In a year characterised by an extremely close field, challenging tyre compounds and several hectic races, Nico Hulkenberg had a quietly impressive season.
There were many drivers who showed occasional flashes of great promise in 2012. But Hulkenberg, returning to racing from a year on the sidelines, consistently delivered and improved race by race in one of the midfield’s less competitive cars.
He played himself in over the first few weekends. Australia was a write-off as first-corner contact ended his race. In the wet Malaysian Grand Prix he did not show the same form he had for Williams in the soaked qualifying session at the same track two years ago.
|Beat team mate in qualifying
|Beat team mate in race
|Laps spent ahead of team mate
But once the European season began it was clear he’d shaken off the cobwebs. He resisted Mark Webber for tenth in Spain. He followed that up with fifth in despite a faulty KERS, Webber and Michael Schumacher passing him on the penultimate lap.
His best qualifying performance of the year came in the rain-hit session at his home Grand Prix. Hulkenberg planted the car fourth on the grid, but in the dry race his Force India was overcome by quicker rivals.
As the second half of the season began Hulkenberg increasingly held the upper hand in the team, narrowly out-qualifying and beating Di Resta in Hungary. A career-best fourth followed in the Belgian Grand Prix, aided by the first corner carnage but also an excellent pass on Kimi Raikkonen at the restart, achieved without DRS and despite being on harder tyres.
Italy was a missed opportunity: Di Resta showed what the car was capable of in qualifying but Hulkenberg was sidelined with a fuel pressure problem during Q1 and retired with a brake fault during the race.
Hulkenberg’s ever-improving form was clearest over the final six races in which time he repeatedly out-performed Di Resta and almost scored a shock win in Brazil.
A gearbox penalty left him 15th on the grid in Japan, from where he recovered to seventh. In Korea he pulled off another excellent pass, taking advantage of Romain Grosjean’s delay behind Lewis Hamilton to take the pair of them and split the two Lotuses at the finish.
The culmination of his late season surge was a dazzling performance in Brazil. As in 2010 he revelled in the track and the slippery conditions, moving up to third early on when Fernando Alonso went off in front of him.
As the rain started he didn’t succumb to the temptation of pitting for intermediate tyres. With slick tyres on a damp track he reeled in Jenson Button and passed the McLaren. But his well-earned 45-second advantage over the otherdrivers was eradicated by the safety car.
He led for 30 laps before a half-spin let Lewis Hamilton by. A bid to take the lead back resulted in contact and a drive-through penalty. But fifth place moved up the drivers’ championship at the expense of Kamui Kobayashi – the driver whose place he will take at Sauber next year.
Hulkenberg compared favourably against a similarly-experienced team mate, made few mistakes (Brazil aside) and improved throughout the year. That his consistent form did not always earn the results it deserved was largely down to his machinery. After a year like this it’s clear he deserves a competitive car.
F1 Fanatic readers on Nico Hulkenberg
Has shown real class and talent in a car that is arguably bottom of the midfield but one (Toro Rosso). Stunning in the wet.
Showed a real explosion in form after he got used to the Pirelli tyres, including a fantastic almost-victory in Brazil, as well as a run of points from Suzuka to the US.
His drive in Korea, fending off Grosjean for 40-odd laps and pouncing on Grosjean and Hamilton slowing each other down, was worthy of Fernando Alonso.
What a great comeback! I loved the guy in 2010, I was so disappointed that he ended up without a seat in 2011.
He had a slow start of the season, but in the Asian rounds he proved that he is a much better driver than Di Resta. His speed and his consistency were really impressive.
He is just behind Perez and ahead of Kobayashi in the standings. Considering that Sauber had a car capable of podiums in a lot of races, that’s a great achievement.
Notes on how the rankings are produced
The F1 Fanatic Driver Rankings are my personal view on how the drivers performed across the entire season. Drivers such as Jerome D’Ambrosio who only competed in a small part of the season are not included.
Each drivers’ performance in all of the race weekends are taken into account and summarised. For more detailed views of how they fared in each weekend refer to the notes produced for each Driver of the Weekend article and the driver form guides.
A selection of F1 Fanatic readers’ views appear alongside the rankings. The full rankings will be published in seven parts, with individual articles for the top five drivers, after which there will be a vote for Driver of the Year.
Over to you
What’s your verdict on Nico Hulkenberg’s season? Have your say in the comments.
2012 F1 season review
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- What F1 Fanatics thought of 2012: The year in polls
- The drivers and cars of 2012
- F1 Fanatic’s 50 article highlights of 2012
- 11 different Driver of the Weekend winners in 2012
Browse all 2012 F1 season review articles