Nico Hulkenberg has arrived

Brazilian Grand Prix

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Nico Hulkenberg, Rubens Barrichello, Williams, Interlagos, 2010

There may be better ways for a rookie driver to make an impression in Formula 1 – but beating the championship contenders to pole position by a full second in the penultimate race of the season is hard to top.

Nico Hulkenberg came into F1 with a racing CV to die for – including GP2, Formula Three and A1 Grand Prix titles.

For those who were wondering when his potential was going to become apparent, that time has surely come.

The most common observation about Hulkenberg prior to this weekend was that he hadn’t delivered quite what was expected of him given his impressive rise through the junior formulae.

His scintillating performance in qualifying at Interlagos was an example of Hulkenberg’s touch in wet conditions – one that has served him well earlier in his career already.

Nico Hulkenberg, A1 Grand Prix, 2006

It was in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series that Hulkenberg began to make a name for himself. Aged 19, he won his second race in the category at a wet Zandvoort in the Netherlands.

He won again when the rain fell at Malaysia, zipping off into an 11-second lead in the first five laps showing the same skilful touch for the conditions he used to take pole position yesterday.

Hulkenberg’s efforts yielded nine wins and a championship victory for Team Germany.

Managed by Willi Weber (formerly the man behind Michael Schumacher), he earned a place on crack squad ART’s roster of drivers, with which he won his F3 and GP2 titles.

In recent weeks rumours have surfaced that Williams are planning to replace Hulkenberg with GP2 champion Pastor Maldonado.

Maldonado certainly impressed in GP2 this year, his fourth season in the category, with six consecutive feature race wins. But when he and Hulkenberg were team mates last year Hulkenberg romped to the title in his rookie season while Maldonado amassed barely one-third of his team mate’s points total.

It’s been said before that F1 team can be too quick to give up on rookie drivers That’s even more true now, with testing restricted so tightly. Hulkenberg has started his F1 career with far less testing mileage under his belt than the likes of Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel did.

But he has gradually improved throughout his rookie season. In just his third F1 race he out-qualified Rubens Barrichello in a wet session at Sepang, taking fifth on the grid.

In the latter half of the season he’s usually been within range of Barrichello in qualifying. He impressed at Monza – those who poured scorn on him for his off-track excursions while running ahead of Mark Webber tended to overlook the fact that he out-qualified and out-raced his veteran team mate. Technical director Sam Michael called Hulkenberg’s drive “his best to date”.

The Maldonado rumours always seemed more like a reflection on Williams’ financial state (he brings substantial backing from a Venezuelan petroleum company) than Hulkenberg’s potential.

But now that potential has been translate into a major achievement – he’s the sixth-youngest pole sitter of all time, and has put Williams at the front of the grid for the first time since 2005.

That achievement that should guarantee him a place in F1 next year.

Nico Hulkenberg

Images © Williams/LAT, A1 Grand Prix

Author information

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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75 comments on “Nico Hulkenberg has arrived”

  1. Definitely a driver Formula One has to keep. Williams would be dumb to lose him: could be their Vettel. Schumacher’s ‘proud’ grin as he stood behind him after qualifying said it all.

    1. Why would Shumi be proud about Nico’s pole?

      1. No real idea either, but KONL must be right. I think I remember Schumacher kind of promoting Hulk at the start of the season with some of his comments.

      2. Both have the same manager I believe.

      3. both Germans, same manager and Schumi has been talking him up for years (more than Vettel, actually I don’t think Schumi has ever talked up Vettel)

        1. (more than Vettel, actually I don’t think Schumi has ever talked up Vettel)


        2. he doesn’t need to!!

    2. Because he’s a fellow German, I suppose?

      While they are competitors on track, given the age difference, you cannot but feel proud for young rookies that come from the same country as you.

      I suspect Schumi feels similar about Vettel as well.

      1. No. Schumi is a competitor, he can’t be proud of Vettel making him look old, outdated, and being talked about as the Schumi-succesor.

