2015 F1 driver rankings #9: Nico Hulkenberg

2015 F1 season review

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Nico Hulkenberg

Beat team mate in qualifying 11/19
Beat team mate in race 7/13
Races finished 13/19
Laps spent ahead of team mate 557/898
Points 58
Nico Hulkenberg 2015 form guide

It was clear where the balance of power lay at Force India as the season came to an end: Nico Hulkenberg was decisively put in the shade by Sergio Perez. But it wasn’t like that all year long: Hulkenberg started and finished in front of his team mate more often that not when both saw the chequered flag.

Force India began the year with an underdeveloped version of the VJM08 and at times Hulkenberg could clearly wring more out of the car than Perez in qualifying and gathering those much-needed points in the races. He was seventh first time out in Australia, and in Austria he lined up fifth on the grid while Perez went out in Q1.

On other occasions he tried a bit too hard: after a stunning start in Malaysia he tripped up while battling the Red Bulls, and in Canada he spun while trying in vain to keep Sebastian Vettel behind – though he still brought the car home in eighth.

He seemed inspired to new heights after winning the Le Mans 24 Hours with Porsche, taking a strong seventh in the rain at Silverstone and running fifth in Hungary until his front wing failed.

After the summer break Hulkenberg suffered various setbacks. Some of these were self-inflicted: the tangle with Felipe Massa in Singapore and first-lap retirement in Russia. On other occasions the car let him down: the front wing failed again in Austin, causing a collision with Daniel Ricciardo, and in Belgium he failed to start at all.

Meanwhile Perez had made a leap forward with the B-spec car which usually meant he was faster. There were two notable exceptions to this: Suzuka and Interlagos, where Hulkenberg took a pair of sixth places. But as last year it was his team mate who achieved the team’s best result – and this time Perez scored most of their points, too.

View race-by-race notes on Nico Hulkenberg

Australia – Won the qualifying battle at Force India by one-thousandth of a second, but with the VJM08 still early in its development Q3 seemed out of reach. Rose unobtrusively to seventh with an error-free race. “At this stage in the season it is important to capitalise on any opportunity,” he said, adding he expects the team to be more competitive in Malaysia.

Malaysia – Both Force India drivers were caught out by the rain in Q2 but Hulkenberg made amends on lap one. “Mega first lap!” he exclaimed on the radio after making up six places to gain seventh. That became second when the Safety Car came out, but after racing resumed Vettel left him behind at over two seconds per lap. As he came under increasing pressure from behind he tangled with Kvyat while under attack from both Red Bulls and was given a debatable ten-second penalty which scuppered his chance of points.

China – Was one of the first drivers to do his last run in Q1 and paid the price, missing the cut for the next stage. Jumped from 16th to 12th at the start which included passing Daniil Kvyat’s Red Bull and was running close to Verstappen and Ericsson before being forced out with drivetrain problems.

Bahrain – Force India were more competitive on a track which has traditionally suited them, and Hulkenberg delivered by taking his VJM08 into Q3, claiming eighth on the grid. The race was not as successful – he couldn’t make his tyres last and slipped to a disappointed thirteenth.

Spain – Having been 12th in final practice Hulkenberg hoped to qualify better than 17th, but the VJM08’s shortage of downforce made life difficult. “My final lap was not great,” he admitted, “but it’s not easy when the car is working in such a narrow window”. He fell behind Perez at the start and spent the middle of the race stuck behind Maldonado’s ailing Lotus, which confined him to 15th.

Monaco – Knocked into a barrier by Alonso at the start, Hulkenberg had to pit for a new front wing on lap one. Nonetheless his team thought points might be possible until the Safety Car came out.

Canada – Equalled the team’s best qualifying result with seventh, at a track where Force India’s Mercedes engine neutralised some of their usual disadvantage. A late-braking move at turn three got him ahead of Maldonado at the start, but a much earlier pit stop for the Lotus driver got him back ahead. Hulkenbreg then spun while trying to defend seventh place from Vettel. “I probably shouldn’t have tried so hard to defend against Seb,” he admitted, “but when you’re a racer you just don’t want to give up a position without a fight.” That scuppered any chance of catching Maldonado at the end, and he finished eighth.

Austria – Reacclimatised to F1 after his Le Mans triumph, and with a new engine behind him went sixth-fastest on Friday. He improved by one place on Saturday to take fifth on the grid, while Perez went out in Q1. In the race he was passed by Bottas, jumped back ahead with a quick pit stop, but ultimately lost out to the Williams. However sixth place was Force India’s best result of the year so far, and helped them pass Lotus in the constructors’ championship.

Britain – Force India’s heavily revised car looked best in Hulkenberg’s hands and he duly took it into Q3. A superb start – which he described as the best he’s ever made in F1 – put him ahead of both Ferraris. However they pitted before him, as did Kvyat, which cost him a total of three places, though Raikkonen’s troubles later elevated him back to seventh.

Hungary – Had to sit out second practice and much of the first session while the team investigated the cause of Perez’s crash. Once back on track he looked quick again however, setting the sixth-fastest time in final practice. He produced another astonishing start – leaping to sixth, then slipstreaming past Kvyat for fifth – and his race continued to run true to form as quicker rivals leapfrogged his Force India during the pit stops. A solid points finish was in the offing when his front wing collapsed on the pit straight, sending him into the barriers.

