Hulkenberg’s seven missed chances to score his first podium

2017 F1 season

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Nico Hulkenberg took it on the chin when it was pointed out to him, in the build-up to the Singapore Grand Prix, that he was set to surpass Adrian Sutil’s unwanted record for most career starts without a podium.

“I’ve had to wait a long time and work really hard to get to this point to finally get this title off of Adrian and be the recorder holder, said the Renault driver, tongue firmly in cheek. “The Sutil era will be finished this weekend and the Hulkenberg era will start.”

Hulkenberg arrived in F1 eight seasons ago having scooped the GP2 title at his first attempt. But until this year he has been consistently overlooked by manufacturer teams. He has come agonisingly close to rostrum finishes on several occasions in that time.

Last weekend’s race was another near-miss, as Hulkenberg ran third early in the race before eventually retiring with a power unit problem.

With 129 grands prix to his name without a podium finish has Hulkenberg just been unlucky, or did he simply fail to capitalise on the chances he had? These seven times he came close to a podium finish give some examples of how things have gone wrong for him.

2012 Belgian Grand Prix

The infamous first-corner shunt triggered by Romain Grosjean allowed Hulkenberg to rise from 11th on the grid to hold third place behind Kimi Raikkonen. Once the first corner mess had been cleared away and the Safety Car came in, he swiftly picked off the Lotus to take second.

However Lotus responded by bringing Raikkonen in early for his first pit stop, which got him ahead of Hulkenberg’s Force India. Both were also jumped by Sebastian Vettel’s much quicker Red Bull, which meant Hulkenberg had to settle for fourth place. Nonetheless this was his best finish to date in only his second full season of Formula One.

2012 Brazilian Grand Prix

Hulkenberg took the fight to McLaren during the 2012 finale
Despite a promising year at Force India, Hulkenberg switched to Sauber for 2013. It ultimately proved a mis-step in his career and he returned to Force India after just one season away.

He signed off from his first stint at the Silverstone team with a drive which might have ended with him being on the top step of the podium. At the same Interlagos circuit where he’d taken a stunning pole position for Williams two years earlier, and in similarly damp conditions, Hulkenberg fought a tooth-and-nail battle with the McLaren drivers for the lead of the race.

As intermittent showers vexed the drivers, Hulkenberg took the lead from Jenson Button on lap 18 and was still there 30 laps later. Then Lewis Hamilton demoted Hulkenberg to second, but their fight wasn’t over.

As the pair worked their way through traffic Hulkenberg dived for the inside at turn one but the VJM05’s rear twitched and he ran wide. He tangled with Hamilton, ending the Mclaren driver’s race, while Hulkenberg collected a penalty.

Nonetheless he went on to finish fifth. “We had a great chance to finish on the podium today, but it slipped away,” he admitted afterwards.

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2014 Bahrain Grand Prix

Hulkenberg sparred with Perez in Bahrain
Hulkenberg’s Sauber sojourn included some fine drives but no realistic podium shots. That changed with his return to Force India and Mercedes power as the V6 hybrid turbo era began.

While the factory Mercedes drivers waged a frantic battle for supremacy in Bahrain, Hulkenberg and Force India team mate Sergio Perez disputed the final podium spot. However it was Perez who prevailed.

“I had to battle from the moment the Safety Car came in until the end of the race,” said Hulkenberg. “I was behind Checo and I felt I had a little more pace, but I was in dirty air and that caused me to struggle towards the end.”

2016 Monaco Grand Prix

A strategic mis-step was to blame in Monaco last year
This was surely Hulkenberg’s best chance to finish on the podium to date. Having qualified an excellent fifth in Monaco, with only Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and the Mercedes ahead of him, he held his position as the race began on a wet track.

When Vettel ahead pitted to switch to intermediate tyres Hulkenberg followed him after two laps. This proved an error as Vettel had become stuck behind Felipe Massa, who was unwilling to discard his wet weather tyres and holding up a train of cars.

Meanwhile Force India kept Perez’s car out six laps longer on his intermediates, jumping him ahead of Hulkenberg and several other cars and putting him on course for third place. Hulkenberg showed great verve by nipping past Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes for sixth place in sight of the chequered flag, but better things had clearly been on offer.

2016 European Grand Prix

If luck and strategy hadn’t worked out for Hulkenberg in Monaco, two races later in Baku he had no one to blame but himself. Force India were in superb shape at F1’s first race in Azerbaijan. Perez set a qualifying time which was quick enough for a front row spot, only to be bumped back down the grid due to a gearbox change penalty.

He still started in front of Hulkenberg, however, who had spun away his chances during Q2 and lined up 11th. While Perez went on to take third place off Raikkonen’s Ferrari on the final lap, Hulkenberg had to settle for ninth.

