopped short of committing to the German for next season.
Williams also praised his other driver Rubens Barrichello in the BBC interview.
"He has enormous experience. He's without doubt the most experienced driver in the pit lane," said Williams. "His technique is fairly understated – you don't think there are any fireworks going on, but that's because he's a very smooth driver.
"He likes to be mollycoddled emotionally a little bit – he likes to be told how good he is. But he is very good, so we don't have any problem in telling him that we believe in him. He's good fun, and very experienced, and that's of great value to any Formula 1 team."