Nico Hulkenberg: Out to prove his worth

By on Monday, January 16, 2012

Nico Hulkenberg

Nico Hulkenberg dominated during his junior formula career and made his debut with Williams in 2010. Hulkenberg took pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix, but was replaced in favour of the heavily funded Pastor Maldonado in 2011. Hulkenberg is succinct in his response to whether it was frustrating to be dumped by Williams, considering how they effectively nurtured him to F1, ‘Yes, it was. But that lies far behind and for now it's just important to be back’.

While the world hasn’t forgotten his mixed debut season with Williams, it’s obvious that Hulkenberg is keen to put 2010 firmly behind him. However, for 2011 he found himself out of a race seat and out of the action. Nevertheless, he remains positive of his year as a test driver, particularly now that his performances have convinced Force India to promote him this season. We talk exclusively to Force India's young charger

 F1Zone: Has taking a year out given you a new dimension into F1 racing, such as being on the pitwall, seeing how the race develops and your role as a pundit?

Nico Hulkenberg: Yes, exactly. I learnt a lot about the progresses happening outside the car, which hopefully helps me in the future.

F1Zone: Did it ever cross your mind to slip something into Sutil or di Resta’s drink last year?!

NH: Oh yes, I did several times, but obviously it just made them quicker! No, seriously, even as a 3rd driver, your job is helping the team forward and that's what I tried to do.

F1Zone: Did you ever think about racing in another series for a year?

NH: The most important thing was to stay in F1. Another series would have been a plan B.

 F1Zone: Was it odd to know after the Korean GP that you were racing in 2012? It must have changed your mentality when walking around the pit garage?

NH: Obviously it was a relief, when I knew I would be racing again. But it's general practice, that it's the team who announce their drivers. So I tried not to show anything.

© Force India F1

F1Zone: Do you sympathise with Adrian Sutil after he lost his seat and have you spoken to him since?

NH: We often speak or text, as we are still having a good relationship after all. I sincerely hope he will get a race somewhere else.

F1Zone: Is it more difficult for you trying to gain sponsorship because of your nationality: having to compete against Vettel and Schumacher for attention?

NH: Obviously it's more difficult, if there are five or six drivers from one country. But on the other hand it's beneficial for all of us, that Germany is well represented in F1, so I'm not complaining.

F1Zone: Who do you rate as the best driver on the grid?

NH: Fernando Alonso.

F1Zone: What’s different in the way Williams and Force India operate?

NH: Many things are different. I guess each team have their individual character. Still, Force India is a small team with short ways and a friendly atmosphere. If you just compared the resources, you would have to say, that Force India is one of the most efficient teams on the grid.

F1Zone: Is it surprising that so many drivers that competed last season are on the side lines?

NH: Each year there's a bit of a change. That it's so many drivers this time is just coincidence.

F1Zone: When you race, do you analyse every corner or do you go into a sort of automatic mode in which everything just comes to you?

NH: Generally, your feeling is very important. But obviously you look at the data and especially at certain parts of the track, if you lose time there or have the feeling, that there's some improvement possible.

F1Zone: Looking ahead, do you see your long term future with Force India?

© Force India F1

NH: That's nothing I think about now. I have to focus on 2012 first and establish myself in F1.

F1Zone: How do you prepare for a year of racing after spending a year out?

NH: There's no difference. Even last year I prepared 100 per cent seriously for the unlikely case of a race start.

F1Zone: What’s your mentality for your ‘second début’ as opposed to your mentality before 2010?

NH: I do not put as much pressure on myself as I did in 2010. At the beginning of 2010 I tried too hard and wanted too much, which made it even worse. Plus, I am more experienced; know the tracks and it will be easier to find the right setup and so on.

F1Zone: Why do you think Force India has improved so much as a team over the space of only a few years?

NH: You cannot name one certain reason that explains everything. It's the mixture of many good decisions over the last years and the focus on consistent development. Vijay had a vision right from the beginning: he wanted to establish a competitive team to represent the country of India. And he's still keen on moving forward, so is Roy Sahara.

F1Zone: Do you think that your battle with di Resta will decide which one of you is the best young F1 driver?

NH: There are lots of talented drivers and each of these wants to show that he's the most talented one. So do I. I'll try to beat Paul and he'll try to beat me. I'm sure this will push the team forward.

F1Zone: What would a good 2012 season consist of?

NH: P5 in the constructor's championship for the team and a race seat in 2013 for me.

Hulkenberg’s last comment is certainly ambitious for the team; in order to finish 5th, they will have to beat one of Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus. Each one of those has a world champion. Nevertheless his personal ambition is interesting as his focus is on a race seat in 2013, rather than aiming for certain results. His situation at the end of 2010 and into 2011 has obviously served him well, while his time on the pit wall has given him a new perspective on racing. Coming back to F1, there will be high expectations on Hulkenberg as his return alongside di Resta creates one of the most exciting pairings on the grid. The man himself however, has matured and won’t be drawn to high expectations. It will be interesting to see how his season pans out.

With thanks to Timo Gans.

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