Nico Hulkenberg’s GP2 form points towards 2010 F1 debut for Williams

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Hulkenberg was first to test Williams' 2009 F1 car

The last rookie looking for his F1 break I wrote about found himself making his Grand Prix debut 17 days after I wrote about him.

But on his form in GP2 Nico Hulkenberg doesn’t need my blessing to make the grade. He’s looking ever more likely to snap up a Williams drive for 2010.

GP2 has excelled as a proving ground for upcoming F1 talent. If anything it has been too successful, and now its ranks are swelled with drivers in their third or fourth seasons, still hoping to grab the attention of F1 bosses.

Last year’s champion was Giorgio Pantano who amassed over 100 starts on this sub-F1 tier (including F3000) and few were surprised when he failed to land an F1 drive.

But this year things are looking very different. Williams test driver Nico Hulkenberg has taken over the championship lead in his first GP2 season and is showing the kind of form last seen when another rookie – Lewis Hamilton – won the title three years ago.

Hulkenberg has a strong CV having won the 2006-2007 A1 Grand Prix championship for Germany. He followed that up with an emphatic victory in the Formula Three Euroseries last year.

In GP2 he has the benefit of driving for top team ART. But this is a championship where all drivers have identical cars, and ART hasn’t won the title since Hamilton’s days.

Hulkenberg impressed with a brief appearance for the team in the GP2 Asia series last winter. He finished sixth overall in the championship despite only starting four of the 11 rounds, and set pole position in both his qualifying sessions. He won his third race at Qatar, a masterful drive in which he amassed a 45 second lead before his final pit stop on a day when low grip conditions flummoxed his rivals.

He had a rough start to the main series in Barcelona, being taken out of one race by a rival. But he’s only failed to score points on one occasions since then, and now leads the championship by 12 points from Romain Grosjean. With Grosjean expected to take Nelson Piquet Jnr’s place at Renault, Hulkenberg’s title bid is looking ever more promising.

His achievement is all the more impressive when you consider the amount of experience his rivals have, including team mate Pastor Maldonado:

PositionNamePointsCareer GP2 starts
1Nico Hulkenberg5712
2Romain Grosjean4532
3Vitaly Petrov4161
4Lucas di Grassi4066
5Pastor Maldonado3144

Hulkenberg credits his recent successes – including three consecutive wins, two at Hockenheim and one at the Hungaroring – to a breakthrough on car setup which has allowed him to get more from his tyres.

He has been just as impressive on-track, largely steering clear of the inevitable clashes and penalties that go with the territory (Grosjean should take note).

Hulkenberg’s GP2 form is just one reason why he looks increasingly likely to bag a place on the F1 grid sometime soon. He’s managed by Willi Weber, who masterminded the careers of the Schumacher brothers.

And he’s already got a foot in the door with Williams. Testing mileage is hard to come by these days and Hulkenberg is one of few drivers other than active F1 racers to have sampled a 2009-spec.

He drove the Williams FW31 before regular drivers Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima did. Both of them have been tipped to leave the team at the end of 2009 – Rosberg potentially heading to McLaren and Nakajima not having done an awful lot to merit a third season – which could leave a vacancy for Hulkenberg:

He seems to be unstoppable – he’s in our plans for the long-term future.
Frank Williams

Frank Williams’ ‘long-term’ remark seems to suggest a debut next year might not be in the works just yet. But what would be the value in holding off Hulkenberg’s debut for another year? Particularly with testing opportunities for third drivers so limited at the moment.

Lewis Hamilton’s contract with McLaren meant his F1 debut in 2007 was assured by his victory in the 2006 GP2 championship. Does Weber have a similar arrangement in place for Hulkenberg at Williams?

With Michael Schumacher making his return, F1 will have six German drivers on the grid at Valencia. Don’t bet against Hulkenberg being the next one.

Do you think Nico Hulkenberg is ready for F1? Have your say in the comments.

More on Nico Hulkenberg

Nico Hulkenberg’s career in pictures

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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57 comments on “Nico Hulkenberg’s GP2 form points towards 2010 F1 debut for Williams”

  1. Presumably Rosberg is going somewhere else (McLaren?), and then Nico will take his place?
    Frank said nice things about Kaz today, so unless they have a big falling-out with Toyota, his seat is safe.

