2017 F1 driver rankings #9: Hulkenberg

2017 F1 season review

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Assessing how well Nico Hulkenberg drove in his first year at Renault is tricky for several reasons: The car was unreliable, its performance from track to track varied quite a lot and he had a poor team mate for most of the season.

Setting all that aside the overall impression is that Hulkenberg raised his game this year. This may have been less down to his change of teams and more to do with the fact Pirelli moved away from producing high-degradation tyres, something Hulkenberg seems to have been particularly sensitive to earlier in his career.

Nico Hulkenberg

Beat team mate in qualifying18/19
Beat team mate in race6/9
Races finished14/20
Laps spent ahead of team mate607/762
Qualifying margin-0.7

Whatever the cause, Hulkenberg assumed the role of Renault team leader from the off. The car’s race pace was not a match for its one-lap performance earlier in the year, and it took a few races for them to reverse the trend of finishing lower than they had started. Hulkenberg’s strong sixth place in Spain signified that progress was being made.

Hulkenberg made light work of Jolyon Palmer, occasionally aided by getting his hands on new Renault hardware sooner than his team mate. Even when Palmer was replaced by the much more competitive Carlos Sainz Jnr, Hulkenberg retained an enviable qualifying record.

Armed with a major aerodynamic upgrade at Silverstone, Hulkenberg netted the team’s best qualifying position of fifth. He took sixth in the race, running close enough to the leaders to benefit from Vettel’s late puncture. He was sixth again at Spa, where for the second time he had only drivers from the ‘big six’ teams ahead of him.

Technical failures potentially denied Hulkenberg several more points finishes. The most galling failure came in Singapore, where he had been in the hunt for that elusive podium until his car let him down. However he blew his other shot at the top three in Azerbaijan with a clumsy hit against the wall.

However car trouble was the chief reason why he went point-less from Belgium until Brazil. In the finale, needing a decent result to lift Renault past Toro Rosso in the constructors’ championship, Hulkenberg delivered. He took the car into Q3 and kept the Force Indias behind for another sixth place.

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Over to you

Hulkenberg has shown once again impressive performance this year and really waiting to see the fight with his new teammate next year in a probably much improved Renault.

What’s your verdict on Nico Hulkenberg’s 2017 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than him? Have your say in the comments.

Add your views on the other drivers here:

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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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58 comments on “2017 F1 driver rankings #9: Hulkenberg”

  1. I had Hulkenburg ahead of Perez. I think he outdrove the potential of his car more often, albeit with the caveat that the potential of his car was harder to gauge with Palmer as his teammate. Even so he also out-drove Sainz. Other than that, this seems about right.

  2. I completely agree with this ranking. Even though I would have placed Sainz at 8th and Bottas at 9th.

    1. *Typo. Bottas at 10th

  3. I have no issue with his overall position but do think he should be behind Sainz. I don’t really think Hulkenberg did any better or any worse this season than he did in the past; it’s just Palmer was that bad. Sainz being immediately on his pace should be a concern for him, but I hope and believe that next year, when Renault hopefully will be very competitive, he’ll end his podiumless run. (Actually if I was a betting man I’d put Renault ahead of Red Bull next year, I think they’ll suprise and they’ve finally got 2 good drivers).

    1. Sainz wasn’t really on his pace, he only beat him in qualifying in USA because Hulkenberg didn’t do a Q2 run as he had engine penalties, and he was on average 0.3 ahead, and beat him in the race they both finished, and was well ahead in Mexico and Abu Dhabi before hitting problems. I expect the battle to be very close next year, between 2 of the better drivers outside the top 3 teams.

      1. He was on his pace, all throughout the practice sessions and qualifying at all 4 grands prix. Abu Dhabi, Sainz had an engine problem on his last lap, hence the gap there, which accounts for the 0.3. In the races they were even as well, but the waters were muddied by each driver having some issue at every weekend – it does look good for Sainz though.

        1. @tflb Sainz was behind Hulkenberg by 0.6 seconds in Abu Dhabi qualy and not 0.3, due to the engine “problem” he had. I found it rather interesting that neither Sainz nor Alan Permane mentioned that problem in the official post qualifying interviews or ever again, for that matter.