        1. Nope – if you view races from Silverstone onwards you’ll realize that’s wrong.

          Michael tangles with everyone but Vettel, he’s always let him overtake easily and while being lapped by Vettel, he’s made sure that the young German has an easy way through him.

          There’s definitely something there…

          1. Michael is well known supporter of vettel. He publicly backed vettel for title during suzuka press conference. It is natural to give preference to fellow country drivers than others.

          2. No actually, in China Schumacher didn’t let Vettle straight past, and in Silverstone he made a mistake which let Vettle with his MASSIVE performance advantage past.

            Also Michael doesn’t just let Vettle past when he’s being lapped, all year when letting cars he’s been a total gentlemen and it’s been remarked upon. What I find is all front runners tend to do this when being lapped, I think partly because they don’t experiance it very often and so arn’t sure how to minimize it’s interferance with their race and partly because they know when it’s happening in reverse they want smooth passage, and holding guys up isn’t the way to get that.

          3. Both state they are friends, so that might have to do with it.

      2. @KONL, I feel that you are correct. Plus, Schumi is probably aware that these are probably guys who used to watch him trump the field on TV when they were younger. Now there are several young Germans on the grid, performing rather well.

    3. Well he faded like wesley snipes in the race.

  2. I was expected to be blown away by him this year and I haven’t been, but yesterday was an outstanding performance that gave us one of those truly brilliant F1 moments.

    He has just secured a drive in 2011 for sure.

    1. Unless a deal had already been made with another driver and the contracts signed.

  3. Yes and he did it in less that a top tier car ;)

    1. The 1.1 second gap in a lesser car really is quite something, the man has serious, we can’t afford to see this guy out of F1 potential.

  4. It’s quite remarkable.

    It’s quite well known on this site that I have being very critical of Hulkenberg this season, because he was expected to “do a Hamilton.” Now I understand that for some of the season he has had a poor car, but for some of 2007 Alonso and Hamilton were no match for the Ferrari’s.

    Now in the last few weeks, Hulkenberg’s future at Williams has being under thorough examination, and I for one was calling for his sacking and replacement by Pastor Maldonado.

    However, yesterday changed this completely.

    I’m not saying that it turned his season around, because for me, he’s still had a relatively poor season. However, it has completely affected my opinion of the young rookie.

    He was strong in all three practice sessions and was expected to get into Q3. Despite these high expectations, he wasn’t really supposed to get higher than 8th or trouble Alonso, Webber, Hamilton and Vettel.

    Also take note of the fact that he was behind his team mate in Q1 and Q2, and yet made a total mockery of him in Q3.

    As Keith said in an earlier article, he wasn’t on a wet weather set up, and did an astonishing 1.14.470, which was over 4 seconds quicker than his Q2 time.

    He destroyed the Red Bulls, who were meant to lock out the front row, he comfortably defeated Hamilton, Alonso and his team mate, who was on pole here last year.

    All in all he was quicker than all of the title contenders (who have all drove well at Interlagos in the past) his massively more experienced team mate (who has been on pole here several times) the home grown talent of Massa (who has taken 3 consecutive Brazil poles) and the rest of the field.

    A really stunning job, and I know that the Williams team helped, but brilliant job Nico.

    Just brilliant.

    1. Surely the fact that he was on a dry set-up is the clue to his pace? because by the end that track was dry, or rather, a thin racing line was dry. That he managed to stay on the line was key, but since he did and kept his tyres warm then that must have helped.

      1. It was still wet enough to be very slippery, and I’m 100% any extra down force or grip from suspension settings that would come with a wet set up would have only improved his time.

      2. Exactly, we had quotes from quite a few drivers, including Alonso, saying that is exactly why they rate this as a very important pole.

        He was the only one who was able to keep his tyres on the dry line for the whole lap 3 laps in a row. Very impressive driving.