    1. yeh, but nakajima hasn’t scored yet!!! somehow…

      1. Williams should drop Nakajima immediately. The team is having a pretty good year in the constructors championship, but imagine how well they’d be doing if they had a second driver scoring similar points to Rosberg.

        I know Kazuki is in the team thanks to the Toyota deal, but there must be some sort of clause in the contract about minimum performance levels?

        1. Williams 4ever
          6th August 2009, 16:19

          Are you watching same series as rest of us :-? Twice this season when Kaz was in better shape to score points ahead of Nico, Mysterious strategy call from Pitwall meant he finished out of points. And one race I also remember his pitstop was slow.

          That he hasn’t scored any points this season is definitely not lack of effort on his points, its just some badluck and some wrong strategy call.

          Some of the comments on the forums related to drivers gives me some insight into way the forum posters minds.

          Rather than having objective evaluation based on facts and analysis. The evaluation is made on a) If I like the driver/not b) If I like , go at length to defend and conveniently overlook the glaring errors c) If I don’t like driver, make random comments which are not based on any facts.

          1. I agree.

        2. Williams 4ever
          6th August 2009, 16:24

          One reason I have been a Williams Fan is Sir Frank Williams is candid about the what he offers to the drivers and what he expects back.
          Every since High Profile Partner BMW has left the team has been more honest about evaluating its performances and contribution of all parties involved.

          Unlike some team principles out their who have pathetic cars to offer and their result expectations are unrealistic.

          1. I don’t have a personal grudge against Kazuki – quite the contrary, I’ve always liked Japanese drivers.

            Kazuki is a solid driver, don’t get me wrong and I agree he’s shown the odd flash of speed and fortune doesn’t always fall his way. But I’ve seen nothing in his 29 Grands Prix to suggest he’ll ever be anything other than a journeyman.

            Williams themselves admitted recently they want to be attracting top calibre drivers and if they are to start fighting at the front again, they need two topline pilots, not just one.

  2. Prisoner Monkeys
    6th August 2009, 8:09

    I expect that with the six new grid places opening up and with a few older drivers retiring and/or being fired, a few GP2 drivers will get booted upstairs for 2010. Not just Hulkenberg, but my money is on Grosjean, Petrov, di Grassi and Maldonado to make the grid.

    1. Is it me or has di Grassi been in GP2 for too long?

  3. Hülkenberg definetley deserves to grab an F1 seat next year, even if there were no new teams with 6 fresh free slots. The current Williams setup seems to performs well, even if Kazukis efforts weren’t honoured with points yet. Rosberg drives fantastic. However, it would be intersting how the two Nicos perform together now, that the Toro Rosso of Sebastians has disbanded.
    Hülkenberg is definetly one of the young drivers i would welcome in the F1 next year!

  4. He looks so small. no wonder he’s fast… LOL…

  5. yeah when the Iceman might be gone next we need the Hulk to fill up our gallery of comic book drivers, in nicknames at least, in real life he looks like a very well tempered baby Hulk!

    1. Terry Fabulous
      7th August 2009, 9:44

      Outstanding Jian!

  6. Hulkenberg’s chance of a Williams drive in 2010 depends on two things – Nico Rosberg and Toyota.

    Williams’ deal with Toyota (as I understand it) is effectively free engines in exchange for a Toyota-backed driver in the second seat. At the moment, that’s Kazuki Nakajima and he’s not exactly covering himself in glory. But Toyota may prefer to put another of their drivers – Kamui Kobayashi, for example – in the Williams seat for 2010.

    If Rosberg decides to jump ship to another team (as he has often threatened), then Williams could give Hulkenberg the drive. But I can’t see Williams wanting to go into 2010 with a line up consisting of two rookies (Hulkenberg/Kobayashi) or a rookie paired with their current journeyman (Hulkenberg/Nakajima).

    If Williams needs to replace Rosberg, they’ll probably aim for a more experienced team leader – Robert Kubica, Nick Heidfeld, Rubens Barrichello, etc. If they do (or Rosberg stays), the only way there’s space for Hulkenberg is if Williams resort to paying for their engines. And that’s a fairly high price to pay.