Belgium – Although he had the benefit of having raced at Spa in the World Endurance Championship earlier this year, Hulkenberg missed out on Q3 by less than six-hundredths of a second, making him the only Mercedes-powered driver outside the ten top in qualifying. “On my final lap in Q2 I made a small mistake going into turn one – I just locked the tyres and missed the apex,” he explained. “On top of that we had a small issue with the turbo, which cost us some speed and time down the straights.” His problems weren’t solved in time for the race – his car failed on the grid and he failed to start.

Italy – Having been hampered by more technical problems in Q3 Hulkenberg was one of the first drivers to pit in the race, leaving him with a long stint on medium tyres. His pace dropped of badly at the end: “I actually think we had a problem with the car,” he said, “it’s something we need to investigate because I was losing downforce, the car was sliding and the rear tyres were heating up too much”. Nonetheless he only lost one position – to Raikkonen – and crossed the line with Ricciardo and Ericsson filling his mirrors.

Singapore – Another driver who was still chasing his set-up as qualifying began, trying to dial out snap oversteer, he ended up missing the cut for the top ten. He may have tried a little too eager to claim a place from Massa at the pit exit, but it seemed harsh for the stewards to penalise him for what was little more than a racing incident in which he was the biggest loser.

Japan – Said he’d produced his best in qualifying despite not joining his team mate in Q3. He gained five places at the start – three from the drivers tangling ahead of him – and used an early first pit stop to jump both the Lotus drivers. After that he was on his own en route to sixth place.

Russia – Won the very close battle of the Force Indias in qualifying: Hulkenberg took sixth place by just 32 thousandths of a second. But cold tyres caught him out at the start – he spun at turn two and was hit by Ericsson.

United States – Lost places early on when he ran wide in turns 16/17/18, but showed his usual excellent touch with slicks on a damp track to move ahead of his team mate and Sainz. However a front wing failure while trying to pass Ricciardo left him powerless to avoid contact, and the result was his third retirement in four races.

Mexico – Following a misunderstanding with his race engineer Hulkenberg lined up tenth, five-hundredths of a second off his team mate. They diverged on strategy in the race, Hulkenberg making a two-stopper which turned out to be the better approach.

Brazil – Matched his best grid position of the year at a track where he has often excelled and set himself a target of at least holding on to the position in the race. A less than great start put paid to that, but clever use of the undercut got him back in front of Kvyat. His sixth place secured fifth in the championship for Force India.

Abu Dhabi – Said he was pleased with his qualifying lap but disappointed to discover it was only good enough for seventh place. Started well, holding fifth initially, but couldn’t make the tyres last as well as Perez and was bumped back down to seventh by Ricciardo.

Over to you

As strong as he was after the Le Mans win, he was mostly shaded in the latter parts of the season. Even then he beat Perez a few weekends, but it probably was his worst season so far – not too bad, just nothing impressive.

What’s your verdict on Nico Hulkenberg’s 2015 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments.

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Keith Collantine
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58 comments on “2015 F1 driver rankings #9: Nico Hulkenberg”

  1. I appreciate I’m in a minority, but I consider Nico to be the most overrated driver in F1 and, Le Mans aside, think he’s had a poor season.
    He’s had too many incidents, and seems unable to capitalise on the rare chances to put the car on or near the podium.
    Sergio has put him under some pressure to perform this season, and he’s repeatedly failed to do so. One more season like this one and his chances of making it into a big team will be gone forever.
    Ninth seems a very generous evaluation of his season, unless his Le Mans result is being included I’d have put him closer to Pastor, nearer the bottom of the rankings.

    1. I think you’re being a bit harsh on him. In both Hungary and Austin he would have ended up ahead of Verstappen if it wouldn’t have been for his front wing failing both times, and at both races Verstappen ended up 4th.

      While Perez got a podium in Sochi, it was because Rosberg didn’t finish and Kimi took out Bottas and himself. So without front wing failures and either one of Hamilton/Rosberg/Vettel not finishing in Austin as it happened in Socchi, he would also have ended up on the podium in Austin + a 4th at Hungary wouldn’t have been bad either.

      1. I would say it is a bold claim to state that Hulkenberg would definitely have finished ahead of Verstappen in the US GP.

        Although he was running behind Verstappen at the time and might have been able to challenge him later in the race, it is hard to tell how the rest of the race might have played out given that Hulkenberg retired only two thirds of the way in. It was possible that he could have taken 4th, but equally it is possible that he might have failed to capitalise for some other reason (say, if he made a wrong call during a later safety car period), so there is no guarantee that he’d have taken that position.

    2. Agree. I never understood what the basis of Hulkenberg hype.

      1. maarten.f1 (@)
        14th December 2015, 21:30

        His junior career perhaps?

    3. He’s the new Sutil. Nothing more, nothing less.

      1. @dh1996 You should look up his stats before joining F1 and compare it with Sutil.

        1. I’m well aware. But I also know that those result don’t mean anything when you’re in F1. Jan Magnussen taught me that.

    4. I find Ricciardo the most overrated but this season Hulkenberg has probably damaged his reputation within F1.

      1. According to James Allen, who has the skinny inside the paddock on Hulkenberg, he’s good, but not as a top prospect for a top team. Given that, this season probably did more to make clear to the outside observer what the teams already knew

        1. @uan Pretty sure he would be a better n°2 driver than Raikkonen, Bottas or Massa though.