    2. To be fair, I think the Williams must be good in those changing conditions, because Rubens still came 6th and he says he got stuck behind Hamilton (which is pretty crazy in itself)

      1. Watch is lap on the beebsite, the car is trying to escape all over the place but he’s got it under controll.

      2. I think the car is fairly good in low grip conditions but that was a mighty lap from Hulk. No matter how good the car is a full second is just sensational.

      3. Don’t forget that Rubens himself is a brilliant wet weather driver (remember Donnington 1993, when he was the surprising rookie, or Spa 1994, his first pole, or Monaco 1997, with the Stewart, Hockenheim 2000, his first win) and ONLY could grab sixth place with the same equipment.

        Nico Hulkenberg had an outstanding result against the very best opponents, with the same conditions, in a track that is very challenging…

        As a Brazilian I would like to see Rubens on pole yet again (probably not winning, anyway…), but I’m really really impressed with Nico and I’m really hoping Williams will keep its drivers’ line-up for 2011, without any financial trouble…

    3. Now I understand that for some of the season he has had a poor car, but for some of 2007 Alonso and Hamilton were no match for the Ferrari’s.

      But in 2007, that equalled a 3rd and 4th place finish. Much higher than what Williams are capable of in 2010 even if they are occasionally as fast as Mercedes and Renault.

    4. Well thanks…who are you?

  5. I wouldn’t be so quick to judge him. This could just be a one-off of some kind. While he has improved over the season, he has still made a lot of mistakes. He tends to over-drive the car and he gets scrappy when pressured – not to mention his starts. He’s clearly got it, but he still needs a bit of work to become a genuine contender in his own right.

    1. I have been impressed by him. Of course, he has not shone in every race, but with a car like the Williams that is hard to expect. When the car was on the pace he usually kept up with Rubens, and that is quite an achievement.

      Also, I don’t recall him making many mistakes. If you could list them I’d be thankful.

      1. – Spinning out in Bahrain (if it weren’t for the run-off, he’d have retired)
        – Attempting to pass Sutil (or maybe Rosberg; it was hard to tell) at the hairpin in Montreal despite there being no opening and damaging the front wing
        – Getting a drive-through penalty for speeding in pit lane when he pitted to repair the damage
        – Over-stepping himself at the Bus Stop in Belgium
        – Constantly screwing up the first chicane at Monza
        – Barging Petrov off early in Singapore
        – Forcing Glock wide and almost into the wall, also at Singapore (Glock had to slow down dramatically, which didn’t help since he was stuck on a high kerb at the time)
        – Constantly having to cut across the chicane in Singapore
        – A terrible start at Suzuka (sure, he was taken out by Petrov, but Petrov started two rows back and had caught him before they got to the actual start line), which was one of several bad starts this season
        – Generally finishing in a lower position than he started in; I think he’s finished lower than he started in most of the races he’s finished this year

        1. To be fair on the poor starts, I have noticed Barrichello getting quite a few poor starts as well. Given other teams like RBR have had the same problems, which were remedied in RBR’s case by changing the gear setup, it probably has something to do with that. And Niko did say that they have been overhauled for this race and that their starts in practice were miles better.
          Agree though, he drives like a goose when under pressure.

          1. I don’t think poor starts are a problem with the car. Rubens Barrichello wasn’t exactly Usain Bolt off the line last year, either. When he got it right, he was like lightning. When he got it wrong, he was like custard.

      2. I’d be more interested in your opinion of his future @ Williams P.M.

        I’ve read numerous time that Williams needs money. So do they take Maldonado and keep Rubens, or is they enough lolly in the Maldonado contract to have two talented newbs?

        I’d favor the newbs if I were Williams… I’m not sure why… just a gut feeling.

