Losing Hulkenberg is a sign of the times at Williams

2010 F1 season review

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Nico Hulkenberg, Williams, Interlagos, 2010

In the sixth year since Williams last won a race, are there green shoots of recovery at the team?

Perhaps Nico Hulkenberg’s remarkable Brazilian Grand Prix pole position was one of them?

If so, it’s a worrying sign that he was dropped by the team just nine days afterwards.

Williams team stats 2010

Best race result (number) 4th (1)
Best grid position (number) 1st (1)
Non-finishes (mechanical/other) 6 (2/4)
Laps completed (% of total) 1953 (86.49%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2009) 6th (7th)
Championship points (2009*) 69 (99)
*using 2010 system

Williams began the year with a new engine supplied and driver line-up. Goodbye to Toyota, Kazuki Nakajima and Nico Rosberg, hello to Cosworth, Rubens Barrichello and Nico Hulkenberg.

It took a while for the team’s new elements to gel. Hulkenberg may have joined them in 2008 but testing restrictions meant he had far less time behind the wheel than rookies in previous seasons.

That much was clear when he spun out at Bahrain and crashed at Melbourne, but there were better things to come. Barrichello, meanwhile, looked instantly comfortable at his new home.

The team made progress with Cosworth whose engines proved very reliable. But speed trap figures indicated they were not on a par with Mercedes and Ferrari in terms of outright performance.

Williams were on a steadily upward trajectory all season. Over the final half of the year Barrichello was a fixture in Q3 and Hulkenberg often joined him there.

Unfortunately this wasn’t matched by a similar gain in race performance and the pair often struggled to hold onto the places they qualified in.

Having lost ground to Force India early on they reeled in their rivals over the final races, passing them for sixth in the championship thanks to Hulkenberg’s efforts in Brazil.

The deciding moment in this battle came when Barrichello kept Sutil behind at Abu Dhabi after the Force India driver came out of the pits close to the Williams. Barrichello hung on around the outside of turn four in a moment he described as a “huge move” which seemed to go completely unnoticed by the cameras.

Signs of Hulkenberg’s progress were apparent before that Saturday at Interlagos. In the wet qualifying at Sepang he was an impressive fifth and at Monza he solidly out-qualified and out-raced Barrichello.

Frank Williams’ words following Hulkenberg’s departure carried an unmistakeable tone of regret: “We wish him well and hope that our paths will cross again in the future.”

Pastor Maldonado arrives at the team with a more convincing CV than Kazuki Nakajima did – Maldonado had the GP2 title wrapped up comfortably before the end of the season.

But even so it’s hard to avoid the impression that Williams wouldn’t be swapping one GP2 champion for another if Maldonado wasn’t bringing a reputed ?����?�15m in sponsorship.

The bottom line is despite finishing higher in the championship than they did last year they scored fewer points (adjusting to today’s points system). Williams can’t stop the rot without money and with several sponsorship deals expiring this winter a tough decision had to be made.

It remains to be seen whether they got it right or not.

What did you think of Williams’ performance in 2010? Was letting Hulkenberg go the right thing to do? Have your say in the comments.

Williams’s season in pictures

2010 F1 season review

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Image © Williams/LAT, Bridgestone/Ercole Colombo (see individual images for details)

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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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53 comments on “Losing Hulkenberg is a sign of the times at Williams”

  1. You can have a Williams team without Hulkenburg however you can’t without money. Its a shame really as I thought he could really grow at Williams like Rosberg did however as you mentioned, several sponsors have expired and the stability of the team is the most important factor. At least they have skill in a GP2 champion rather then just someone arriving with no skill but loads of money (I won’t mention names).

    Good Luck Nico in finding a drive for 2011, I think you did enough in 2010 to deserve one.

    1. I agree that the Hulk did enough to deserve another season f1 in a Williams or better car.

      However Williams is also a team that needs money, if it wants to return to the front. Yes its loosing a good rookie and swapping him for a wet behind the ears rookie to f1, but Maldonado isn’t just a pay driver… he is a backed rated driver…

      Tough call, shame Hulk lost out but hopefully he will get a seat for next season, even if its testing for Merc or Force India.

      1. I think Maldonado could do better than most expect of him next year, especially if Barrichello’s testing experience continues to improve the car at a similar rate to 2010. That said I don’t think he has the ultimate potential of Hülkenberg, who shows glimmers of a future champion.

        1. Will reserve judgement till Maldonado has a few F1 races under his belt… We have seen highly rated drivers come in from the lower forumals and fail to achieve anything much in F1 and we have seen mediocre drivers come from the lower formulas and do great in F1… Koby is a classic example.