          1. @paeschli

            Here’s what James Allen wrote when discussing the possibility of Bottas going to Ferrari this year:

            As for Hulkenberg, he is in demand lower down the grid; Force India would like him to stay and the new Haas F1 team are interested in his services, but that elusive top team seat seems destined not to happen for the German.

            Detailed analysis of his on track performance data by the engineers, which Williams management will be studying now, as all the teams do, shows that while he has his moments of magic, he’s not at the level of a Bottas or a Ricciardo.

            The key to being a top F1 driver is repeatability; the knack for putting your three best sectors together in a qualifying lap when it counts, doing it every time and essentially not having off days.

            So it seems like he’s as good as the best drivers on his day, but that day comes and goes. I think Ferrari is looking for that repeatability thing for their No.2 driver.

            Here’s what Allen said about Vettel in the comments sections of the same article:

            “Sure the engineers from every team have all the data, lap times etc from every GP weekend and group test and can see what the drivers are capable of.

            That’s why it always makes me laugh when fans say things denigrating Vettel, for example. You ask any F1 engineer what their data says about Vettel and they’ll say he’s an outstanding F1 driver, regardless of how good a car he may have had in the past.”

          2. @uan I remember reading that but I’m not impressed: I trust what I see on track, not the data of some elusive engineers indirectly reported by a journalist. If I was Ferrari’s boss this year and I had the choice between signing Hülkenberg, re-signing Raikkonen or paying Williams (my closest competitor at the moment) to release Bottas; I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment.

          3. @paeschli

            But what do we see on track? I’m inclined to trust James Allen based on the quality of his journalism in F1 over the years, and that he’s in the paddock and talking behind the scenes with team personnel for many years.

            I get what you’re saying, though. There are intangibles and numbers don’t tell the whole story. Engineers can lack imagination as well (Williams is a good example ;). There may be some gaps in his game, but it could be that Hulkenberg can overcome those in the proper environment. James Allen said in that same article that Bottas would benefit from seeing how Vettel works with the team. Hulk may also be a bit similar to Hamilton, in that he can be all over it on the day, but then on other days be no where (per Button’s observation).

            It’s gotta be touch sometimes tooling around in the mid-field, racing your butt off for 8th or 9th place. I think we seriously under estimate the impact of motivation on performance (e.g., Hamilton after USGP, Vettel in 2014, Ricciardo in 2014 and 2015, Massa at Ferrari after Germany 2010, etc.).

    5. Agreed. Hulkenberg had a woeful season and hia first half of the season was overrated. Apart from sixth place in Austria , he was matched by his teammate. Hulkenberg was beaten by Perez in Malaysia, Bahrain, Spain and Monaco. Whilst Hulk won in Australia, Canada, Austria and Britain. And in the second half he developed a new found hobby of crashing, eg when he crashed in sochi when his teammate scored a podium. I would have place Hulkenberg 15th.

    6. @beneboy The rankings only take F1 into account.

  2. I think after this season, Nico’s chances of a top team drive are fully over. The only way it can happen is some Brawn-style fairy tale where his current team suddenly transforms into a front running team.

    He has been conclusively beaten by a driver who already has spent a season in a top team and was deemed not good enough. Getting involved in several self-inflicted incidents also wasn’t a right thing to do.

    I sometimes wonder. Had he not made a mess of that pass on Hamilton for the lead of the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos in 2012, today Hulk would have been a much different driver. A win would have transformed his performance (as the Le Mans win did for a few races).

    Alas, that was never to be

  3. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
    14th December 2015, 14:43

    I struggle to see how anyone can consider Nico Hulkenberg overrated. In the junior categories he rewrote what was feasibly possible to achieve in a single seater, and casually collected a stunning victory on his Le Mans debut. In F1 his peaky form is classically symptomatic of a driver outperforming an ordinary car, and few would doubt his more exemplary race and qualifying performances in the midfield translating into wins and pole positions in a more capable car.

    He has been error prone in the later half of 2015, as he was in the later half of 2014, but I don’t think patches of poor results can deny the unmistakable qualities of a front-runner we have so commonly seen in Hulkenberg. Ferrari made the wrong decision in 2013 – the honest members of the Scuderia will admit they wish Nico had just completed his second season in red.

    Perhaps career choices aren’t his strongest suit. As a racing driver the goal is surely to obtain a winning car, right? So with a Haas deal on the table and a possible link to his dream drive, or a full time seat in a Porsche 919, why has he chosen to stay with Force India? Of the three career paths available to him, a long career at Force India is the only one that guarantees he won’t be on the top step any time soon.

    1. @william-brierty

      I struggle to see how anyone can consider Nico Hulkenberg overrated.

      Not right now, but the hype surrounding him in 2013 was ridiculous. His teammate was Gutierrez, he had a good end to the season, and suddenly he was a future WDC despite not being able to score a single podium.

      I remember how people predicted that he would trash Perez prior to 2014, and if you don’t believe me, look at how one-sided the poll was ahead of the season. Hulk had almost 90% of the votes:

      Likewise, I could not find a single person who backed Perez on the forum:

      Drivers like Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Button, and even Rosberg have been able to get podiums with cars which clearly did not deserve it. Hulkenberg has been in F1 for 5 seasons now and is 28, he still hasn’t achieved even that yet.