        1. It depends. The latest rumour is that Hulkenberg will be moved over to Hispania, and while that might sound like a bad thing in their current form, their deal with the ex-Telefonicia guy plus constant rumours of a technical deal with Toyota would be a huge asset to them. If Williams do indeed need money, I’d move Hulkenberg over to Hispania and take Maldonado for a year and then re-evaluate for 2012. It may be that Maldonado takes to Formula 1 faster than Hulkenberg, or that Barrichello decides to retire/change teams (again).

          1. The fact is that no matter how talented the rookies this year are all significantly disadvantaged in comparison to those in the past. At first it looked like Petrov was the man, no longer, the Kobayashi, now Hulkenburg they’ve all shown potential but the lack of testing makes there job infinitely harder.

            Personally I’d have liked to have seen what Hulkenburg could have done in the Renault.

          2. Still it sounds far fetched to me, that Williams would shove him in a HRT with their back end, and I doubt he would except that (and Weber as well) even if a longer term deal would secure him a place after Rubens retires.

            I would think it might be more realistic to have Maldonado end up paying for the HRT backend deal and get a long term contract with williams.

          3. As unappealing as Hispania are right now, there’s talk they’ve done a deal with Toyota and their new ally – the ex-Telefonicia dude (way to dumb down a sentence: say “dude”, like “Dude, these are isotopes”; try it) – they could be a vastly-different team next year.

            Of course, that’s the risk: exactly how different are we talking about?

          4. We should also consider that by entering a small group of drivers with a pole position on their CV, the Hulk will be far more desirable to sponsors. As Schumi’s bank balance will prove, Weber is pretty handy at brining in clients, so ironically this massive performance i qualifying should guarantee the Hulk in the Williams for next season

          5. It’s one performance in variable conditions. It’s not proof of anything.

          6. It’s still a pole position in his rookie season, by over a second. I’d give such a driver a second season.

  6. The last pole for Williams was from Heidfeld in the European grand prix 2005. He came 2nd behind Alonso and in front of Barrichello in a Ferrari.. Would be amazing if Nico could get a 2nd place! He has shown he obviously can defend of Webber earlier this year ;)
    Let’s hope!
    Williams would be stupid to get rid of Hülkenberg! Especially for Maldonado.

    1. Williams wouldn’t be so stupid to get rid of him if keeping him and Barrichello jeopardised the finances of the entire team. If Massa is on the outer at Ferrari, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Scuderia made a play for him.

      1. Hmm that would be quite intriguing with Hülkenberg att Ferrari.. I doubt it though.. They do not often sign rookies.. They sign people in their prime rather who has really proven them self.. Like Alons, Kimi, Schumacher, Prost and so on and so on

        1. They took Massa after two seasons with Sauber. Granted, it was as a test driver, but they took him. And with Williams reportedly pushing for Hulkenberg to sign a five-year contract, they may not have much time to act. It might mean getting rid of Massa earlier than intended, but if Hulkenberg signs with Williams until 2016, they may have missed their opportunity. They can gamble on Kobayashi and Kubica coming onto the market in the next two or three years, but Webber only has a year or two left in him and Red Bull will have to replace him with a top driver (because in this day and age, you need two competitive drivers to stand a chance of fighting for WCC position) and given the performance of Buemi and Alguersuari, neither will be joining Red Bull any time soon and there are no drivers in the Young Driver Program who can be fast-tracked into Formula 1. They need someone like Hulkenberg or Kubica. Likewise McLaren; Jenson Button’s contract expires at the end of 2012, and he may decide to retire. So that would put Ferrari in a postion where there are three teams competing for two drivers, and they absolutely cannot risk doing what McLaren did in 2008 and settle for the best driver left on the market. If they want to build the team around Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg could be the perfect candidate.

          And a straight Hulkenberg-Massa swap could solve Williams’ financial woes without having to resort to Maldonado or another pay driver – the Williams name plus the immensely popular Barrichello and Massa could attract a plethora of Brazilian and/or South American sponsors.

