How Hulkenberg snatched pole position

Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying analysis

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Nico Hulkenberg, Williams, Interlagos, 2010

Timing was crucial in qualifying and Nico Hulkenberg exploited it to perfection.

Qualifying times in full

As the track dried with every passing lap in Q3, not only was the circuit offering more grip, but it was also becoming easier for drivers to keep their tyre temperatures up.

Hulkenberg began his final lap with just a few seconds left on the clock. But the remarkable thing is his penultimate lap of 1’15.462 was also good enough for pole position.

The perfectly-timed last lap goes some way to explaining his colossal 1.1 second advantage (in a car which had been off the pace by the same margin in dry practice).

It’s likely that the championship contenders couldn’t afford to risk cutting it as fine as Hulkenberg did. Had they got it wrong they might have ended up in the second half of the top ten.

But none of this detracts from what was an absolutely top-drawer performance from Hulkenberg. After all, his team mate was a huge 1.8 seconds slower.

Was it all down to a wet weather set-up? It seems very unlikely – if that were the case he would surely have been much quicker in Q1 and Q2, which were far wetter than Q3.


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Nico HulkenbergWilliams-Cosworth1’20.0501’19.144 (-0.906)1’14.470 (-4.674)
2Sebastian VettelRed Bull-Renault1’19.1601’18.691 (-0.469)1’15.519 (-3.172)
3Mark WebberRed Bull-Renault1’19.0251’18.516 (-0.509)1’15.637 (-2.879)
4Lewis HamiltonMcLaren-Mercedes1’19.9311’18.921 (-1.010)1’15.747 (-3.174)
5Fernando AlonsoFerrari1’18.9871’19.010 (+0.023)1’15.989 (-3.021)
6Rubens BarrichelloWilliams-Cosworth1’19.7991’18.925 (-0.874)1’16.203 (-2.722)
7Robert KubicaRenault1’19.2491’18.877 (-0.372)1’16.552 (-2.325)
8Michael SchumacherMercedes1’19.8791’18.923 (-0.956)1’16.925 (-1.998)
9Felipe MassaFerrari1’19.7781’19.200 (-0.578)1’17.101 (-2.099)
10Vitaly PetrovRenault1’20.1891’19.153 (-1.036)1’17.656 (-1.497)
11Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes1’19.9051’19.288 (-0.617)
12Kamui KobayashiSauber-Ferrari1’19.7411’19.385 (-0.356)
13Nico RosbergMercedes1’20.1531’19.486 (-0.667)
14Jaime AlguersuariToro Rosso-Ferrari1’20.1581’19.581 (-0.577)
15Sebastien BuemiToro Rosso-Ferrari1’20.0961’19.847 (-0.249)
16Nick HeidfeldSauber-Ferrari1’20.1741’19.899 (-0.275)
17Vitantonio LiuzziForce India-Mercedes1’20.5921’20.357 (-0.235)
18Adrian SutilForce India-Mercedes1’20.830
19Timo GlockVirgin-Cosworth1’22.130
20Jarno TrulliLotus-Cosworth1’22.250
21Heikki KovalainenLotus-Cosworth1’22.378
22Lucas di GrassiVirgin-Cosworth1’22.810
23Christian KlienHRT-Cosworth1’23.083
24Bruno SennaHRT-Cosworth1’23.796

Driver comparisons

The balance of power at Mercedes tipped in Michael Schumacher’s favour for a change – although an unhappy Nico Rosberg said he was blocked by Sebastien buemi in Q2.

Felipe Massa should thank his lucky stars Rosberg was held up or he might not have made it into Q3. Even so the huge gap between the Ferrari drivers makes grim reading for Massa at his home race.

Christian Klien out-qualified Bruno Senna on his return to HRT. But Senna said he did not use a new set of intermediate tyres later in Q1, which seems strange. Tomorrow’s race is expected to be dry, so there’s no need for the team to save a set of intermediates.

