Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, Circuit of the Americas, 2016

2016 F1 season driver rankings #9: Hulkenberg

2016 F1 season review

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Before the 2016 season began it seemed incredible Nico Hulkenberg had never visited the podium. Following his near-misses this year it almost appears unjust.

Nico Hulkenberg

Beat team mate in qualifying12/21
Beat team mate in race8/18
Races finished17/21
Laps spent ahead of team mate480/1041
Points72

Monaco was undoubtedly his best opportunity. He was running fourth and catching the slow Mercedes pair when Force India gambled on pitting him – and dropped him into the queue behind Felipe Massa.

Sergio Perez, who trailled his team mate until they pitted, caught the other side of this break and reached the rostrum. Nonetheless Hulkenberg netted sixth place with a surprise attack on Nico Rosberg on the final lap.

Another possible podium for Hulkenberg in Brazil was lost due to a puncture. Here too his team mate inherited third place, but lost it in the final laps to Max Verstappen.

Hulkenberg also got tired of heading home before the first lap was over. In Russia he was rammed by Esteban Gutierrez (who also hit the Force India driver again in Baku), he was dumped into the pit wall at Singapore and pinched between Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas in the USA.

Hulkenberg wasn’t solely a victim of misfortune, however. The podium beckoned again at Baku but a spin in Q2 allowed Perez to capitalise once more.

Qualifying was normally one of the strongest parts of Hulkenberg’s game. He usually started in front of Perez and impressed in Austria, where he claimed a front row start in damp conditions, and Mexico, where he beat both Ferraris.

Like Perez, Hulkenberg regularly came away with points. He took a superb fourth in Belgium despite his strategy being compromised by pitting before the red flag. Again he was running in a podium position until Lewis Hamilton blasted past with ease in a DRS zone.

But there was a discernible raising of Hulkenberg’s game after he put his name to a Renault contract at the end of the season. It showed just how good he can be, but it’s a level he needs to reach consistently if he’s going to start achieving the podiums he surely deserves.

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Over to you

Arguably a great season, solid drives, week in and week out. Had a few unlucky moments, like getting taken out at the start of Singapore, but had such solid drives each race weekend. But was beaten by Perez in the drivers’ championship.
@Dragoll

What’s your verdict on Nico Hulkenberg’s 2016 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments.

Add your views on the other drivers here:

The F1 Fanatic Driver Rankings are produced by referring to:

View race-by-race notes on Nico Hulkenberg

Australia – A fast start got him ahead of Perez and Ricciardo into eight, though he was soon passed again by the latter. He was the leading driver on the track to start on softs but didn’t stretch out the stint, preferring to pit for mediums on lap 16. This proved the right choice, but the timing of the stoppage meant he dropped behind Grosjean and he was unable to overtake the Haas driver.

Bahrain – Overnight tweaks ahead of qualifying paid off: “During qualifying the car just got better and better, and I think the track improvement came towards us as well,” he said. The reward was a place in Q3 – and its accompanying disadvantage of having to start the race on used tyres. He only made slight contact at turn one with his front wing but the team felt it necessary to pit him, ended his chance of points.

China – Was unable to participate in Q3 after a wheel fell off his car at the end of Q2, which also earned him a three-place grid penalty. He jumped up to fifth at the start but had to queue behind Perez in the pits and made the mistake of backing off on his way in, which earned him another penalty. “The rules say you shouldn’t slow down coming in,” he admitted, “but in the heat of racing it’s hard to gauge if that is giving you an advantage”. He finish a lowly 15th.

Russia – Missed first practice as Alfonso Celis drove his car, but still ended up the quicker of Force India’s drivers on the day. However he was missing some pace on Saturday, failing to accompany Perez into Q3. He was then rammed by Gutierrez at the start and retired.

Spain – Narrowly missed a place in Q3 as he wasn’t able to find a balance he was completely happy with in the upgraded VJM09. He lost three places at the start and was running outside the points when his car developed an oil leak.