          1. Well, Kobayashi’s fun but I don’t think he’ll ever be a top team driver unless he continues to impress like he is right now. Hulkenburg will want to stay at Williams to increase his credentials as a lead driver learning hopefully of the experiance of Barrichello but I don’t know that he’d take to being Alonso’s periphery driver, ditto Kubica.

            I’d say Hulkenburg to Redbull when Mark retires?

          2. That’s a possibility, but Ferrari may make a play for him before then to stop Red Bull from getting him.

          3. It’s only Eddie Jordan, but he was convinced Hulkenburg would replace Massa (temporarily of course) last year at Ferrari. There may therefore have been some preliminary discussions already.

            Personally I think if Nico is going to go anywhere else next year, it will be for a retiring Webber, in itself a long shot.

  7. Great achievement by Nico.

    Does anyone know exactly what car set up he is on compared to Vet, Web, Ham and Alonso? Some people seem to be saying the championship contenders compromised their set up for quali where as Nico didnt.

    Can anyone confirm the position?

    1. yeah, Hulkenberg had a dry setup

  8. While Petrov leads in points, the ex-GP2 rookie battle this year seems to have leaned towards the Hulk.

    If he does lose his seat in Williams, Renault may be the best place to go (if Renault isn’t as desperate about money), even though i’d miss Petrov in F1.

    1. Not really Petrov stopped impressing after the fly-aways, then Kobayashi became the stand out rookie, now it’s Hulkenburg.

  9. I really appreciate this kind of article – background and context for issues and events. Being thoughtful and knowledgeable, and though I read comments sometimes saying otherwise, I think always fair. You run a great site Keith, thank you.

    If I may suggest, an article on “pay drivers” would be great. Who, how much, since when? It seems it does now affect team choices, and I am one of those sorry to see Karun Chandhok lose his seat, even though we got a great commentator. I get the feeling everyone (media) tiptoes around it, or assumes I know things I don’t.

  10. I was blown away by Hulk yesterday. The testing ban means that a pole position in a rookie’s first season truly is something magical. I loved it when Petrov beat Kubica during Hungary as it felt that finally a rookie was beginning to make a break through but this is just in a completely different league.

    Hulkenberg has always shown the speed though in qualifying but he’s yet to show he can race. He’s made numerous excursions at Monza and Canada and the odd mistake here and there but he needs to work on his Sunday whereas, I think Petrov’s naturally slower (also very error prone) but has more race craft.

    I hope Williams hang onto him for more than just another season. If they keep him and Rubens they could build that team up again. It’ll be ironic though if Williams waited so long to see what Hulk could do but then he puts in a performance and gets snatched/linked with a bigger team.

    1. I also think this highlights, just how hard it has become for rookies (or come back pensionados) to make their seat stick in F1.

      Kobayashi was impressive in quite a few races, next to a decent load of mistakes and technical woes, but what about the others?

      HRTs drivers are impressive just for keeping it on track, DiGrassi never really got anywhere. Schumacher showed some interesting driving only last race. Petrov has been impressive momentarily, but crash prone and fading at others. Alguersuari has had nice drives but a lot of mistakes as well.
      Huelkenberg was mostly a letdown in the first races although he is starting to show promise since then before his incredible Hulk for pole drive got us all (well except for PM) hooked.

      It shows how far F1 is from lower racing categories, that it has taken all of them at least half a season to start getting to grips with their situation.

  11. Is this the future? I for one hope so.

    Anyway Willaims had to do something to stop their ‘most pole positions in a season’ record being beaten….Mclaren did their part in Canada…

    1. If that was the case Rubens would have been 2nd don’t you think?

      1. Hamilton was far to slow on his out lap, most behind him lost heat in the tyres, including Rubens, himself and others and it definitely helped Hulkenburg to pole (not taking anything away from him). Hamilton was also badly held up on his last lap (why he we really pee’d off after) but then he had inadvertently wrecked a few others chances.