TeamDriverLap timeGapLap timeDriverRound
McLarenJenson Button1’19.288+0.3671’18.921Lewis HamiltonQ2
MercedesMichael Schumacher1’18.923-0.5631’19.486Nico RosbergQ2
Red BullSebastian Vettel1’15.519-0.1181’15.637Mark WebberQ3
FerrariFelipe Massa1’17.101+1.1121’15.989Fernando AlonsoQ3
WilliamsRubens Barrichello1’16.203+1.7331’14.470Nico HulkenbergQ3
RenaultRobert Kubica1’16.552-1.1041’17.656Vitaly PetrovQ3
Force IndiaAdrian Sutil1’20.830+0.2381’20.592Vitantonio LiuzziQ1
Toro RossoSebastien Buemi1’19.847+0.2661’19.581Jaime AlguersuariQ2
LotusJarno Trulli1’22.250-0.1281’22.378Heikki KovalainenQ1
HRTChristian Klien1’23.083-0.7131’23.796Bruno SennaQ1
SauberNick Heidfeld1’19.899+0.5141’19.385Kamui KobayashiQ2
VirginTimo Glock1’22.130-0.6801’22.810Lucas di GrassiQ1

Ultimate laps

An ultimate lap is a driver’s best time in each of the three sectors that make up a lap combined.

Another key aspect of Hulkenberg’s performance was that all his three sector times were either his best or very close to it.

His fastest time was within a hundredth or so of the best he was capable of – the championship contenders behind him were all capable of quicker times.

DriverCarUltimate lapGapDeficit to bestActual position
110Nico Hulkenberg1’14.4540.0161
25Sebastian Vettel1’14.7630.3090.7562
36Mark Webber1’14.8660.4120.7713
42Lewis Hamilton1’15.1420.6880.6054
58Fernando Alonso1’15.6291.1750.3605
69Rubens Barrichello1’15.9271.4730.2766
711Robert Kubica1’16.0471.5930.5057
83Michael Schumacher1’16.3481.8940.5778
97Felipe Massa1’16.6162.1620.4859
1012Vitaly Petrov1’17.0742.6200.58210
114Nico Rosberg1’18.9364.4820.55013
121Jenson Button1’19.2464.7920.04211
1323Kamui Kobayashi1’19.2464.7920.13912
1422Nick Heidfeld1’19.4945.0400.40516
1516Sebastien Buemi1’19.5455.0910.30215
1617Jaime Alguersuari1’19.5575.1030.02414
1715Vitantonio Liuzzi1’19.9395.4850.41817
1814Adrian Sutil1’20.6856.2310.14518
1924Timo Glock1’21.9587.5040.17219
2018Jarno Trulli1’22.1347.6800.11620
2119Heikki Kovalainen1’22.2817.8270.09721
2225Lucas di Grassi1’22.7818.3270.02922
2320Christian Klien1’23.0078.5530.07623
2421Bruno Senna1’23.5279.0730.26924

2010 Brazilian Grand Prix

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    Image © Williams/LAT

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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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    47 comments on “How Hulkenberg snatched pole position”

    1. More twists in the tale, a number of weather sources are giving mixed predictions for the race tomorrow.

      1. Another poll sans pole position?

      2. Depends if you check São Paulo weather (clear, sunny) or Interlagos (showers). Presumably the teams wouldn’t be daft enough to google São Paulo…

        1. I always check for Interlagos specifically.

          1. Sorry Icthyes, wasn’t implying you weren’t – I did look up SP first! Hopefully there will be a few showers to mix things up, no heavy rain at the start though please! Can’t stand safety car starts, they take away one of the best elements of Formula 1.

            1. Oh no, I didn’t take it that way at all. Thankfully(?) it looks like a dry race.

    2. I fell asleep and missed it all :( But when I saw Hulk had gotten pole I was sure it was the timing of his pole lap on the track.

      I like the Q2 vs Q3 side by side comparisons. A car that is a second a lap slower on pole… who ever gets around the Hulk first is going to run away from the pack.

      1. If Vettel gets the jump into the first corner he could be off into the sunset before Webber/Hamilton/Alonso can get past the Hulk. It’ll be a gripping start in any case.