2016 Brazilian Grand Prix

A puncture wrecked his last Force India podium chance
Another one for the ‘bad luck’ file. In foul conditions at Interlagos Hulkenberg put a pass on Kevin Magnussen which made your hair stand on end, diving between the Renault and the pit wall. The race was red-flagged soon afterwards due to the conditions and Hulkenberg looked in good shape in fourth place.

But when the field took to the track again for the restart Hulkenberg was quickly summoned back in due to a puncture, and fell to 15th. His penultimate race for Force India was another tale of what might have been. “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” he said afterwards.

2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

By moving to Renault for 2017 Hulkenberg has finally got himself a drive at a factory squad. But he might have to be patient before that long-awaiting first podium appears.

A glimmer of a chance presented itself in Baku earlier this year. Having started 13th Hulkenberg benefited from the drama unfolding in front of him to climb within reach of the podium.

Could the Renault hold on to such a lofty position? Hulkenberg lost a place to Ricciardo at a restart as the Red Bull driver caught a three-car tow from the Renault and two Williams drivers. While Ricciardo went on to win and one of the Williams drivers reached the podium, Hulkenberg clipped the wall on the next lap and retired.

Hulkenberg’s Driver of the Weekend wins

F1 Fanatic readers have voted Hulkenberg as Driver of the Weekend on four occasions since his F1 debut. The first was for that remarkable drive at Interlagos five years ago.

Of the three other occasions, two included drives for Sauber in 2013. At Italy that year he qualified a remarkable third and finished fifth once the Ferrari pair had overhauled him. He produced another excellent run in the Korean Grand Prix where once again the podium was out of reach.

His most recent Driver of the Weekend win came in Austria two years ago, where he took sixth.

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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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47 comments on “Hulkenberg’s seven missed chances to score his first podium”

  1. Firstly,im surprised Baku 2017 is in the list & not Russia 2015.
    In Baku the top 5 teams were much much quicker than the rest & Renault was just slow in that race.While in Russia back in 2015,he spun on his own at the first corner.He started sixth if my memory helps me,while Perez was 7th.Perez got that podium as well…Generally,Hulkenberg blew most of his best chances on his own(Brazil 2012,Bahrain 2014,Baku 2016)…

    1. @miltosgreekfan Hulkenberg didn’t really ‘blow’ his chance in Bahrain 2014, just that in that decisive moment when Hulk and Perez were fighting Massa, Perez was more opportunistic and crucially overtook his teammate. In other words, Perez was simply better.

      1. @neutronstar Thats why i thought he blew his chance at Bahrain 2014.He was fighting with Massa,Felipe defended & gave him room but he didnt go for it & then Perez passed both of them.His lack of aggression made me say that he blew it.But surely Perez was better

    2. @miltosgreekfan, I guess that it would be because, in the 2015 Russian GP, Hulkenberg had crashed out on the first lap and therefore it is extremely difficult to tell where he could have finished.

      However, I believe that Perez had already effectively passed him off the line when Hulkenberg span himself out of the race, so even then it is debatable whether he would have then been able to overtake Perez to finish ahead of him (after all, Perez had pretty much matched Hulkenberg in qualifying trim, whilst the pre-race practise sessions suggested that Perez was the quicker of the two over a race stint).

  2. What amazes me the most about this record, it is not the fact that Hulk is still waiting for his first point, but that somehow, someone allowed Adrian Sutil to participate in so many races

    1. @johnmilk +1, if my memory is correct it was ironically Hulkenberg’s move to Sauber that lead to Sutil’s return to F1, they then switched seats the next year.

      I’ll never understand why Force India chose Sutil over Bianchi

      1. @strontium, it was probably because Bianchi was still contractually bound to Ferrari. Ferrari loaned him to Force India as a third driver in 2012, but he remained under contract to Ferrari – which was why Ferrari’s career plans for him were to go through the Ferrari engined Marussia team and then to Sauber, two teams where they would have been able to scrutinize his progress more closely than at Force India.

        1. There was a point where Force India was considering whether to take Mercedes or Ferrari engines for 2014 (though I’m not sure how serious that debate ever got). If FIF1 had decided to go for Ferrari in 2014, that might have decided the issue. The fact it took them until halfway through testing to make a decision suggests that for whatever reason, it was an unusually difficult decision even by its standards…

    2. Adrian got consistent (if rarely exciting) results for Force India, and once he’d been in the sport for a while, also gave very good technical feedback. At one point I think Force India were hoping to attract a Mercedes discount (that never happened), and throughout, the fact he had some sponsorship always helped his cause.