      1. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
        14th December 2015, 16:37

        @kingshark – Hulkenberg’s failure to score a podium versus Rosberg’s Williams days and Vettel in the STR3 is arbitrary and circumstancial. He could, for instance, have finished P2 in Hungary this year had his front-wing not failed. Also, on its day the FW31 and the STR3 looked to be a lot more competitive than anything Hulkenberg has ever driven. What is more important as a midfield competitor is to be seen to be maximizing your equipment, and apart from a rusty few opening races in 2012, some mistakes in 2014 and a barren spell at the end of this year, Nico has consistently done exactly that. Whilst tyre alterations made the C32 a more competitive prospect, I do not think it is possible to overstate the sheer excellence behind his P3 on the grid at Monza, his drive to P4 in Korea and his P4 on the grid in Austin.

        Those drives were comparable to Vettel’s 2008 exploits, and whilst I am not saying Hulkenberg is in Seb’s league, I am saying he earned a chance to show his abilities against a driver like Vettel.

        1. @william-brierty
          Hulkenberg would not have been anywhere a podium at Hungary if not for his front wing failure. It was his accident that triggered the SC, and ultimately caused the likes of Rosberg, Hamilton and Ricciardo to be involved in then collisions that they were. What Hulkenberg could have done however, was not crash at Brazil 2012 or Russia 2015. Those would have been podiums, and he has no one but himself to blame.

          Also, to claim that Rosberg’s 2008 Williams was a better car than Hulkenberg’s Force India’s is just demonstrably false. Force India had the 3rd best car at Bahrain 2014, for instance. Williams was never that competitive in 2008; even on their best days, they were slower than at least Ferrari, McLaren, BMW, and Renault.

          Even drivers like Fisichella were significantly more impressive in midfield machinery than Hulkenberg, and he had to wait until the age of 32 before he got a shot in a top car, and he failed to deliver. I strongly doubt that Hulkenberg would do any better than Fisichella, he hasn’t proven himself to be any better or even as good as Fisi yet.

          1. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
            16th December 2015, 9:16

            @kingshark – I won’t lie, I rather forgot that it was Nico’s wing failure that caused the SC! However I would still maintain that the Rosberg comparison especially is still arbitrary and misleading.

            First of all, I was referring to Rosberg’s 2009 car, with which he claimed 7th in the WDC, consistent top five results in the European season and could have won the Singapore Grand Prix had he not crossed the pit exit line. Was Hulkenberg’s VJM05 (with which he nearly won the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix) similarly capable? As for Rosberg’s 2008 season, he was third of just eight finishers in Melbourne. At Singapore, the FW30 had been fast all weekend – even Nakajima got through to Q3. In fact the FW30 had been fast at slow speed circuits all year: Rosberg qualified sixth at Monaco, before crashing out in the race.

            Really the only deficit Hulkenberg suffers versus someone like Rosberg or Fisichella who used midfield results to climb up the grid, is the way he has been beaten by Perez when the big results are on offer. Generally Nico has enjoyed a comfortable margin over a capable reference in Perez, and that in of itself is impressive. His errors at crucial moments are concerning, but they haven’t prevented Hulkenberg from cultivating an enviable following of wise heads, like Brundle, who believes he has what it takes. Perhaps he just needs the number for Grosjean’s psychologist…

          2. @william-brierty

            At Singapore, the FW30 had been fast all weekend – even Nakajima got through to Q3.

            If with “fast”, you mean still slower than Ferrari, McLaren, BMW and Renault, then yes it was fast. But then again, has Hulkenberg never been in the 5th best car across a weekend, or even better?

            As for Rosberg’s 2008 season, he was third of just eight finishers in Melbourne

            Yes, he avoided crashing unlike many other drivers. That makes the podium 100% deserved, and if Hulkenberg could have avoided crashing in Brazil 2012 or Russia 2015, he too might have made it on the podium.

            I watched Rosberg’s performances with Williams very closely. I also have watched Hulkenberg for the past 5 years. Rosberg impressed me more, he showed greater glimpses of speed and was more capable of terrific performances on a higher frequency.

          3. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
            18th December 2015, 11:12

            @kingshark – Well, perhaps the FW30 didn’t fit your definition of “fast”, but it was capable of eking out a gap to the “Trulli train”, and on a track covered in dust holding its first Grand Prix, it was relatively simple to keep a championship wise Hamiton behind him. Frankly, I wouldn’t consider either of Rosberg’s 2008 podiums as any more impressive than Glock’s Hungarian podium (having qualified an excellent P5) or especially Trulli’s P3 at Mangy-Cours.

            Teams, pundits and fans are adept at perceiving the extent to which results are earned through sheer performance or circumstance. It is the very fact that Hulkenberg’s lap to go P3 on the grid at Monza in 2013, or his drive to P4 in Korea is perceived to have had little in the way of extenuating circumstance that has afforded Hulkenberg an enviable reputation. Whilst Rosberg impressed in 2009, and unquestionably demonstrated that he was ready for a top seat, you would be markedly in the minority by suggesting that Rosberg had the more impressive midfield career. In many ways the comparison is unnecessary, because Hulkenberg, like Rosberg did, has undeniably earned the chance to show his abilities in a top seat against a top driver. It is only by the commercial and factional politics layered atop all driver deals that has the guy with the finest junior track record of all time looking at a winless F1 career.

          4. @william-brierty

            Well, perhaps the FW30 didn’t fit your definition of “fast”, but it was capable of eking out a gap to the “Trulli train”, and on a track covered in dust holding its first Grand Prix, it was relatively simple to keep a championship wise Hamiton behind him.