Monaco – Qualified an excellent fifth, pipping Raikkonen by six-thousandths of a second and beating both Toro Rossos. But like Vettel he fell into the ‘Massa trap’ during the first stint and the time lost allowed Perez to get ahead. He showed tremendous opportunism on the final lap, however, demoting Rosberg for sixth place. Even so it’s hard to disagree with his assessment that the race was a “a huge missed opportunity” and the early pit stop “ruined my race”.

Canada – After a solid Friday he snatched a place in the top ten shoot-out. He dived past Rosberg on lap one but was unable to keep the Mercedes behind for the rest of the stint. However a trouble-free run in which tyre management was an ever-present preoccupation delivered points for eighth.

Europe – Blew his chance of starting at the front when he spun in Q2 and then had a mix-up with his race engineer on the radio which scuppered his attempt to do another lap. He picked up damage when he was hit by Gutierrez at the start but it was starting the race on the soft tyres which spoiled his day: he was struggling for grip on super-softs by the end and was demoted to ninth by the Red Bulls.

Austria – Committed early to slicks in Q3 and reaped the rewards, setting a time good enough for second with his third lap. He was cleared of going too quickly through yellow flags and kept the position. However his race was a disaster: the Force India chewed its tyres and Hulkenberg pitted three times. He was in trouble with brake wear as well, which eventually forced him out.

Britain – Beat his team mate into Q3 but was stripped of his best time after running wide. Much as was the case in Monaco Hulkenberg lost out strategically to his team mate. He showed immense car control not to hit Massa while trying to pass on the wet line at Woodcote, and after getting free of the Williams he recovered to finish on Perez’s tail.

Hungary – Beat Perez comfortably in qualifying but as the track dried in Q3 there was to be no repeat of his damp-track heroics from Austria. He lost a place at the start and two at his first pit stop, which doomed him to an afternoon in the slipstream of other cars. It got worse on his second visit to the pits when he let the clutch slip, delaying his tyre change and losing another place to Palmer. However he salvaged a point.

Germany – A grid drop – however small – seemed harsh for what amounted to an administrative error by his team which did not confer a performance advantage. He started eighth instead of seventh and held that position early on before using the undercut to get ahead of Bottas. While the Williams ran to the end Hulkenberg easily had the pace to make another pit stop and get ahead of him.

Belgium – A power unit problem in Q3 meant he was unable to improve on his Q2 time and so started behind his team mate. However he capitalised on the turn one melee to move into second. Unfortunately for Force India they chose to pit both drivers just before the red flag came out. Even without that Hulkenberg would have had a difficult time keeping Ricciardo and Hamilton behind, but fourth was the best available for him in any case.

Italy – Admitted he found it hard to nail a balance on his car, though sitting out first practice while Alfonso Celis drove his car won’t have helped. Even so he was only two-hundredths off Perez in qualifying. He lost ground at the start having to dodge around Verstappen, who then passed him for tenth on lap five. He was handed a place by Alonso’s slow pit stop and collected the final point.

Singapore – Came within a hundredth of a second of splitting the Toro Rosso drivers in qualifying. However this decent qualifying position came to naught when he was involved in a racing incident at the start which fired him into the pit wall.

Japan – Didn’t have the measure of his team mate in qualifying and though he gained places at the start Raikkonen and Hamilton took them back easily. There wasn’t much to choose between the Force India drivers on race pace. Hulkenberg’s pass on Bottas was one of the highlights of the race.

Malaysia – The Force Indias occupied row four but Hulkenberg was beaten by Perez. He was also delayed by the turn one collision, which dropped him behind Button. “I just couldn’t overtake him,” Hulkenberg admitted, and he spent two stints following the McLaren. He finished eighth.

United States – Looked on it throughout practice. He solidly out-qualified Perez and, importantly, both Williams drivers. But he was pinched between Vettel and Bottas at the start, ending his race on the first lap for the third time this year.

Mexico – Had good pace on the soft tyres on Friday and produced a gem of a Q3 lap to beat both Ferrari drivers to fifth. Though well aware that Force India’s fight was not with the Ferrari drivers he kept Raikkonen behind for several laps. He jeopardised his hard work with a spin when Raikkonen came through, but this was otherwise an excellent weekend’s work.