          He was on his pace, all throughout the practice sessions and qualifying at all 4 grands prix

          Sainz was 0.35 seconds off Hulk in Mexico qualy. The only race where we got to properly compare Hulk and Sainz was Brazil, every other time either of the two had a problem. If you’re counting the practice sessions in your comparisons, then I don’t see much point. Practice sessions are only good for judging a car’s potential performance over a weekend. Even Kvyat was very close to Sainz, and sometimes even faster than him in the practice sessions they participated in as teammates. A driver shows his true pace only in the qualy and the race.

          That being said, I agree that it would be nonsensical to judge either of the Renaults’ drivers performances relative to each other at the moment due to the issues they’ve both had and because Sainz was new to the team. Let’s see how 2018 pans out for them.

        2. @tflb Ah sorry, I misunderstood the meaning of the time delta you mentioned in your comment.

        3. @tflb This is what Sainz himself had to say after Abu Dhabi: “I have to say that from my side it was a bit disappointing in the end, particularly as we felt we had the pace in FP3 and Q1 to make it through to Q3. Unfortunately Q2 was a bit compromised by front tyre warm-up – I had a poor out lap and couldn’t put temperature in the tyres so the fastest lap was not optimum.”

    2. if I was a betting man I’d put Renault ahead of Red Bull next year

      With odds more than 15 times stronger/weaker (not sure which one) you might dip your toes in this.

    3. In my opinion, the difference between red bull and renault was far too big this year, so I expect next year renault could for example halve it, but not get past red bull.

  4. I think Hulkenberg’s 2018 rating will be more important than his 2017 ranking, given that in Sainz Renault have two drivers who will push each other to their best (sort of like Red Bull, Force India, etc.).

    @keithcollantine – it might be nice to add the driver’s 2016 ranking in the table of statistics, to see where they evolved this year vs. 2016.

  5. Ummm…. 9th? Lower than Perez? The guy who got completely rustled by his rookie team mate? Errr… No.

    1. @hugh11 You mean the guy who still fairly comfortably beat his not-completely-rookie teammate and was ‘best of the rest’ in the championship again. Errr…. yeah.

      1. After Spain, after Ocon got settled in, Ocon actually outscored Perez 68-66 for the rest of the season, and was often ahead. I think Perez’s season was poor, not bad, I ranked him 10th, but I don’t get why everyone seems to think it was amazing. Standings don’t account for everything, as seen with Verstappen.

        1. @hugh11 I don’t think Perez was amazing, not his best season, but he was still better than Ocon, and Hulkenberg. Also he was probably/possibly denied a win by Ocon’s clumsiness in Baku, which is reason enough to rank Ocon below him I think.

          1. Also he was probably/possibly denied a win by Ocon’s clumsiness in Baku

            You mean Ocon doing more or less the same to Pérez as Pérez had done to Ocon one corner before? So for me no reason to rank Pérez above Ocon.

            And Pérez deliberately squeezing Ocon twice almost into the barriers at Spa is enough reason for me to rank Pérez below Ocon given the closeness of these two.

          2. @demercer Perez didn’t really do anything to Ocon in Baku – Ocon just put him in the wall. In Spa, yes the second incident was not great on Perez’s part but the first was a racing incident, they were 3 abreast with Hulk, if Perez had gone left he would have hit Hulk. Damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.

          3. @tflb As I see it, Pérez “hit” Ocon twice in Baku before the corner where Ocon squeezed Pérez just a little too much. All racing incidents IMO.
            I can more or less agree at your assessment of the Spa incidents – although I would have preferred Pérez squeezing Hülkenberg instead of Ocon, his team mate, at the first incident.

          4. Massa was ahead of both Ocon and Perez when they crashed. I don’t see how he could win there.

        2. @hugh11
          After Spain, Pérez still finished ahead 6:6 times and outqualified Ocon 10:6 times. Standings still don’t account for everything if we arbitrarily omit some races (in what sense was the Monaco GP any different than Barcelona or Sochi?).