    1. Well, budgets are coming down and th manufacturers in FOTA have all agreed to supply engines for an agreed fee so perhaps Sir Frank can see that replacing Nakajima and paying the (I think) £5m for engines will be more benefitial than maintaining the status quo and getting free engines.

      How many points would be needed to pay for the engines..?? Keith?

      1. I think they’re at least 20 points down on where they could be. And after 30-odd races in 2 years, Nakajima should be good enough to get another drive. Could they loan him out, like they did with Button?

        Valencia looks like an opportunity for a decent Williams result: no Renaults, concrete walls everywhere and a Ferrari driver short of recent experience (thanks to you-know-who)!

  7. Nothing to do with the actual article, but how much better does the Williams test car livery look over the actual race livery?

      1. i was so disappointed when i discovered that wasn’t their race livery.

    1. Williams 4ever
      6th August 2009, 17:00

      Thats my gripe as a Williams Fan. Every Winter I keep my fingers crossed and hope that their test livery becomes their race Livery.
      One happy thing is I do have WilliamsF1 Tee Shirt that has Test Livery Colors :D

  8. Frank seemed happy and willing to be patient with Kazuki in a very recent interview.
    If I went on the basis of that I would think Kazuki will be at Williams for 2010 and the drive is dependent on Rosberg jumping ship, otherwise I think it’ll be the same lineup at Williams for 2010.

  9. Good to see the lower series swelling with talent, I wonder if this will push F1 to have a higher driver turnover – perhaps six month contracts for the lower-tier drivers instead of the customary yearly. Six month contracts would also prevent the whole drama about potential law suits a la Bourdais, if the team wants to get rid of a driver mid-season.

  10. I think ideally Williams would have Rosberg and Hulkenberg next season, however I could see Rosberg moving to McLaren next year and the other seat seems to be whoever Toyota wants in it.

    Frank Williams was complimentary about Nakajima in a recent interview but then I wouldn’t expect him to publically say anything different considering the reason Nakajima is driving for Williams is because of the Toyota engines.

    Unless Nakajima’s performances improve in the second half of the season I doubt he will still be at Williams next year unless Rosberg leaves and the team decided they didn’t want to change both drivers at the same time.

    If the idea of Toyota placing drivers with Williams in exchange for engines is to try out new drivers and give them experience before they join Toyota, then two seasons should be enough for them to make a decision as to whether he makes the grade and should join Toyota or if they should try out a different driver at Williams.

    If Williams do have to change both drivers next year I wouldn’t be surprised if Heidfeld rejoined them, as he fits the bill of a solid experienced driver.

    1. Williams are switching to Cosworth for next year. They would then be free to ditch Nakajima.

      Heidfeld coming back seems a good idea. Together with Hulkenberg they would be a great team.

      1. Are they?? Where did you get this information from?

    2. Williams 4ever
      6th August 2009, 16:35

      Frank Williams was complimentary about Nakajima in a recent interview but then I wouldn’t expect him to publically say anything different considering the reason Nakajima is driving for Williams is because of the Toyota engines.

      Unless Nakajima’s performances improve in the second half of the season I doubt he will still be at Williams next year

      Refer to my Response to Peter Walker Above

  11. Casino Square
    6th August 2009, 13:01

    Hulkenberg looks like the real deal. Even if he doesn’t win the GP2 championship he has a great CV. Now that Toyota are commited to offering cheap engines, Williams have little incentive to hang onto Nakajima, so I fully expect to see Hulkenberg racing in 2010.

    The only problem is there are already way too many German drivers in F1 at the moment!

  12. Hulkenberg really impressed me all through his career. I saw him in Zandvoort in A1GP and he was by far the fastest out there when it got wet.

    His start in GP2 was a bit of a disappointment, but he sure changed things around.

    Give the kid a few years with a middle field team like Williams and then on to bigger things.

    To me Hulkenberg seems a far better driver than Vettel. Hulkenberg seems more like Rosberg and Hamilton. Someone who is (was) more mature than you would hold possible looking at their age. Vettel is still an obvious rookie.

    Hulkenberg did win championships in F3 and A1GP while Vettel never really impressed much in F3 or in WSR.