Brazil – Surprisingly neither of the Force India drivers beat Grosjean’s Haas in qualifying. But with Hulkenberg just six-hundredths ahead of Perez it seemed both were close to the car’s potential. Hulkenberg was running fourth at the time the race was stopped but fell to 15th when he was called in to replace his wet weather tyres under the Safety Car, the team blaming a puncture. Without that he’d have entered the final laps in third place with Verstappen bearing down on him. His pass on Magnussen, barely on the track with the pit wall coming up at him, was astoundingly brave.

Abu Dhabi – Alfonso Celis drove his car in first practice but Hulkenberg was on the pace by qualifying and narrowly beat his team mate to lead row four. He went around the outside of Verstappen at the start and survived the contact between the pair, then won a thrilling scrap with Perez to keep his place. Hamilton’s pace wasn’t slow enough for Force India to catch up, so seventh was the limit of what could be done.

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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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48 comments on “2016 F1 season driver rankings #9: Hulkenberg”

  1. It was a shame Hulk missed out on a couple of podiums this year. I thought it was really even with him and Perez.. the podium made the difference between their rankings.

    1. I found it really difficult to pick the winner between these 2.
      In the end it was one of Perez’s nosehair lengths.

    2. PER got 29 more points than HUL. That’s not being even. That’s an enormous difference between the two.

      1. Have you read the article? He was taken out on lap 1 on several occasions and he lost points due to strategy errors.

    3. The difference between HUL and PER is 101 vs 72, linearly equivalent as if Rosberg would have 385 points vs 275 Hamilton

    4. Did you two not read the article? Perez benefited from Hulkenberg’s misfortune several times. They were almost always running together given a clean weekend.

  2. Insanely unlucky in Monaco, and Brasil. His wet weather prowess on show there. Perez is a properly great driver, but Hulkenberg has a lot to offer. His muscular driving style is hard on the tyres but next years cars and tyres, should, suit him.

  3. So Pérez only get podiums because the bad Luck of nico. Even in baku. Great subjective analisis

    1. Great ‘analisis’ indeed.

  4. I personally would rank him higher than Perez. He has way more retirements (most of which weren’t his fault) and got really unlucky. He’s the better of the two in my opinion, and qualifying shows that. Hopefully next year is where he’ll be able to show his true pace with less degradation on the tyres, and maybe had he stayed in Force India, the advantage would be to him instead of Perez.

  5. And also, can I add, Sky F1 rating Palmer as rookie of the year shows exactly what I dislike about British media.

    1. Not sure where this has come from on here… but in terms of WDC position, Palmer was “Rookie of the Year”. Of course, few would argue that he has performed better than Wehrlein or Ocon for example, but on results alone, he is the highest ranked.

      That’s not to say that it isn’t obvious Brundle et al know and like Jolyon (or “Jo”) outside of F1.

      1. I think it should be Vandoorne; same amount of points as “Jo” and Wehrlein, but in (a lot) less races.

      2. @ben-n They were talking about performance, not position.

  6. He was unlucky in Brazil,where he could fight for the podium,although i don’t think he could keep Verstappen at bay.In Monaco he took an gamble but it didn’t pay off.But in Baku,where Force India was clearly the second fastest car,he was awful…Next year he has to show something different,he has to take every opportunity.Next year he will be 30,so not many chances.

  7. I don’t hold Hulkenberg as high as many do but surely rate him higher than Perez. Their podium tally thus is quite ‘unfair’ if you ask me. Perez surely has been on the lucky side on days it mattered and a podium was on offer.

    1. Pérez already deliver 4 podiums in 3 years With FI. But he its only Lucky.

  8. Perez has luck, Hulkenberg doesn’t. Only thing that separates them really, Hulkenberg is arguably the better driver but so often gets screwed over when he’s on for fantastic results or podiums (Monaco, Brazil etc as you said). Really praying that Renault give him a car good enough for podiums within the next few seasons. He’s put almost in the shadow of Perez, but over the time they’ve been teammates has beaten him more often than not in races they’ve both finished.