        1. Agree,it is going to be tough for all three of them particularly for Alonso.
          I think his luck is going to run out…unless the RBR screw up again

    3. Alguersuari is the first inside 107% of Hulks time. Imagine an 16 car grid :(

      1. But that’s not what counts in the 107% rule. It’s the Q1 times, in which the track was wetter and everyone was slower.

      2. If that were the case I think everyone outside of 107% would be allowed to start, given the changing conditions. Such force majeure was used in the 1999 French GP, for example, because four or five drivers were all outside of the 107% limit.

        Besides, won’t the 107% limit apply only to Q1 times, not to Q3?

        1. I imagine those that did not make Q2 would be assessed for 107% only.

    4. How sure we are Williams is not using a wet set up for today’s qualification? We will see this tomorrow during the race in the first three laps…

      1. Like I said on the article, if he is, why wasn’t he quicker in Q1 and Q2 where it would have helped him more? Also, you’d expect his speed trap figure to be lower than it is. So I’m not convinced.

      2. Patrick Head also said Hulkenberg was on a fully dry set-up

      3. Kubica was saying that Renault had very low downforce setup for Q session and race to benefit from f-duct, which made dificulties on slick while the track was not fully dry, hence poorer times in Q3 after the tyre change.
        So perhaps it was the same case for other top teams, and contrary by Williams – bigger downforce and higher grip means they drove better than others in slick tyres.

        1. So are you guys saying his pace was genuine?

          1. I am saying Williams had setup for more grip than top teams that seek the speed on the straight (mostly by f-duct) so when track was drying but still not fully dried, the higher grip Williams had on slicks gave them advantage.
            Had the track dried earlier, Williams would be beaten like in dry practice sessions – this is my understanding, but I wish someone from paddock try to answer this phenomena professionally.

            1. Sounds good to me.

          2. It sure looks like he was. He just kept stringing together 9 great sector times in three consistently improving laps.
            All the way he was driving without sliding, going wide, misbraking, etc. to string together an amazing lap. A bit like Senna could do for pole.

            The other guys on track at the same time had someting of a mistake or wobble at one or more points in each of their laps, they just could not string it together as consistenly ono the slippery track.

      4. I think he was in a full dry setup, so when the track got dryer he got the best of it,
        as Keith is pointing out. thats the only explanation. only the difference on setup can explain 1.1″ of difference
        and it was a dry setup

        1. His penultimate (1:15.519) was good enough for Pole (.057 faster than Vettel’s lap which he completed after Nico did this one)and he finished it with 2-3 seconds remaining on the clock. This gave him 1 more lap on a much drier track than anyone else with optimally heated tires and he improved a further 0.992 to 1:14.470. As BasCB said, 9 perfectly executed sectors in a row, altogether a remarkable performance.

      5. Yesterday the Williams team stated, that they are on a full dry setup, which might be the reason why they were pretty far of in the wetter conditions of Q1 and Q2.

        I just hope the Hulk can keep the pack behind him for a while while they have a try at sorting out their running order with a few passes between them.

    5. Great perf from Nico.

      Random predictions for the race tomorrow – Nico gets P4 and Barrichello crashes into Button.

    6. I hope this is a sign for next year! Can you imagine if Williams get into a position to fight for wins? If Renault keep going the way they are (improving slowly), Mercedes are more competetive, McLaren are there, Ferrari and RedBull, what a season it could possibly be. What a dream if 6 different teams win a race! (even better, 12 different drivers, but very unlikely).

    7. Keith, the formatting for the Qualifying “Ultimate Laps” Tables has been off for the last few races while the Practice “Ultimate Laps” Tables formatting has been fine.

      1. I don’t see what the problem is, can you explain?

        1. I’m using IE8 and to me the time entries are all shifted 1 column to the left as:

          1 10 Nico Hülkenberg1’14.454 0.016 1

          with the driver’s name and ultimate lap time together with no space. Also the car and driver Headers are reversed.