        It was a great three laps from Hulk, been waiting for it all season. Up until this point I’ve been a little disappointed but he has been improving, this was just great… funny i made comments a few weeks back about a Rubens podium…. maybe I pick the wrong one. :-)

  12. Fer bloody ells saaayke thats my hulky (im his papa). Go on son do it for morrosinglodenbachenheigenslauen, and do it for me, coz frankly you have disgraced the hulky name this year son, so pull your lederhosen up and get cracking

  13. Wooooooooo



    Hulky will kick your d

    ick vetslow

    1. Hulk would have to have Webber’s job to do that.

  14. Seriously, if Frank Williams kicks the Hulkster out, he is out of his mind. And his team will lose any reputation it has to me.

    1. Unfortunately Williams has a history of chopping and changing drivers, and also a history of blaming everyone else if they don’t succeed.

      Remember how they moaned about the BMW powerplant that turned out to be the most powerful in F1 at the time.

      At least Ferrari have the decency to just throw an Italian Waiters style hissy fit when they fail.

    2. Seriously, if Frank Williams kicks the Hulkster out, he is out of his mind. And his team will lose any reputation it has to me.
      Cutting Hulkenberg loose is better than (possibly) jeopardising his team. And what if, come the Young Driver Days at Abu Dhabi, Pastor Maldonado out-paces Hulkenberg?

  15. Were it not for the hype surrounding him I think most would say he’s had a very good rookie season. Hulkenberg has shown steady improvement throughout the season but this was out of the blue. Great stuff for him and great for the sport. Most people are genuinely thrilled for him and that’s not something that happens very often in F1.

  16. Aaah – the fickleness of sports fans. It was great seeing an underdog finish on top after a great qualifying session and it will certainly be remembered, but let’s relax a bit people. Yesterday we’re ready to forget about the guy, if not argue that he doesn’t deserve a seat, today he’s a future world champion and Williams would be crazy to let him go. That was one great qualifying performance, but last time I looked, by itself that’s not quite enough to confirm your potential. Personally, I’ll wait at least to see how he performs over the race distance before agreeing that he is really coming into his own.

  17. Hulkenberg’s pole position lap left me speechless. I didn’t expect that, I kept my eye out for Hamilton throughout Q3.

    The lap reminded me of another german a couple of years ago in a mediocre car in the damp (albeit this was slicks and then was wets).

    Can ‘The Hulk’ move on to bigger things just as Vettel has? I believe he can.

  18. Not only for Hulk but also for williams i want to see Williams winning..Given the financial status of the team and given the big name it had on the early 90’s it would be a huge shame to see them go

  19. Why I dont see such articles like ”New Schumi?” ?

  20. Mike "the bike" Schumacher
    7th November 2010, 14:40

    Hulk definately deserves his place next year. he did already. Look at Kobi last year, everyone (rightly) went mad about him for a couple very good performances. Hulk has matched Barrichello this year and 1.1 secs quicker then anyone else in cars that should be almost a second quicker than his!
    For pete’s sake he was 1.7 secs quicker than barrichello!

  21. Jraybay-HamiltonMclarenfan
    7th November 2010, 15:06

    The way formula 1 works now is kind of strange when you cant test very much. I think its bcos of the price cuts to help teams but testing is very important… I think these guys need some time to show what they can do I mean like pilots who were very successful in junior series, give them a chance. It just seems their leash is very short but its harder now without much testing. The best way to get better is to sit in the seat and drive but if the pilot is just not cutting it then yes move on but I think it sucks when some guys make it because they… some have sponsor money and maybe their time in formula 1 is longer because of that…even though they may not be impressive :/ I think Nico is the real deal lets see him again : D

  22. I’m surprised that no one’s has suggested Mercedes as the perfect fit for him, either if MS gets the boot or they don’t perform next year and NR moves to one of the top 3 teams.

  23. You never know hulki could become mini vettel or super mini shumi

  24. It’s a shame that he ended up 8th, but unfortunately the car was not good enough for the top 5. Once more, fanastic Qualifying result!

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