            It’s not just the fact that he was able to keep Hamilton behind, but all those fast lap times when he was leading but had a drive-through penalty pending which allowed him to build a gap large enough to Webber/Coulthard/Hamilton and rejoin in a net 2nd is what made his podium so impressive.

            His drives an 4th places at Brazil 2007 and Nurburgring 2009 were likewise every bite as impressive as Hulkenberg’s drive at Korea 2013. At Nurburgring 2009 he started 15th. At Brazil 2007 he overtook both BMW’s on track and finished only 5 seconds behind Alonso.

            Frankly, I wouldn’t consider either of Rosberg’s 2008 podiums as any more impressive than Glock’s Hungarian podium (having qualified an excellent P5) or especially Trulli’s P3 at Mangy-Cours.

            Toyota was a significantly better car than Williams though. They finished 5th in the WCC as opposed to 8th, with over twice as many points. I also doubt many people believe that Trulli and Glock were better drivers than Rosberg.

            Rosberg also lost 2 more podiums in 2009 due reliability. A faulty fuel indicator in Nurburgring (pitted several laps too early, got jumped by Massa) and a gearbox failure when running a net 3rd in Brazil (ahead of eventual 3rd place Hamilton). Singapore was his own fault, much like Brazil 2012 for Hulkenberg.

            Whilst Rosberg impressed in 2009, and unquestionably demonstrated that he was ready for a top seat, you would be markedly in the minority by suggesting that Rosberg had the more impressive midfield career.

            Rosberg was much younger at Williams than Hulkenberg is right now. Rosberg was 20 to 24 when he was driving for Williams from 06-09. Hulkenberg has been 24 to 28 between 2012-15 when driving for Force India/Sauber. Rosberg has also been able to score podiums and has done literally everything Hulkenberg has in midfield machinery despite the fact that he was nearly half a decade younger.

            Rosberg was impressive enough for the WCC winning team to replace Button with him. Hulkenberg has not even earned enough merit to become Ferrari’s #2 over Massa.

            In many ways the comparison is unnecessary, because Hulkenberg, like Rosberg did, has undeniably earned the chance to show his abilities in a top seat against a top driver.

            Fair enough if you think that Hulkenberg deserves at least one chance in a top car, but then again, so does Perez (McLaren was midfield in 2013).

          5. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
            18th December 2015, 15:15


            Rosberg also lost 2 more podiums in 2009 due reliability.

            Swings-and-roundabouts, my friend. In Rosberg’s hands the FW31 was very fast – in race pace especially it was often the match of the Ferrari and faster than the McLaren. As Brawn tailed off mid season, that should have facilitated better results, but were mitigated by unreliability.

            Rosberg was impressive enough for the WCC winning team to replace Button with him

            McLaren was Rosberg’s first choice for 2010, but the team broke off the negotiations once Jenson came knocking. Similarly, Hulkenberg’s 2013 Ferrari deal was only halted once it became apparent Raikkonen would be available (with Red Bull taking Ricciardo over Kimi) – and on the basis of the Finn’s 2013 season, that is no insult. In fact, given that he was their original choice and the fact that they had access to his data through their Sauber ties, Hulkenberg can look back proudly at the deal that nearly was – especially given the team wished they had signed him too.

            Rosberg was much younger at Williams than Hulkenberg is right now.

            I’m not quite sure what point it is you are making – age, as Verstappen demonstrates, is not terribly important, experience is what matters. Both Nicos enjoys spookily similar levels of track time, since they both spend five years racing cars before entering F1, and both dovetail their GP2 campaigns with Williams testing roles. That said, since Rosberg’s year of testing predates the 2009 testing restrictions, he got substantially more mileage.

            There is, admittedly, little between the two Nicos, but for me, and for most onlookers, there is no doubt in my perception that Hulkenberg has had the better midfield career. It is things like his wet weather speed, the fact that he beat the well-regarded Paul di Resta and even his relaxed, Barrichello-like driving style that begins to paint a portrait of a devastatingly capable driver. The evidence provided by midfield results are fragmented and imperfect, but that hasn’t prevented Hulkenberg from forging an enviable reputation.

          6. @william-brierty

            Swings-and-roundabouts, my friend. In Rosberg’s hands the FW31 was very fast – in race pace especially it was often the match of the Ferrari and faster than the McLaren. As Brawn tailed off mid season, that should have facilitated better results, but were mitigated by unreliability.

            Williams faster than McLaren in 2009? Maybe in about five races (Australia, Barcelona, Monaco, Turkey, Silverstone). That basically ended when McLaren brought their updated car to Germany. Brawn was still faster than Williams in the second half of 2009 (apart from a few races here and there). Ferrari was also overall faster in the hands of Massa and Kimi (neither who I rate faster than Rosberg). Toyota had an ordinary driver lineup, and was still also faster than Williams.

            The FW31 was the 6th best car overall, certainly nothing different to anything Hulkenberg has drove in.

            McLaren was Rosberg’s first choice for 2010, but the team broke off the negotiations once Jenson came knocking.

            This is not quite true. Rosberg was McLaren’s first choice in 2008 (not 2010), but he had a contract and stayed with Williams. Then Mercedes became Rosberg’s primary destination for 2010.

            There is, admittedly, little between the two Nicos, but for me, and for most onlookers, there is no doubt in my perception that Hulkenberg has had the better midfield career.

            But what exactly has Hulkenberg achieved that Rosberg didn’t? I can’t think of anything to be honest. Rosberg was already putting some very ordinary Williams Toyota cars on the podium at the age of 22 in 2008.