          The thing is I don’t think that Williams are ‘just’ taking a ‘pay’ driver. Instead they have gained some critical finacial backing as well as a rated driver.

  2. Alabaster Sam
    6th December 2010, 12:21

    Doug’s spot on, if losing Hulkenberg and replacing him with a well funded driver was key to the team’s survival then they’ve made the right decision. Maldonado can drive, it’s just a bit of a worry what he’ll get up to racing in the pack. Yes he’s very capable when he’s out front alone but he does tend to break stuff when he’s amongst other drivers. It’ll be interesting. The driver line-up for next year is weaker, but not dramatically so.

    1. Yeah, unlike HRT, Williams atleast has the reputation to show for it. Better have money and develop a good car than put 2 good drivers in an awful car. Nico will get his chance for sure. Even Sutil last year could not last 2 races without crashing.

  3. Getting rid of Hulkenberg for Maldonado doesn’t give the team stability – it gives them a once-off $15 million that they’ll have to chase again next year. It loses them credibility with potential corporate sponsors. It doesn’t allow them to do any of the long-term structural R&D work that championship winning teams like Red Bull, Brawn, Ferrari, McLaren do. It gives them a piddling cash injection to run things this year, that’s all. It’s an important cash injection, perhaps, but it’s small beans.

    What it does undoubtedly do, is throw a once great team down into the back of the midfield with all the other minnows, living from one wheeler dealer cash injection to the next. Like Lotus in the late 80’s and early 90’s, this is a team on the way out. It’s sad to see, but the same applied to BRM, Lotus, Brabham….

    The other interesting thing to come about from this is that no other team has picked up Nico, and he seems to be resigned to a testing role. Ten years ago, teams would have been all over him like flies, signed him up as the next big thing, and run him round the corporate paddock saying “Give us your money and this guy here will have your name plastered all over the news, we’ll win everything going.” None of that now. A lot of excuses are “credit crunch no sponsorship”. I have my doubts. I blame two other powerful forces:

    1) 5 Years of Schumacher. Half a decade where, realistically, one team and driver only had a partial challenge from the whole of the rest of the field. Nobody else was quick enough, and those that were quick, kept breaking apart. This was a period when there was only one team in the news – what was the point of spending all that money on sponsoring anyone else?

    2) Toyota, BMW and Honda. These teams proved that throwing money at F1 doesn’t work. They were forced to match what Mclaren and Ferrari spent – but they didn’t have the talent to back it up. Again, this asked questions of the sponsors: Only 2 teams are capable of fighting it out. If you can’t afford to sponsor one of those, why bother with anyone else?

    1. 3) Too Many Germans.

      With Schumi, BabySchumi, Sutil, Hulk, Rosberg, and Glock all on the grid, the limited number of German companies that want to sponsor F1 have too many people asking for money…

      1. There is also another way of looking at this. Nico might not be as impressive as everyone says he is.

        His pole position was fantastic, but you must judge the driver on the whole season, which was average at best.

        It seems similar to what happened to Bruno Senna. A driver with all the marketing potential in the world yet no top team went for him. The teams know why that is, we can only speculate, but one must assume that he simply wasn’t considered good enough.

        This is not to discredit the hulk completely, the above factors do count against him, but the teams aren’t stupid. If he was the next Senna, he would have been rehired without fail

        1. I don’t think he lacks talent. What he does lack is experience and refinement. That’s why top teams aren’t currently interested in him. A Williams and Renault are really the ideal places for him to prove his worth before moving up (Force India and Sauber probably as well, but to a lesser degree). The real problem for him this year (and Senna as well) is a lack of available seats for 2011. The top teams are all filled up with contracted drivers, Force India has more drivers than seats, Sauber is contracted up (with the chosen one waiting in the wings for the next open seat), Williams is obviously out, which really only leaves the one seat at Renault as a good option for him and it’s sounding more and more like Petrov will be retained, and even if he’s not it’ll likely be so the team can get another experienced driver like Glock, and not another rookie like Hülkenberg who performed fairly similarly to Petrov with the exception of two magical laps in qualifying. So that really only leaves him with two options, sign up as test driver at a top team and hope for a retirement after next year, or drive for one of the new teams where he’ll struggle in an inferior car.

      2. dyslexicbunny
        6th December 2010, 15:33

        4) Lack of US money?

