Just How Good is… Nico Hulkenberg?

In the first of a series of ‘Just How Good Is’ blogs, my subject this time is a young German F1 driver.

So, just how good is Nico Hulkenberg?

We first saw Nico Hulkenberg drive an F1 car back in 2007, when he tested for his future employees Williams at Jerez.  His performance led the team to employ him as a test driver in 2008, and then as a test AND reserve driver in 2009, just in case either of the two main drivers were unable to race for any reason. 2010 saw his promotion to the race team.

However before F1, his record is something to look at in a very positive light.  In his first year in cars in 2005 he won the Formula BMW ADAC championship, winning 8 races.  A promotion in 2006 to German F3 followed, where he finished 5th. During the 2006-07 season of A1GP however, he was a Germany driver. Out of the 20 races he competed in, he won 9 of them, and finished a further 5 on the podium on the way to winning the championship.  This is where the F1 world first saw the talent he had behind the wheel.

Hulk

Another promotion to Formula 3 Euroseries followed in 2007, in which he won 4 times on the way to third in the championship. However he did win the F3 Masters Grand Prix at the end of the year.  He remained in Formula 3 Euroseries in 2008, and won the title, winning 7 races.  He then advanced to GP2, first in the Asia series where he won 1 race and finished 6th in the championship, before advancing to the main championship, which he won.  It takes a lot of talent to win GP2 at the first time of asking, but Nico managed it, winning 5 times in a field containing drivers including Romain Grosjean, Vitaly Petrov, Pastor Maldonado, Lucas di Grassi, Sergio Perez, Jerome d’Ambrosio, Kamui Kobayashi and Karun Chandhok, all F1 drivers since.

Nico-Hulkenberg-

So thats why Williams jumped at the opportunity to sign him as Rubens Barrichello’s teammate.  Unfortunately the 2010 car wasn’t the best Williams car of all time, but Nico still put in some impressive performances. 6th in Hungary was his best finish out of 7 points finishes, and he scored 22 points on the way to 14th in the championship.  His pole lap in the damp/drying conditions in Brazil however was out of this world. He didn’t just have the fastest time, but he also set a second time that would still have seen him on pole, and he beat all the regular front runners by over a second.  Unfortunately he wasn’t able to keep the lead past the first corner as Sebastian Vettel overtook him. Williams decided not to keep him for 2011, replacing him with a pay driver in Maldonado.

However, Force India came knocking, and he became their third driver, a role he first played in 2009 at Williams. He was able to demonstrate his talents on numerous first practice sessions throughout 2011, replacing either Paul di Resta or Adrian Sutil, the teams regular race drivers.  He obviously showed enough, as Hulkenberg was drafted in to replace Sutil for 2012, a move that saw the German driver miss out on a drive all together.

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Against di Resta, who was in his second season as a driver (and third in the team after a year doing FP1’s in 2010!) he showed very well, scoring his first fastest lap in Formula 1 in Singapore. His best finish was 4th in Spa.  He was level pegging in the championship for most of 2012 with di Resta, but put in a series of good drives at the end to better his teammate by 17 points at the end. His most outstanding effort was in Brazil, where he challenged and took the lead from McLaren driver Jenson Button, those two being the only two to remain on dry tyres on a damp track. He managed to lead for a while before a safety car was deployed to clear up some debris. He was continuing to challenge for the win until he lost control on a damp patch while attempting to overtake new leader Lewis Hamilton.  It caused Lewis to retire, and bafflingly it earned Nico a drive-through penalty, which relegated him to fifth at the end of the race.

AUTO-PRIX-F1-BRAZIL-HULKENBERG

Whether or not his move to Sauber is a good move or not will be found out during the 2013 season. He’ll be the more experienced driver within a team for the first time, teaming up with Mexican debutant Esteban Gutierrez.

From what Nico Hulkenberg has done in his career so far shows he has talent, and Brazil 2012 showed he can race at the front and not be overawed by it. I think Formula 1 has a superstar on their hands, I just hope he manages to get into a potentially race winning car sooner rather than later. The talent is there, race wins will come, he’s won championships throughout his career, there is no reason why he couldn’t add the Formula 1 drivers championship to his list.

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2 thoughts on “Just How Good is… Nico Hulkenberg?

  1. Chris Cassingham January 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm Reply

    Great article! Completely agree! What did you mean, though, when you said Nico set the fastest AND second fastest lap in brazil?

  2. Paul's Motor Sport Blog January 13, 2013 at 3:35 pm Reply

    His second fastest time in qualifying for Brazil 2010 would still have let him take pole position. He was just on it that day.

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