            Hulkenberg, right now in terms of experience is roughly where Rosberg was at the end of 2010/start of 2011. By that time, Rosberg was both more established and more proven than Hulkenberg.

    2. I struggle to see how anyone can consider Nico Hulkenberg overrated.

      I couldn’t agree more. I honestly can’t think of a logical reason why he isn’t in a better car, and why he hasn’t been in one for a few seasons. All I can think of is that he is guilty of the greatest crime a modern arcing driver can commit, which is to just turn up, do a good job and then leave. He consistently gathers points and rarely makes mistakes (ok, he made a few this season I admit), trouble is he has failed to get that headline grabbing result. I hope for his sake he is able to get a podium next season because it could be the shot in the arm his (F1) career needs.

      1. I think it might be as simple as “he is quite tall and heavy” @geemac. Apart from that, yeah not sure why he never got a chance, surely he would have done better in the Ferrari than Kimi, for example.

        This year was not his strongest though.

      2. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
        14th December 2015, 16:47

        @geemac As he almost always does, Will Buxton gives some very interesting ideas on this matter. He says that Ferrari would have had access to Hulkenberg’s data whilst he was at Sauber, and that maybe he was not deemed good enough. But we do know that data-regardless Ferrari thought enough of Nico to enter into full contractual negotiations, so to be considered as not as good as Raikkonen, on the basis of the Finn’s exemplary 2013 season, is no insult.

        Unfortunately, as @bascb says, his height is probably the only tangible reason.

    3. @william-brierty, I don’t think that Porsche would have taken him on – they’re not offering seats to either Tandy or Bamber now that they’ve cut back their squad, and it was Bamber who was considered to have put in the most impressive performance at Le Mans (not to mention his experience in both Porsche’s GT program and Oreca’s efforts in the LMP2 class).

      As for developing a connection through Haas, I do not think that would make much of a difference for Hulkenberg. After all, Hulkenberg has already developed links with Ferrari as a consequence of driving with Sauber – indeed, it was as a consequence of that link that Ferrari chose to evaluate his performance in the first place.

      Whilst some may argue over whether he is overrated, it is certainly the case that a number of teams do not seem to be that keen on him. Asides from Ferrari, whom we know held discussions with and then turned away from Hulkenberg, McLaren have effectively said that they consider him to be overrated and that they’ve turned down approaches from Hulkenberg in the past.

      Elsewhere, Williams seem to be in no rush to try and lure him back, whilst Mercedes have also chosen to keep their current line up for the foreseeable future too (and, given their partnership with Force India, you would assume that they probably have garnered more information and feedback on Hulkenberg than the general public gets to see).

      1. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
        14th December 2015, 17:14

        Graham Goodwin of DailySportscar.com believed Porsche would give Hulkenberg a full time role if he wanted it, on account of his profile both as a F1 driver and more importantly as a Porsche Le Mans winner. Porsche had a commercial calamity at Le Mans with none of the winners, other than Bamber, regularly affiliated with the Porsche brand. With third cars banned for 2016, I think Porsche will choose just to subtly overlook the fact that the “wrong car” won Le Mans this year. But really, why they haven’t chosen to replace Dumas with Tandy I will never know.

        In terms of Haas, the fact that Grosjean turned down the prospect of a manufacturer backed career with an Enstone team that has an excellent record when it has proper investment, rather illustrates, in Romain’s mind, the strength of the Ferrari link.

        1. @william-brierty, I’m not sure where you heard that third cars were banned for Le Mans – the section of the sporting regulations which covers third cars is unchanged from 2015 to 2016, and only a few months ago Toyota were evaluating the possibility of running a third car at Le Mans in 2016 (but only if they can persuade the senior management to provide the funds to do so).

          The joint statement issued by Audi and Porsche made it clear that the decision not to use a third car was to cut costs – VW is under heavy pressure from their shareholders to cut back on expensive projects (they’ve already cut €1 billion off their annual research and development budget) and to build up their capital reserves to deal with the aftermath of the emissions debacle.

          As for the deal between Grosjean and Haas, it should be borne in mind that Grosjean signed that contract at a time when Renault hadn’t formally committed to their takeover of Lotus (the letter of intent from Renault came after Grosjean signed with Haas, and even then there was uncertainty over the team given the difficult negotiations between Renault and FOM).

          With the team being dragged through the courts for non-payment of debts and with the team facing threats of having kit being impounded at the circuit by angry hauliers and the track owners, I suspect that Grosjean made the deal more out of fear that, if the team collapsed before the deal went through, somebody else would have taken that seat at Haas and he’d be out of the sport for good.

          He has since said that, if he’d been certain at the time that Renault were going to go through with the deal, he would not have signed for Haas – instead, he would have stayed at Renault and worked to become a lead driver there instead.

          The talk of possibly transferring from Haas to Ferrari only started after the letter of intent was submitted by Renault – in that sense, I think that Grosjean talked up that link as a way of justifying his decision in light of Renault’s commitment to Lotus.

    4. I like Hulkenberg too but unfortunately in F1 you’re only as good as your last race (or couple of races) to me it seems his performance has plateaued a little bit while his teammate’s has been steadily increasing since he left Mclaren, we all know Hulk is still the fastest of the two but it’s all about performing under pressure and to me it seems like he didn’t take it too well being beaten by his teammate consistently.