        Looking through the list of sponsorships on wikipedia, it doesn’t seem like there’s a large American presence in investment. While I honestly most of this money is tied up in Nascar and IRL, perhaps a lack of an American driver or a grand prix could also be hurting sponsorships. Perhaps Austin can start boosting some interest in F1.

        On 2 – to be honest, Honda and Toyota simply proved that their management approaches just don’t work in F1.

        On 3 – how correlated are company sponsorships to driver nationality? Do German companies tend to sponsor German drivers? Spanish, Brazilian, etc? Would that carry back to American?

    2. As good as Nico is, if you don’t beat your team mate in F1, then you aren’t good enough. If he had been out-racing Barrichello regularly at the end of the season he’d have been the one to keep his place.

      Maldonado IS a GP2 champion. Doesn’t he deserve a go? It looks like money was the deciding factor, but if Maldonado wasn’t thought to be as good as Hulkenberg was at the beginning of last year then I don’t think Williams would have made the final decision they did.

      1. Maldonado took 5 years to win the GP2 crown, and last year, Di Grassi and Petrov both finished well ahead of him.

        Hulkenburg finished ahead of him as well, but this is even more significant because not only was Hulk is team mate, but he beat him by an enourmous margin.

        No doubt he is a GP2 champion, But four drivers beat him the year before and three of them weren’t competing this year.

        1. Impreza_600BHP
          6th December 2010, 14:05

          Kobayahsi proved that GP2 performance does not mean it will apply to F1, there are just too many factors in different leagues of motor racing that may reward a partivular type of driving style.

          and hulkenburg was dissapointing if you ask me, i thought he would blow Barrichello away.

          Maldona deserves a chance.

          1. That’s very true,

            But I think blowing Rubens away would be close to impossible for a rookie. The fact that he was quite close to Rubens is impressive.

            Because of the testing ban and what not, I think the days of rookies coming in and setting things alight (Lewis for example) are gone.

          2. Close on pace maybe, but ultimately Barrichello outscored Hülkenberg by more than double in points.

        2. We can only hope for Williams, that Maldonado used the 5 years of experience to learn to pick his moments, and avoid costly mistakes.

          Still I think it is sad for Williams not to have een able to agree on a deal with the Hulk.

      2. I agree with your statement regarding beating you teammate, and honestly Barrichello isn’t the most challenging teammate on the grid either. But lets not forget that some drivers take longer to develop.. for example.. Nico Rosberg found it hard to match his teammate in 2006 as well… but has developed into a far superior driver than Webber. And I agree with Mike that Maldonado took ages to win GP2 crown, and I doubt he will make a better impression than the Hulk.

        But Williams’ decision is down to the money, otherwise I really wouldn’t think Maldonado had much of a chance.

        1. Impreza_600BHP
          6th December 2010, 17:08

          yes maybe blowing Barrichello away was an impossible task, but many times Barrichello got into Q3 Hulkenburg was absent i would expect him to be only a place two or behind, the Hulk certainly has speed and talent there is no doubt, he seemed a bit too aggressive and ragged at times but the core speed is there, i hope he ends up at Force India

        2. I agree with your statement regarding beating you teammate, and honestly Barrichello isn’t the most challenging teammate on the grid either

          And this is the big problem Hülkenberg always was going to have, because most people (even experts as Willi Weber) were like “LolRubens” but Barrichello is, when you look at current performances, close or even part of the five best drivers currently in F1. It reminds what Webber said about Rosberg back in his Williams days, that if Nico was to beat him it would not be special, because he is “old” but if he were to lose, he would be written off for failing to beat such an “easy” victim.

          1. Mr. Zing Zang
            7th December 2010, 1:04

            Imagine some crazy people were trying to compare him with Hamilton of all drivers! Nuts if you ask me!

  4. Is that Porsche the one with KERS? Pretty smart to develop it on a different car during 2010

    1. Except that’s probably their flywheel KERS, and I believe they’ve already confirmed they’ll be using battery KERS next year due to space limitations.

  5. They may have scored fewer points, but it’s only 3 less. And it is worth considering that there were 2 more teams this year than there were last. In that context 3 points fewer is not at all a big deal.

    Remember also that last year Williams were one of 3 teams to nail the double diffuser early. Whereas this year the regulations were more stable and less open for interpretation, meaning that there were less points easily available to them.

  6. To bad for Hulk, But that is F1 I guess Rubens brings a lot more money to be their.

    1. He does not bring any.

      1. Impreza_600BHP
        6th December 2010, 17:11

        He has experience that money can buy., to develop the car they simply cannot do without him.