    1. Paul Villanueva
      12th December 2016, 15:15

      “Lucky” how losers call winners since 1800

    2. @hugh11

      I think perez has beaten him more.

      1. Just looked on Wikipedia, I make it 22-21 to Hulkenberg (assuming I didn’t mess up the counting at any point) in the races they both finished. Either way, it’s much closer than a lot of people make it out to be.

  9. This season Hulkenberg and Perez have shown how much harder it is to win a podium using different strategies. You literally need the stars to align to get a podium.

    Between the crazy incidents and the strategy calls, his season got screwed. In fact, he did really well considering that nothing went his way.

    For me it was extremely impressive how he got on top of that car when it seemed to suit Perez so much more. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.

  10. 8. Sainz Jr.
    7. Perez
    6. Alonso
    5. Vettel
    4. Ricciardo
    3. Rosberg
    2. Hamilton
    1. Verstappen

    1. 1. ricciardo
      2. rosberg
      3. hamilton
      4. verstappen
      5. vettel
      6. alonso
      7. sainz
      8. perez
      i dont want to explain now how much bad luck rosberg had too

      1. i dont want to explain now how much bad luck rosberg had too

        Fancy that ;)

    2. sorry @kaiser but I do actually struggle to understand how so many people rate Verstappen as the best. While he has had many outstanding races, he has also had several pretty poor races and one simply dreadful race weekend at Monaco with 3 crashes involving just himself. I would very comfortably rate Ricciardo and Hamilton above him as they have been very good and solid pretty much the whole time. Hamilton has only made some minor mistakes this year and Ricciardo pretty much hasn’t made any mistakes while being extremely solid and consistent too.

      1. That’s a fair predication from kaiser.

        Verstappen is the oldest head on young shoulders I can think of ever seeing. No sign of cracking under pressure, calm as you like.
        No silly games with team mates. Awesome in the wet at Brazil, the reaction from Brazilians should have said it all, compared to Lewis crossing the line in Senna replica helmet and gloves.

        Despite having some bad luck, Lewis could have been more on-it this season and did seem to have one of his blips, although this came earlier than his usual end of season dips.

    3. @kaiser Why is Verstappen the best? He wasn’t even better than Ricciardo in the same car across all 17 races. People tend to have short memories.

      1. My list is how I think the ranking will follow, I personally dont like Verstappen (no respect for his fellow drivers), but I have to admit the potential he showed this season was admirable, the comparisson with Ricciardo actually plays to his side, since he came to the car in the middle of the season, so adapting and matching/beating his teammate (who I rate quite high) was not something I expected.

    4. kaiser, Verstappen has not raised the level of the car. He has failed to surpass Daniel, and he was only ahead of him when the strategy was good for him. He is very spectacular, but spectacularity doesn’t make a great pilot. Max has a lot of potential, but he has underperformed his teammate due to his own errors. Probably next year will be different, but this year he is just showing his potential, but not a great pilot.
      On the other hand I am surprised that Sainz was at the end when he actually placed the car ahead of its natural position. All the numbers place him much ahead but should never be behind Vettel, Perez or Rosberg.

  11. He had a better season (in terms of quality, not points or results) than his team-mate. Shame for him he jumped the gun and signed with Renault, would have given Hamilton a serious run for his money in the other Mercedes seat.

  12. This Hulkenberg analysis and FI results shows how good their driver lineup was, regardless of who is the better between the two.

    I think it is fair to put Hulk behind Perez, even if at the end of the year the results that Perez managed could be connected to the circumstances. They have been so close together during the past 3 years, I think that I will miss them competing in the same team. Also it seems they have behaved professionally throughout their time together. Surely two of the best in the grid

  13. Good driver he was inspired the last 4 races, too bad he often gets nervous and fails to deliver at the right time, therefore he has 0 podiums, i think we make our own luck, and Hulk often gets in trouble by his mistakes (Austria from 2th to last, clumsy start in Singapore, etc.), Perez on the other hand clinches the oportunitty when it shows, Im curious where is Perez going to rank, he scored more points than the two spaniards combined that are still to be ranked by Collantine, so far i agree with him.