      1. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
        14th December 2015, 17:31

        @mantresx You would just hope the teams could avoid being quite so reactionary, and yet podiums for Perez in 2012 proved too irresistible for McLaren, and Ferrari opted for Raikkonen in 2013 in spite of the Finn enjoying a smaller margin over his teammate in that season’s European rounds than he had previously.

    5. @william-brierty
      I agree with everything you said except his career choices: I think he pretty much nailed it.

      Sacked for Maldonado after a pretty strong end to the 2010 season, he joined Force India in 2011 as a reserve driver. That was the choice of a lifetime! Sutil tried to kill someone in a club and a seat opened up at Force India for Hulkenberg in 2012.

      I’m not sure the move for Sauber for 2013 was good, but it wasn’t bad neither. The Sauber was worse than the Force India in the beginning of the season, but they improved in the second part of the season, allowing for his impressive drive at the 2013 Korean GP. He also absolutely trashed Gutierrez.

      In 2014, back to Force India and it’s Mercedes engine, a pretty smart choice. He stayed there for 2015 and the B-spec Force India was a match for the Red Bull, so he pretty much had the fourth best car on the grid next year.

      Moving to Haas would be an absolute disaster. Just look at the careers of other drivers who have been pretty good in junior formulae but ended up in a backmarker team in F1. A move like that is pretty much career-ending. Also, when was the last time Ferrari hired someone coming from a backmarker team? More than 10 years ago at least …

      Driving a F1 car is pretty much the best thing in the world, and I understand him playing it safe rather than risk his short-term future in F1. Force India, with the Mercedes engine, has all the cards in hand to improve further and I’m sure that elusive podium will come to him if Force India manages to build the fourth best car on the grid at the start of the season next year.

      Once his time in F1 is over, he will have all the time he wants to try out racing in other formulae.

      1. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
        15th December 2015, 8:35

        @paeschli – I was primarily talking about his decision to remain at Force India for 2016. Otherwise, yes, he has pretty much nailed it. The Sauber move was perhaps his most questionable decision, but then again, would he have come within a hair-breath of a Ferrari drive without having moved to Sauber?

        In terms of 2016, I think you are misrepresenting the opportunity at Haas. Firstly, we don’t know Haas will be at the back, and even if they are, racing down the order didn’t prevent Bianchi from putting himself in the Ferrari frame. By passing on Bottas, Ricciardo and Nico this year in favour of a floundering Kimi, Ferrari have demonstrated that they are only really interesting in evaluating affiliated drivers. That is why Grosjean gave up a guaranteed career as a works Renault driver. Grosjean is clearly of the opinion that there is genuine chance of Raikkonen’s seat.

        In terms of Porsche, yes, that can wait, albeit a shoe-in with the world manufacturers champions is an opportunity with an expiry date. Nico should not expect to be able to return to the WEC when it suits him whilst LMP1 is so saturated with tremendous drivers, and with more, such as with Sam Bird’s likely deal with Toyota, flocking to P1-H from single seaters.

        1. @william-brierty, Grosjean has stated that, if Renault had committed to Lotus sooner, he would have rejected Haas’s approaches and stayed as a Renault works driver (the quote is “I was the first one who wanted to be part of the Renault project. If they had come earlier I would have stayed, but I met with Haas, they made an approach and it was attractive.”).

          At the time he signed with Haas, Renault had made no commitments to the team at all – Renault’s letter of intent to buy the team was submitted after he signed with Haas, not before – so he wasn’t giving up a “guaranteed career as a works Renault driver” given that Renault’s offer did not exist at that point.

  4. It was interesting to see that Hülkenberg was quicker than Pérez when it mattered in the first half of the season and that it was the other way round in the second half. I think the Force India drivers were both quite efficient as they managed to outscore Lotus and Toro Rosso with a car that was roughly equally fast (although more reliable). It probably shows that Pérez is a very good driver; he didn’t make a fool of himself against the giant-killing Button in his only year with McLaren and he has improved a lot since then. So while Hülkenberg might be a bit overrated, I think Pérez might also be a bit underrated.

  5. Yes (@come-on-kubica)
    14th December 2015, 16:58

    I really wish Ferrari took a punt on him for the 2014/2015/2016 season as opposed to taking on Raikkonen. He’s obviously got a lot of talent but has never had the car or the luck to deliver it. I think Brazil 2012 will probably haunt his career until he leaves F1. By far and away the quickest driver in that race and made a few slip ups at the crucial time. Saying that I’m still a big fan and still optimistic he will get a chance with a front running car. Both Nico and Sergio deserve it, with any luck Force India develop a brilliant car for next season for 2 very talented drivers.

    1. Brazil 2012 still haunts me to this day :P

      1. Alonso too ;)

      2. I believe the lack of a podium also hurts his CV. Far less talented drivers have scored at least a third place (and, in Maldonado’s case, a win), yet Hulk has never managed one. Granted, a lot of this is due to luck of lack of, yet in his case I find this stat somewhat revealing.

  6. Top 8 Prediction Time

    8. Valtteri Bottas
    7. Nico Rosberg
    6. Romain Grosjean
    5. Daniel Ricciardo
    4. Sergio Perez
    3. Max Verstappen
    2. Lewis Hamilton
    1. Sebastian Vettel

    1. 8. Grosjean
      7. Bottas
      6. Verstappen
      5. Rosberg
      4. Perez
      3. Ricciardo
      2. Hamilton
      1. Vettel

      Max is overrated. Can’t be top 3 or top 5

      1. …and you put Perez higher as Verstappen and at the same time talk about overrated ?