      Unfortunately, Adrian was unable to replicate anything resembling his Force India performances at Sauber, and that ended his career. We may never know whether Adrian was a good driver that found Sauber particularly unsuited to his capabilities, or if he was a “somewhat above average” driver that happened to excel at Force India.

      We may also never know whether Adrian’s analytical experience was really the best decision for Force India in 2013 rather than Jules’ precocious enthusiasm. However, I would venture to suggest it was the best possible decision for Marussia…

  3. I haven’t watched Sky’s F1 coverage in ages, so can someone tell me if Martin Brundle still goes on about the Hulk being a driver that deserves a seat in a top team?

  4. I’m missing the 2012 European GP from the list. Hulkenberg was in 5th place two laps before the finish, and then Maldonado and Hamilton collided in front of him. But then came Schumacher and Webber with fresher tyres and both passed him before the end of the race.

  5. Azerbaijan 2017 shouldn’t be on this list. Hulk was running behind K-mag when he crashed, and based on his pace before the first safety car, he was only slightly faster than the Haas driver.

    K-mag finished 7th in the end, 10 seconds behind Ocon who finished 6th and about 40 seconds behind Stroll.

    1. Azerbaijan 2017 shouldn’t be on this list.

      My take on this is that Azerbaijan shouldn’t be on the list because strictly nothing in that race made any sense whatsoever. ;-)

      1. Azerbijan shouldn’t be on the calander either ;-)

    2. @neutronstar I was thinking something similar, I don’t think the Renault had the pace to keep up with the Red Bull, Mercedes, and Williams.

      However, I would put last week’s Singapore round on. Again, it’s unlikely, but if he hadn’t retired from fourth, a good restart or a mistake from Bottas could have seen it happen.

      1. Team pitted him unnecessarily. He was already on podium and there was no way Bottas would have overtaken him.

  6. I think for a driver that has never had a toptop 3 team car, he has done well to get so close so many times. Mostly bad luck, but a few times he blew it all himself, it was painlful to watch him take out Hamilton for the lead, and I dont like Hamilton!

    1. Hulkenberg is a multiple German karting champion and from 2005 to 2009 won the German Formula BMW, A1 GP, European Formula 3 and GP2 championships… This guy was destined to be an F1 great.

      I think as a driver he did just about deliver on that promise, however he never really got a shot right car and I’m afraid it won’t happen anymore.

  7. Why you gotta make me cry @keithcollantine ;(

    Imo Singapore should be on the list instead of Baku. If he’d started on inters, and hadn’t had the issues (in fact, even with starting on wets he had a chance) he’d have definitely got on the podium. Whereas in Baku, he was running behind and slower than Stroll, who ended up coming 3rd, so I doubt even if he had finished, he’d have got a podium. But the rest of them… He should’ve had like 5 podiums if not for pure bad luck, and a few more if not for mistakes. Even Brazil 2012, which was more a mistake, Hamilton could’ve avoided his twitch if he wasn’t having to manoeuvre around the backmarkers… It seems like he’s destined to never get a podium, even though he’s definitely one of the more talented drivers in F1…

    “I’ve had to wait a long time and work really hard to get to this point to finally get this title off of Adrian and be the recorder holder, said the Renault driver, tongue firmly in cheek. “The Sutil era will be finished this weekend and the Hulkenberg era will start.”

    At least he has a good sense of humour though… Imagine if someone like Grosjean had the record…

    1. I personally feel for HULK

    2. As others have said too, Europe in 2012, where after Hamilton and Maldonado crashed he was running 3rd but got overtaken by Schumacher and Webber with a few laps to go. And he didn’t have KERS during this race, so if he did he’d have likely kept that position…

  8. Top teams have shyed away a bit due to his size, being called HULKenberg rather than say TINYberg may have subconsciously damaged his chances of being in a MercFerrariRBR but maybe he does lack something. Maybe its the 6th sense of nursing a car before it gets damaged or more tactical, its difficult to say. Whats easy to say is he is a fine driver and from what you can tell, a pretty decent bloke.

    1. Can’t help but think he would have been a fantastic choice for the second Mercedes car this year.

      1. Apparently they wanted him but he’d already signed for Renault… Bet he was kicking himself

        1. Missing a whole string of podium finishes with one stroke of the pen.

        2. @hugh11, are you sure that is correct? I’d seen different claims instead – that, since Mercedes knew that Hulkenberg was already under contract with Renault, and knowing that Renault would not release him from his contract, they basically wrote off being able to sign him pretty much immediately.

          1. Well I read that they would’ve wanted him if he hadn’t signed for Renault – I think they knew that they would never actually get him once he signed.