        1. he is THE man, we’re tired of German drivers. Add color on the F1 palette! Enough said (Rubinho 4ever!!)

  7. Am i Wrong in thinking that Williams won at singapore in 2008 after fernando alosno was disqualified so although it is a technicallity they have won a race in the last 3 years

    1. Alonso wasn’t disqualified. A result can’t be changed after the end of a season.

    2. Alabaster Sam
      6th December 2010, 13:19

      He wasn’t disqualified. He’s kept the win and Rosberg remains classified second.

  8. Like many, I hope Williams will be back.

    Unfortunately, their problems are not to do with the drivers. Hulkenberg was good, but not spectacular. For that reason, replacing him with a driver who is also good, if unspectacular but who has cash seems logical.

    What they do with that cash though is what will determine the future of the team. If they can hire some good staff, possibly replace Sam Michael or get in better management (how many drivers now have disagreed with Patrick Head…? He’s a great engineer but perhaps lacks management skills) then they may be back. What the last few years have proved though is that their current formula isn’t a winning one.

  9. As far as I’m concerned, Nico will not be missed.

    His season, as someone already said, was average and PP in Brazil was an accident for the rest of the pack rather than a glimpse of genius from Hulkenberg. The expectations were,I think, too high and he didn’t deliver. And again, as someone said before, Rubens is not the toughest of teammates, had he faced someone from the very top of the sport we would probably have another Kubica-Petrov case.

    So goodbye, good luck, life goes on, Nico.

    If a pay-driver is necessary, then so be it. Sometimes you have to take drastic measures in order to save a team. However, bringing up Renault team again, If they’re going to have one seat for cash-driver, then the other one should be occupied by someone with potential. And as much as I like Rubens, he’s past his prime. It’s not like Kubica as a leader and legitimate title contender (provided he has a good enough car) and shaky yet profitable Petrov. It’s profitable Maldonado and solid but slowly degrading Barichello. Unless Maldonado occurs to be a young star (unlikely), the team with it’s current line-up doesn’t have a future. And that means another reshuffling in race seats next year, accompanied by spending on new contracts etc.

    I think they’re going nowhere :(

    1. I personally don’t feel Nico’s pole was an accident. Brundle’s said countless times this season that F1 drivers are heat managers and Nico got everything up the right temp and his line had to be absolutely precise. He didn’t just get pole he smashed every other time.

      Rubens is a pretty tough team mate-just ask the 09 champion.

      I don’t think Nico was the best racer this year but his pace has shown great signs and it would have been better for him to get a second season where he would have improved greatly than take on another rookie thanks to the testing ban.

      I don’t rate Maldonando particularly well either though Cyclops but I think Rubens could be great for them mostly for technical feedback so they need him so I think his experience and the cash Pastor brings offers them a future but it also shows just what a financial state they’re in right now and how they’ve lost their way.

      1. Mr. Zing Zang
        7th December 2010, 1:11

        Get real. Did you not see the engineers with testing the temps on his tyres right after the qually. They are the ones that set the car like that. It was all strategy not only down to Hulk. No way the Williams is qualifying in front of a RedBull on pure driver and mechanical merits..

        1. Seriously, you do know that tyre temperature isn’t just up to setup. Apparently, the guy driving the car is pretty important too.

          You say it is impossible to qualify on pole purely on driver or mechanical merits. You do however claim that engineers are the determining factor in Hulkenberg’s pole. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I would say that the mechanical part is what engineers are there for.

  10. dyslexicbunny
    6th December 2010, 15:21

    Gah. You reminded me of Nakajima. I had Kobayashi pegged as the next Kaz too until he stepped up and improved his form this season.

    I think Williams is making good progress. Hopefully Rubens can help them build a solid car.

  11. Kicking Nico out of the team was a big mistake for the team as I really wanted this team & Barrichello to win again,& more importantly I want to see more battle between Barrichello & Schumacher for the lead of the race.

  12. Replacing Heidfled for Mexican Perez is to me much bigger sin than replacing Hulk for Maldonado.
    But I understand harsh reality they face. It’s ridiculous that while F1 is generating so much income, so many teams struggle with their budgets.

    1. Impreza_600BHP
      6th December 2010, 17:17

      i know i will probably be lambasted here for saying it . .but i really do like or rate Heidfeld, hes just not aggressive enough and does not take enough risks, for me he is just too conservative in his drving style, a pair of safe hands

  13. I think Barrichello + Hulkenberg is a stronger combo than Rosberg and Nakajiima, personally. I’ll have to wait until 2011 until I pass judgment on Maldonado (as will everyone!).