    1. Hulkenberg did win championships in F3 and A1GP while Vettel never really impressed much in F3 or in WSR.

      Vettel won four races in the 2006 F3 Euroseries on route to second in the championship, which he combined with being BMW’s third driver in the latter half of the year. He also won on his second WSR start at Missano. At Spa, he nearly lost a finger to flying debris but managed to finish 6th in the F3 Masters at Zandvoort with 3rd fastest lap – impressing ASM team boss Frédéric Vasseur, who didn’t think he’d even start the race.

      In 2007, Vettel was leading the WSR standings when he was called up to make his F1 debut for BMW where he finished in the points. Despite only starting 7 of the 17 WSR races in 2007 before leaving for F1, he still finished 5th in the championship.

      No, not impressive at all…

      1. It’s always “it might be impressive if you assume that it was impressive”.

        If he would simply have actually won the F3 championship in commanding style like Hamilton (15 wins in 20 races) or Hulkenberg, it would have been clear. Instead he was beaten by his team mate (di Resta).

        1. You make it sound like Vettel slogged round in the midfield in F3 and WSR, without ever standing out until he reached F1. In the space of one season he won races in Euro F3 and the WSR, and was also BMW’s reserve driver. Paul Di Resta was a strong rival who had the advantage of being able to concentrate solely on his F3 campaign.

          To paraphrase, dominating a series might be impressive if you assume it is impressive. The strength of the competition is paramount – it’s often better to finish runner up in a strong field than dominate a weak one.

          1. I’m saying Vettel didn’t stand out yes.

    2. Williams 4ever
      6th August 2009, 18:03

      To me Hulkenberg seems a far better driver than Vettel. Hulkenberg seems more like Rosberg and Hamilton. Someone who is (was) more mature than you would hold possible looking at their age. Vettel is still an obvious rookie.

      Another example of Randomly made comment based on personal likes/dislikes rather than using objective evaluation

      Having watched his career progression closely, I am expecting a lot from Nico H . But randomly blasting Vettel was totally uncalled for. Apart from all the acheivements in Jr Formulae and F1 that have been well documented, what impresses me about Vettel
      a) Technical Ability – Way he and Bourdais went about on Friday FP last year at Monza reviewing the track conditions finding optimum car setup was remniscent of Another All time great Alain Prost and perfect lesson to all racing drivers and all wannabes how to approach Racing weekend. While much “Hyped” drivers relied on Historical Data, both Vettel and Bourdais were thorough and that obviously paid in Qualifiers and Race (though Bourdais was unlucky in Monza for no fault of his own). It is well known fact that Vettel worked this winter in absence of Webber to provide feedback and technical insights to the team. And Webber has never shied from acknowledging how he finds Vettel’s Car setups better than his own and uses them most of times this year. That tells something more about Vettel and Webber ( who graciously acknowledges his team-mates contribution to his success, unlike some other drivers on the grid, whose name I needn’t take)

      b) Career Management – He is only driver on the grid who doesn’t have a manager or “Dad” to make his career calls. Yet has never shied from speaking his mind, been articulate and managed to avoid any PR Gaffes (unlike some other drivers on the grid, whose name I needn’t take)

      Vettel is how a Driver should be, a perfect role model for all wannabes out there.

      @ Tim – Thanks for the data.Hope that helps forum poster to put things in perspective..

      1. This question is not a reflection on the rest of your comment, but I can’t help wondering where you get the following from:

        And Webber has never shied from acknowledging how he finds Vettel’s Car setups better than his own and uses them most of times this year.

        If he hasn’t been shy about it, presumably you can find a link where he’s quoted? These things often get a life of their own, and next thing you know everyone’s talking about how Webber copies Vettel’s setups every weekend!

        I’m not a particularly big fan of Vettel or Webber (other then them being F1 drivers), so this is just a genuine question.

      2. Webber actually tested more this winter than Vettel.

        I’d reverse the argument. You obviously feel some fondess for the kid and therefore you think he’s great.

        I simply look at the results and they are just not impressive enough for the hype that surrounds him.

        Even in F1 with 3 crashes this year alone and a multitude of crashes last year.

        BTW ROFL for claiming that Alain Prost’s approach would help anyone on driving in the rain. Maybe if the preparation was to bring a chair to sit the race out …

        1. Williams 4ever
          7th August 2009, 15:00

          Webber actually tested more this winter than Vettel.