        In a car which was better as the Toro Rosso in late season, Perez was behind Verstappen in Austin and Brazil, and managed to be only just ahead of an overheating Verstappen in Mexico…Perez did well in the second half of the season, but also not that good looking at what the car was actually capable of.

    2. I’ll go with

      8. Ricciardo
      7. Bottas
      6. Verstappen
      5. Grosjean
      4. Pérez
      3. Rosberg
      2. Hamilton
      1. Vettel

      1. I would be shocked if Hamilton was not ranked number 1 but it would be nice if he was not.

        1. On the other hand, I would be very shocked if Hamilton was ranked no.1. There was clearly no one better than Vettel.

          While Vettel had two bad weekends in Mexico and Bahrain, Lewis had several such weekends – Hungary, Austria, Mexico, Brazil, Abu Dhabi, Spain

  7. Seeing some of the debate on here about Hulk being overrated and to some extent I agree, his F1 performances aren’t that special. I wonder where it went wrong for him, because I have rarely if ever seen such a dominant and wonderful junior formulae driver.

  8. I really think Hülkenberg is way too high on this list. 14th-15th would have been closer to truth.

    People are praising Hülkenberg for winning Le Mans, but I think the fact that such average F1-driver as Hülkenberg is good enough to win Le Mans at first try just goes to show how weak WEC and LMP1 grid is compared to F1.

    1. how weak WEC and LMP1 grid is compared to F1.

      @huhhii, sorry but that is utter nonsense. Hulkenberg is simply an above average racer either way and the Porsche was a good car. Next to all that is was Tandy and Bamber who won him Le Mans.

      1. @xtwl I don’t consider Nico to be above average F1 driver. By no means he isn’t bad, but definitely not WDC material.

        My point is you could place any driver from current F1 grid to that Porsche and they would’ve won it too. Heck, I think most of the Formula E drivers would be capable to win it too. The quality just isn’t there in WEC and LMP1 is just massively suffering from lack of depth in the grid.

        1. @huhhii I don’t consider Nico to be the crop of the field either but he is still in F1 which makes him an ‘above the average driver’, I did not say F1 driver. If a driver is only above average to you when he is WDC material that is a pretty high standard…?

          Your second paragraph makes me think you don’t have much experience with Le Mans, or endurance racing. Besides LMP drivers require a different set of skills than an F1 driver. For example; they have to set up a car for three people, not one. They don’t want rookies in these cars, instead they choose experienced men who have already proven to be very fast. They need men who know when to overtake and when to stay behind.

          1. @xtwl About Nico; Sorry, I misunderstood you. I do agree with you that Hülkenberg as a racer is above average.

            WEC definitely isn’t my cup of tea and I’m no expert but I am still allowed to draw my own conclusions about the competitiveness of the series. I have given it a fair chance but the lack of star drivers and star performances plus the shrinked grid (sure there’s technically lots of action on track but to me it’s just 4 separate races with few cars participating in each of them and lots of blue-flags sort of overtaking) are problems for me. Sure WEC is asking different set of skills from drivers compared to any other track racing, but those skills don’t make LMP1 drivers to qualify as world-class drivers in my opinion. For example when it comes to setting up a car for three different drivers I see it as a bigger challenge for the team, not for the driver. F1 driver rarely finds set-up that works flawlessly for him so it’s common sight in F1 to see drivers having troubles with the feeling of the car.

            Well anyway Hülkenberg seems to be enjoying it so probably it’d make more sense for him to jump into that series instead of continuing with Force India for years.

          2. Hulkenberg was an LMP1 rookie so was at least one of his teammates? and they won Lemans

  9. Hulkenberg is such a difficult driver to rate IMHO.

    He’s obviously got the talent to achieve greatness in F1. He’s proven that in the past, present, and possibly in the future. For some reason however he just can’t seem to grab onto that one train that will take him to a top team where he can show us if the hype is real or not.

    I’m not saying his criticasters are wrong by any means, their criticism on him have merit considering how he’s performing against Perez. It seems to me some (I’ll refer from using that term everyone seems to be using as of late) are using his somewhat fading form in 2015 to cast doubt over his F1 worthiness. The thought alone makes my spine chill. Please take a decent look at the grid and realize that there are far worse drivers out there. (Yes, I’m looking at you misters Ericsson and Maldonado.)

    Before introducing the B-spec it was definitely the Hulk who had the upper hand, but ever since (Silverstone?) he’s been fading into Perez’s shadow, who obviously preferred that version of the car more. Perez and Hulkbenberg are both above average racers in my book that could possibly do excellent at a top team, but unfortunately for them those seats are taken for now.

    Some say Force India made their own fortune this season by taking that so much desired 5th in the standings. I say they got a bargain when they took on what could well be the strongest driver pairing currently in F1.

    I say if no top team comes for him in 2016, cut F1 short and make a name for yourself in LMP1 Nico.

  10. Hulkenberg is not over rated, he is talented. With his talents, you’d expect him to race for a top team, the problem is, the people racing in top teams are good too, maybe Raikkonen no longer is. The problem is there is no vacancy at the top. You have to factor in the disappointment that a person has to go through every year being ignored. This year coupled with bad luck it showed in the later half of this season. Now that he has signed a 2 year contract, he probably don’t have any expectations anymore. So we should see some good performances from him next year. Force India has a good driver lineup, same can’t be said about the other midfield teams.

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