The dream of the top step
So much natural talent and raw speed and so little to show on paper, the statement that can sum up Nico Hulkenberg’s Formula 1 career. Coming from a long list of successful German drivers, Nico was earmarked for a successful Formula 1 career, after an immaculate GP-2 and other Junior categories. In fact Hulk is one of only 5 drivers over the past 2 decades to have won the F1 feeder series GP-2 (Currently F-2) on his debut season, others being the likes of Hamilton, Rosberg, Leclerc and Russel.
Making his F1 debut for Williams in 2010 at Bahrain, alongside an experienced Rubens Barichello, Hulkenberg showed good promise and claimed a stunning pole position at the Brazilian GP, but did not set the stage on fire in race trim, like he did in the junior categories. He finished the season in a respectable 14th position, some 25 points behind his experienced teammate. But the following season, he lost his drive to Pastor Maldando albeit not down to his performance.
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He settled for a reserve driver role at Force India alongside Adrian Sutil and Paul Di-Resta for the following season and got a full season in 2012, before a single season switch to Sauber in 2013 and again back to Force India the following season, He spent the next 3 years at the Silverstone based team, before the biggest move of his career to Renault in 2017-19 and most recently coming back to racing point to Super Sub Perez and qualify P3 for the 70th anniversary GP.
With 181 race entries, the Hulk owns one of the most dubious records in Formula1 history, most starts (178) in F1 without a single podium.
So, was the Hulk not worthy of having a single podium in such a long career?Was it just down to the car or his driving or bad luck?
I guess the answer to those questions is very tricky, but I certainly feel he was more than worthy to have had multiple podiums and even race victories under his belt. The reason for not having such a success can be attributed a multitude of factors at various stages of his career.
The first instance that springs up to mind is the 2012 Brazilian GP, under changing conditions, Nico was considerably faster than the rest of the field and trying to pass Hamilton into the first corner on Lap 54, slid into the side of the Mclaren, in damp conditions and hampered by back markers, taking himself and Lewis out of the race, and potentially ruining his best chance at a race victory.
Image credits: Peter J Fox/Getty Images
Another such heart break was in Singapore 2017, after the first lap chaos, that took out the top 3, Nico was comfortably in 3rd place and was pulling away, until a Hydraulic issue forced him out the race and an easy podium and not getting that dubious record.
Canada 2015, is another example where he could have had the podium, with everyone ahead struggling with their breaks. Like these, there are many examples where he missed out by the slightest of margins through various factors.
So what’s next for the 32 year old, have we seen the last of him, race fans around the world certainly hope not. And with more than a credible return to the grid at a last-minute call up, Nico has certainly shown that he still has that pace and desire to race at the highest level. He has already confirmed that he is in talks with Alfa Romeo and Hass for a 2021 drive, with Alfa looking a more credible option.
There are also rumours doing rounds of him going to Red bull if Albon doesn’t do well in near future and Red Bull want a solid 2nd driver, and also some chatter about him finishing this season with Ferrari, if the Maranello team decides to part ways with Seb mid-season. Although these seem highly unrealistic, we can never know anything for sure in this Crazy F1 world.
Never the less, as a race fan, I would love to Hulkenberg drive again in F1 and possibly get that podium before he hangs up his boots.
Srikanth N is an MBA graduate from IIM Visakhapatnam .He is a die hard fan of Formula 1, and other motor sports.Big Lewis fan, and waiting to see him surpass Schumacher’s records.He also likes to analyse and critique F1 and F2 race weekends.