          Hmmm with Broken leg after his charity endurance event, F1 world was wondering will Webber make it to grid for season opener. Without doubt I can conclude we are dealing here with someone who make “Random” Comments.

          BTW ROFL for claiming that Alain Prost’s approach

          I was refering to the time spent by STR drivers Vettel & Bourdais spent in those wet sessions to evaluate the conditions by making actual runs around the track rather than like the drivers from big teams who decided to rely on Computer Assistance and historical data. That the STR drivers Qualified 1-4 for the race was no fluke.

          This is another example how people generalize “Wet race win = Fluke” and don’t put into perspective the hard work that the drivers/team have put to get those results.

          Only Professor Prost was known for his thoroughness in preparing for the race weekend. He always thrived on the fact that he was better prepared driver going into every race. Thank God for small mercies, that data processing had not become so cheap and Human were still relying on common sense approach rather than just technology

          1. Dude if you are that poorly informed then maybe you shouldn’t really respond at all. This is just embarrassing.

            Let me help you overcome some of the ignorance with some stats of winter testing kilometers:

            2599 – M. Webber
            2436 – S. Vettel
            5035 – Red Bull Racing

            I hope you are able to figure out from that who drove more testing kilometers.

            That Red Bull/STR car simply went really well in the wet. In qualifying, Vettel was 1st, Webber 3rd and even Bourdais was 4th.

            Besides, they were lucky that both Hamilton and Raikkonen got caught out by the weather in Q1. So they gained 2 places there and then some because their car just went well in the wet. No special analytical superpowers required. Get a grip.

            Are you seriously suggesting that all the other drivers just got in their cars that were setup based on previous dry tests and then just drove the same setup in the wet?

            Can you come up with more unsubstantiated nonsense, please. I could use some more good laughs.

    3. Hulkenberg really impressed me all through his career. I saw him in Zandvoort in A1GP and he was by far the fastest out there when it got wet.

      He is excellent in the wet! Caught my eye in A1GP also – and his wet weather driving in that was super impressive! His win total has only just been beaten in A1 this year, and Nico was only in it for a season! Have followed him since – cant wait for him to get into F1! Confident it will be next year!

  13. After his performance in wet sprint race at Nurburgring (people are singing praises to Hamilton’s GP2 race in Istanbul, Hulkenberg had a stellar drive from eight to the lead there) I’m sure that he is deserving and ready for a seat in F1. He has been fast, consistant and showed a great fighting spirit. I think pairing him up with the older Nico could be a good lineup. Well, I would like to see Williams sign Kubica too but b option is to replace Nakajima with Hulkenberg.

  14. I’ve seen several people referring to Toyota engines for Williams in 2010, but I thought they were set for Cosworth engines.

    1. As I said above where have you read this as I’d not heard anything on it??

      I really hope they’re not going the Cosworth route as I have my doubts over how competitive that engine will be initially…

      1. I don’t remember where I saw it, but I do remember Patrick Head’s name coming up when a few days ago they were talking about problems with the Cosworth engine.

        1. When interviewed in June Frank Williams mentioned that the team has a contract with Toyota for 2010 and intends to see it through, despite the FOTA split causing a minor issue with Toyota. He also expressed doubts about the competitiveness of the Cosworth engine.

          The 2010 entry list has Williams down as using Toyota engines.

      2. OK, sorry for the confusion. The FIA site indeed puts Williams on the entry list with a Toyota engine.

        I did indeed find a lot of articles of Patrick Head talking about Cosworth engines, but not that they signed a contract with them.

        1. Williams 4ever
          6th August 2009, 16:30

          I did indeed find a lot of articles of Patrick Head talking about Cosworth engines, but not that they signed a contract with them.

          Only Cosworth related news that has come from Williams Stable was Sir Frank Williams Evaluation of Current Cosworth Engines and how things have changed since 2006 and Cosworth Engines are not upto scratch when compared to other Engine Options.

          I had raised these doubts in other forums when Max Offered Cosworth the Engine Supply Contract – At end of 2006 season when Cosworth left F1 as it didn’t have any customers ( after Williams, STR switched to rivals), McLaren Hired best of Cosworth Talent, Its not a surprise that Norbert Haugs Engine Department suddenly went from making Fragile Engines that cost them 2005-06 season to having bulletproof reliance without a single engine failure in 07-08.