    1. I fail to see how Hulk’s Singaporian start was clumsy @juanmelendezr1. He’s been hit by Sainz precisely because he made a brilliant start and Verstappen’s was mediocre. This triggered the chain reaction that bounced him in the wall.
      Had he been slower off the line, Nico would have made it to turn one.

  14. The comments section in here shows how the final few races can affect the view. Perez has clearly beaten Hulkenberg this year, maybe slightly, but it is a fact he has more laps ahead, points, less first lap crashes and more races ahead. Even as a Perez fan I admit many overrated his performances last year 2015 due the last few races as thats where he performed well.

    1. @lolzerbob This is very true…and quite understandable as well. The end of a long story is what the viewers are generally left with. What’s more recent is better remembered, right? :))

      Not saying that all that has happened before should be forgotten. Perez beat Hulkenberg fairly this year. It would have been a lot closer without Hulk’s bad luck, however.

  15. Interestingly, F1 metrics rates Hülkenberg’s 2016 performance as one of the worst driver performances. So he is either being underestimated by the model or overestimated by experts, or both.

    1. @f1infigures F1 metrics ranked Hulkenberg well out of the top 10 in 2013…the year when he was making a name for himself. Their rankings are based purely on statistics and podium finishes play a huge role too.

      Not saying that the statistics lie…but they can be misleading at times. More often than not, there is a lot more to every story than just the end result. ;))

      1. @neutronstar I think the model works well in general, but not always for every individual driver. The model compares the performance of teammates. I guess Hülkenberg’s rather poor rookie season still counts against him, while his good performances against Di Resta en Gutiérrez were not particularly helpful. Pérez is probably also underestimated, mainly because of 2013 I think. As both Force India drivers were underestimated, they couldn’t really get a very high rating in the model. Next year Hülkenberg and Pérez will have different teammates, so then we’ll know more about their absolute strength.

        1. @neutronstar, @f1infigures, I think the F1 metrics model is quite a novel, interesting, ambitious take on ranking F1 drivers, but as you say, the way it tries to judge teammates against each other, and then extrapolate that to other years, teammate battles does clearly allow for uncertainties to creep in and hang around drivers for some time, in a way that isn’t always obvious. As with all those such things, use it to inform your view, but treat it with some scepticism and common sense, I’d say.

      2. @neutronstar, mind you, at the same time there were those who thought that the Sauber C32 was actually quite a good car that season, such that Hulkenberg’s results that season actually weren’t that unexpected.

        When the car was unveiled in the pre-season tests, Newey stated that he thought that it was one of the dark horses of the 2013 season and, later on in the season, admitted that he had started directly coping elements of the C32 and incorporating them into the RB9 (the exhaust system, the S-duct in the nose and elements of the internal packaging of the car are just some of the bits he copied).

        1. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t perform well ;)

    2. @f1infigures those metrics are hilarious… Senna 23rd?

      1. @freelittlebirds Bruno or Ayrton? I can’t remember they were mentioned in the article.

      2. @freelittlebirds, if it was Bruno Senna, I think that most would probably agree with that placing…

  16. So what I personally think

    8. Sainz
    7. Vettel
    6. Perez
    5. Rosberg
    4. Alonso
    3. Verstappen
    2. Hamilton
    1. Ricciardo

    What I think it will be

    8. Perez
    7. Vettel
    6. Rosberg
    5. Sainz
    4. Verstappen
    3. Alonso
    2. Hamilton
    1. Ricciardo

  17. “This season Hulkenberg was very unlucky…” “Had not been for X, he would have achieved Y”…

    I keep reading the same excuses for Hulk’s performance over his 7 years of F1 career…still no podium, unlike some “inferior” teammates…

    I think position 9 in the rank suits him fine.

    1. @Macrob There’s a huge difference in how Nico and Checo try to get their podiums. One is the holy grail of racing… It’s akin to Manor saying “let’s get P6 in this race by passing everyone!!!”

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