  9. European GP 2012 – Schumacher and Webber past him in the end of penultimate lap. Hulk was competing without KERS in this race.

    Azerbaijan 2016 was strange – car was the most competitive in the season and he was out after Q2. He jumped into Q3 all the time after that. On Sunday: Gutierrez in T1 and poor strategy…

  10. Korea in 2013 is my favourite of Hulkenberg’s drives – how he kept that ropey old Sauber ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes and Alonso’s Ferrari I have no idea. I am sure that sooner or later he will get that spot of luck he needs to get onto the podium. I wish Ferrari would take a chance on a year of Hulk rather than another year of Raikkonen making up the numbers…

    1. @casanova
      Mine too. The car was perfectly set up to get a good exit out of turn two, but he still had to do most of the race with no mistakes. I wish he had performances like this more often, he seems to be more mistake prone these days.

      If Renault take another good step forward next year they should pull themselves ahead of the Williams/Haas/Force India battle, maybe close in performance with McLaren. Would love to see Alonso and Hulk going at it in equal cars.

    2. I agree completely @casanova and I’m not particularly a Hulk fan but I would like to see Vettel ‘pushed’ by a team mate and I believe Hulk would have done that (in a nice way). I’m pretty sure that in equal cars, Hulk would be quicker than Raikkonen, but he would make more mistakes. In any event, I don’t think a Ferrari would want 2 Germans in the team.

  11. I’m still a bit annoyed at him for Brazil 2012. After an excellent qualifying, he was looking good for a solid podium if not the win but he threw it away with a really poor overtake. It wasn’t needed at that stage of the race as he had much more pace than the Mclarens at that stage. All he needed to do was keep his head and the overtake would have been possible at some stage. Not only did he ruin his own race but he also ended Hamilton’s race and his last one in a Mclaren which was a bit of a shame. I guess the reason he hasn’t been snapped up by a top team is he just isn’t at the top level. A really good mid-field driver but never going to be a race winner in F1.

    1. A really good mid-field driver but never going to be a race winner in F1.

      You could have said the same about Bottas last year.

      Hulkenberg has more than enough talent to snatch away a couple wins in a top team.

      1. At least Bottas had definitively shown already that he is an outstanding driver in his first season (2014).

        Unfortunately the team (or Smedley) started placating Massa after he got annihilated by Bottas and Bottas never really got a chance to shine again.

        1. @patrickl

          At least Bottas had definitively shown already that he is an outstanding driver in his first season (2014).

          Outstanding driver?

          Massa never got annihilated by Bottas in 2014, especially in terms of pure pace. Granted, he was slightly slower in qualifying, but “annihilated” is a strong word, especially when you consider Massa’s much larger number of retirements in the first half of the season (Hence the points difference). In the second half, he was right up there with Bottas, especially in races, even outperforming the latter in the final three of the season (The final two of which resulted in podiums for Massa).

          Point is, that Williams was damn fast…alternating between the 2nd and 3rd fastest throughout the season. Given that, while Bottas’ string of podiums was impressive, there was nothing spectacular or outstanding about it. The only spectacular moment in his entire career has been his qualy performance in Canada 2013 and ironically, he has been dismal in wet since then…

          1. @neutronstar Ehm yes he did. And yes indeed at the end of the season they already started favoring Massa over Bottas. Or at least they put no thought whatsoever in Bottas’ strategy and then it tended to come out completely wrong on every occasion.

  12. The team let him down by calling him to pit in singapore, he was on course to get to the podium (if his car could have held).

  13. F1 Fanatic readers have voted Hulkenberg as Driver of the Weekend on four occasions since his F1 debut. The first was for that remarkable drive at Interlagos five years ago.

    It was indeed remarkable, but I struggle to see how people could vote him as the best driver when he had a lapse which took out the race leader and cost him the chance of a win.

  14. You missed spa 2016, he lost a podium due to the Red flag caused by a Renault.

  15. Spa 2016 and Singapore 2017 were definitely missed podiums.
    Brazil 2012 was probably the closest he got to a podium.

  16. Renault is really making progress this year!
    I am very optimistic about a podium in 2018.
    Team Enstone has proven it before that they are capable of it!

  17. Michael Brown (@)
    22nd September 2017, 18:54

    Can’t believe Brazil 2012 was 5 seasons ago

    1. Michael Brown (@)
      22nd September 2017, 18:58

      I still remember Ben Edwards’ commentary at that moment: “Nico Hülkenberg takes the lead for Force India! What an achievement this is!”

      1. The RAI TV commentators were rather excited about it too.

  18. What if Palmer got a podium in Malaysia?

    I think Hulk would announce retirement !

  19. I feel 2012 brazil was his best chance to be on Podium.

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