          That Cosworth talent exodus was the differentiating factor.

          1. yes and then also the articles about a Patrick Head interview abnout the Cosworth engine. So that’s even more articles than I mentioned before.

  15. Too bad if he gets stuck with the Williams team. I thought Willi Weber was sharper than that. He looks like a real talent and deserves better.

    1. Williams 4ever
      6th August 2009, 20:30

      Wili Weber has zeroed in Williams for his young Client since last season. Remember in end 2008 season, Weber had stirred speculation of Nico Rosberg moving to McLaren and Hulkenberg getting his place at Williams.

  16. I’ve seen this year’s GP2 races and the kid really impressed me. I think he has a future in Formula 1. He look a nice and cool guy. I only hope some german drivers will step out when he get’s in, otherwise, sooner than later, Formula 1 is no more a mundial event, but a German Championship… Give room to talent from other countries. Nothing againt Germany, only wanting to globalize the ‘Circus’ a little more!

  17. StrFerrari4Ever
    6th August 2009, 22:14

    Hulkenberg will be in F1 next eyar no doubt the success his been achieving is astonishing and Williams if they are still competetive next season and decide to run their flywheel KERS system then that could be quite a nice combination. As for Kaz well probably cause of his Toyota connections his still at Williams but if he doesn’t improve Frank Williams might think Kaz nice guy but we want to get back to the front and bring in a experienced guy to help nurture Hulkenberg.

  18. In a perfect world, there’d be two Nico’s driving for Williams next season. I’ve followed Hulkenberg’s career from A1, where he pretty much dominated. His GP2-Asia drives were fantastic (though he did get a bit lucky with competitors being penalised), and now GP2 proper. Wow. I firmly believe that Qualifying is the secret to modern F1. Ifd you can’t manage the tyres for a hot lap, your career is over. It seems this kid is a Quali whizz, plus he knows how to win. Williams would be silly not to slide him in and Kaz out for 2010.

    Oh, and he’d beat Rosberg too.

    1. I was even more impressed with his skill in the wet. ”Nicoberg” line-up next year would do well but I think I would prefer Rosberg and Kubica if possible.

  19. Yes, I saw him in A1 & GP2 he is awesome.

    1. Terry Fabulous
      7th August 2009, 9:48

      I agree mate.
      I watched him win two races at Eastern Creek for A!GP and it was like watching the Schu.

      The man can drive a car and will win F1 races.

      In fact, he will have a superior career then Nico Rosberg.

  20. Yeah he should be in F1 next year. I don’t care if it’s a German or not, he’s just a pheamnominal driver and he might very well be the next big thing. I also heard Williams possibly breaking with Toyota engines and moving towards renault because of the lower Budget of Toyota so there will be no reason to keep Nakajima there.

    Rosberg deserves a spot with McClaren btw. I think he’s an excellent and very talented driver, he also won the GP2 championship. Nakajima is not a bad driver at all but if you look at the difference between Rosberg, who performs consistently (apart from last weekends) and Nakajima.. it’s huge! I’d like to see him go toe to toe with Hamilton in a McClaren, I think he’ll do a lot better than Kovalainen and if Williams trades Rosberg for Kovalainen that would be a rather strange deal.

    Webber may have tested more but he was not as active in the car design and the setup because he was injured during the winter. Vettel is awesome, the guy won a race in a toro Rosso!! And since he got to red bull, Red Bull has started to win races as well. It’s like Alonso going to renault after performing well in a minardi, winning 2 world championships, after which he went to a not competative McClaren which he then made competative (Hamilton benefitted from that) again. Alonso and Vettel have that insight, they can really improve the set up of any given car (although Alonso is struggling now because of the problems within the renault team).

    Back to Hülkenberg. He has proven in all those series he’s been winning in that he also seems to possess that kind of insight. He made the ART car competative again, he was dominating the A1 series, finishing 35 points before nr. 2, winning saturday and sunay races in one weekend in Gp2 (a feat only accomplished by Nelsinho Piquet jr.) and winning that championship with one race to go, which no one before him (including Hamilton) has accomplished. I think we’re looking at a new future multiple world champion here.

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