  14. Hulkenberg isn’t something special. H e was overhyped after his coincidental pole in Interlagos.

  15. I agree. In fact I think the turn over of new drivers in F1 is far too slow. Really good drivers impress from day one, even in uncompetitive cars they leave an impression. Nico always looked OK, but never anything very special, and that almost always means they stay that way. Over the years many drivers who have done well in lower formulae have flopped in F1 and a few who have been nothing special in the lower formulae have shone. The only way is to try them out in a race. But for me most teams seem very reluctant to drop a reasonable driver who will probably never set the world alight, for a rookie who just might…. so good luck Maldonado, and any other new driver for next season.

    1. Actually this was in reply to Impreza_600BHP’s comment, not sure how it ended up here.

  16. does anyone recall the hulk retirement where the right rear of the car exploded? the body work was pretty clearly blown outward. it wasn’t caught on camera, but hulk pulling to a stop and then HULK SMASH was. not to be confused with the monaco tunnel crash.

    what would cause such an explosion? maybe a piston finding liberty through the top of the motor? maybe a gearbox failure?

  17. Senna eventually found his way back to Williams so maybe the Hulk will…

    1. Back to Williams? He wasn’t at Williams before ’94 was he?

  18. dropping hulk was a bad idea.. he was just starting to come on form.
    Another casualty of the strict testing ban..

  19. I think two things will happen:

    1) Williams will have a better car and Barrichello will get it to where it’s supposed to be. Maldonado will get one or two good results but also lag behind his team-mate for most of the season.

    2) Even with new investment, William’s problems will prove to be one of personnel and management and they will stay still or even slip down the grid a little. Williams will be bought out quicker than expected.

    But I have no idea what will happen to Hulkenburg. He certainly deserves the seat more than a guy who only won the GP2 championship because everyone better than him graduated to F1.

  20. Still than one P.P… Hulkenberg is overated in my eyes… He had some good qualifyings, but his race pace was normal, not excellent… And in first half of the season, it was just horrible… His gaps to Rubens were often 1 whole laps or gaps around 1 minute! From Canada he was better, mostly because of new upgrades… Still, his only 3 highlights this year were qualifying in Malaysia, qualifying in Brazil and race in Monza… His all overall race results are even worser then those of Jaime Alguersuari and he had most of the season a slower car… And another thing – almost no overtaking from the Williams driver… So still not getting this Hulkenberg-hype…

  21. I thought Barrichello was the one to be dropped. Hulkenberg have loads of potential. I think, race-wise and for the future of Williams, this is a big mistake. Hulkenberg is very young but already competitive. He is starting to come to form. I really think he will be one of the mainstays in the future of F1.

  22. I think talent trully comes up in Formula 1. Talent does not mean only pure Raw speed, but the capability of talking to your mechanics, of being a team player, of expressing what is wrong and right with the car, and work around these problems. Formula one, more than an individual sport, is the ultimate chalenge of man and machine, and the machine is made by a group of highly skilled and talented men and women that need a driver input to go further. That’s why experience is a must in today’s test restricted F1, and Barrichelo has its place. In fact, Schumacher return was also a great move from Mercedes. He underperformed this year, but I’ll eat my hat if he doesn’t perform a lot better next year, with a car fully developed with his input. Exceptional drivers not only have raw speed but this capability of taking their machine to another level. Alonso, Senna, Schumacher, Prost were, and are these kind of drivers. This capability may come as natural leadership, from their personalities, or can be learned in time. If a young driver doesn’t have this talent, than he has to make up in raw speed. In the current field, from the “youngsters”, the best raw talent in the field are definitely, IMO, Hamilton, Rosberg, Kobayashi,and maybe Kubica- not as fast in terms of raw speed, but probably much more talented as a leader and knowing of car development than the others. As for Hulkenberg, he is not, IMO, a Kobayashi in raw talent. His car was better than Kobayashi’s one and he underashieved, was unexciting, didn’t risk overtaking, didn’t stand out at all except for that pole. This is Formula one, not every one gets a chance to drive a Williams car. I, for example cannot rate Senna, Chandhok or Di Grassi because frankly they were driving completely useless cars. I hope they get a chance next year, and that those cars get better, at least to be half a second close in qualifying to the midfield. As for my homonimous, Sergio Perez, I hope he delivers. Because I’m already preparing myself to be in the receiving end of the weekend Sergio Perez joke towards me here in my town…

  23. Williams need someone capable of winning a race. Who better than Hulkenberg, which grabbed a pole position in his debut season?

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