        2. I see what he means. The column headers aren’t aligning properly for me in Chrome on a Mac.

        3. i think he means some columns at the ultimate lap chart are not correctly placed.

          Because the laptime is close together with the driver name:

          Nico Hülkenberg1’14.454

          so the rest of the columns are out of place.

          1. I’m using Opera and I see similar thing:

            On Firefox and Safari it looks ok though.

          2. Hmmm, I just checked Firefox and it is formatted properly on it. But The Car# and Driver Headers are still reversed.

    8. That was great for The Hulk! I am always very happy when a new young driver makes his presence felt in a dramatic fashion! may you have many more days like this in your career.
      One of the most celebrated videos in all of YouTube is of the Hulk when he celebrates his birthday party with the Terminator – chocolate cake and reefer!
      LOL you just gotta see this !

    9. All the driver and team comments were consistent on the conditions and lap time. They all said that any small moment off the racing line took the tyre temperatures and lap time away and everyone but Hulkenberg seemed to have one. Webber and Alonso and Barrichello had big ones so they did good just getting the times they did.

      Interesting Sauber’s and Williams comments on Hulkenberg. Maybe one year out to pasture at Sauber for him and then back to Williams as lead driver? You can see the lead driver difference with Rubens being the first of the field to make the right call to go with the dries and Hulk having to be talked into it by his engineer. 3 great laps smack on the racing line make him a bankable future prospect though. I can’t help remembering that iffy performance trying to keep Webber behind him and think Williams see him as needing another full year before he could lead them.

      What I would really like to see is Webber leaving RBR and returning to Williams as World Champion. Maybe Newey will some time soo decides that he already has enough money too ?????

      1. I think Webber has even less love for Frank and Patrick than he does for RBR, so I don’t think that’ll happen.

        1. Frank was making concilliatory sounds to Mark and saying he got it wrong earlier this year. He’s got a contract though and Williams are tight for dosh so it’s unlikely.

    10. It appears to me that Williams may have gambled on a fully dry, lower downforce setup for Nico. His Q2 times, while it was still pretty wet, seem to reflect that idea. They really had nothing to lose by doing so, especially given the forecast for a dry race. The championship contenders on the other hand, were perhaps not as willing to roll the dice. Even with the probability of a dry race, they might have felt obliged to set up for a wet qualifying session to ensure decent grid positions. Should make for a great race!
      That said, and regardless of the different strategies, Nico was simply brilliant today! F1 qualifying is almost always a great show these days, but this was the best of the year. I’m hoping to see Nico get his first podium.

      1. The thing that tipped it for me was Schumachers comments on losing temperature in the tyres and a competetive time by going just off the racing line to let Vettel and Webber through on their hot laps. All the other coments from drivers and those offline incidents shown on the TV fold under that. I think his lap came from being on the rails and the Williams being good getting temps up. Rudens went way off so he wouldn’t have been a factor on what Schumacher was saying.

    11. As a Scuderia fan, Williams drove me crazy when they were on top, but I sure have missed them. Good to see an old-school team make good (and I wouldn’t mind if they were to create a tangle for RBR and LH, either!).

    12. A dry race today won’t favour Williams so I hope that he ends up on the podium at least.

    13. How Hülkenberg snatched pole position

      He drove the best lap in Q3 with tremendous skill.

      1. Combination of both. There was a window of a few minutes with the track drying that meant the Williams could outperform the other top teams. But as Barrichello showed – and he’s a good wet weather driver at one of his favourite circuits – that alone wasn’t enough. A slight slip and the tyre temperature was lost. Hulkenberg’s two laps were phenomenal, on the edge perfect. Best qualifying session in a long, long time!

        1. and everyone is over looking the fact that Hamilton screwed up (too slow, lost heat) his out lap and those directly behind him (inc Rubens)….

          Still a brilliant three laps from the Hulk so happy for him and Williams… just wish they could be it at least every other race.

          1. Hamiltons main problem was he was slowed by that Renault, otherwise he could have jumped the Redbulls.

            Hulkenburg would have maintained his pole easily.

    14. All Brazilians were outpaced by their teammates!

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