          I agree that Ocon was great and has shown great promis for the future, but for the time being, Pérez still had the edge. They were very evenly matched after the summer break, but Pérez was clearly better in the first half of the season. I see no reason for ranking Pérez lower than Ocon – yet.

          1. I absolutely agree with you, Ocon is a graet promise, but there is no one solid argument to put Ocon ahead of Perez. Ocon was taking a beating in the first half, then got very competitive the second, still lost in any single category. (qualy, fast laps, race, points).

        3. After Spain, after Ocon got settled in, Ocon actually outscored Perez 68-66 for the rest of the season,

          I hate analogies like this. It’s like saying the races after Hungary don’t count therefore Vettel is champion.

          The season is 20 races long, not 16. However long it may or may not have taken Ocon to settle is is totally irrelevant to the fact he was beaten by Perez. You could make the argument that Ocon had a better season because Perez was expected to beat him much more convincingly than he did but let’s not chose random starting points to decide which results count and which don’t. It’s how we ended up with the mythical 3 year long season where Button beat Hamilton.

          1. I see your point, but I do make an exception for the first few races that someone’s in a new team. Of course, in terms of looking at the whole season, it doesn’t matter, I just used it as an example to show that right now Ocon is as good as Perez, at the end of his first full season.

    2. Its all about trajectory. Ask a team if they’d take Ocon or Perez. Easy une.

      1. Ooh, I’ll have a choc ice please Tony ..😬

  6. Hulkenberg was stellar at Silverstone. Strong first season at Renault and starting to look a wise decision to move.

  7. While it’s only my opinion & totally unrelated to his performance, that black helmet of his is one of the coolest designs I’ve seen in motorsport.

  8. I’d say 9th doesn’t really do Hülkenberg’s performances justice, and that he’s widely underrated. I’m really not sure a direct comparison with Bottas would end too well for the Finn, for example. On the other hand, I think we’ve reached the most dense part of the grid, reaching from the spot behind the Big Four (Alonso, Hamilton, Verstappen, Vettel, in alphabetical order) into the second half of the grid, where only tiny nuances allow us to differentiate between the Bottas, Hülkenberg, Massa, Ocon, Pérez, Ricciardo, Sainz (who could be 5th, if only he stopped crashing …), arguably Grosjean (when he gets his act together), and possibly Vandoorne and Wehrlein. Seeing as all those drivers drove very different cars over the course of the season (with the exception of the Force India duo), I’d say the uncertainty interval is much larger than the estimated differences between most drivers in that list. Assigning a rank to a name doesn’t really do any of them justice.

  9. Although there’s no one to blame for this (given the tight nature of the midfield in F1), I find it interesting that Hulkenberg was ranked 9th in 2015, when he got fairly beaten by Perez, and is ranked 9th in 2017 as well, when he comprehensively out-performed his teammates overall, including the highly rated Sainz (regardless of his situation).

    Also, on a side note, Hulkenberg has been ranked 9th by F1Fanatic for 3 years in a row now. :)

    1. @neutronstar I didn’t realise that. Well at least I’m consistent!

  10. Hulkenberg has ended a lot of careers in F1 – Perez’s career was saved by the VJM08b, otherwise he’d probably be out of F1 too on account of being slow.

    Obviously since he’s faster than Perez and Ocon, he should be above them. Not sure if he’s faster than Hamilton but I’m pretty sure he can match Ricciardo, Verstappen, and Alonso in terms of pace.

    Probably the fastest driver ever in F1 to reach the age of 30 without driving a top car.

    1. I think Verstappen and Alonso is a bit of a stretch… But he’d certainly have been better than Bottas in the Mercedes, and could match Ricciardo especially in qualifying.

    2. @freelittlebirds 2 things – Perez ain’t slow, and how do you know Hulk is that good, when he’s consistently been overlooked by top teams? I think he’s found his level in the upper midfield. From what I’ve heard Ferrari for example don’t rate him, which is why they decided not to hire him.

      1. @tlfb I wasn’t saying Perez is slow, I was just pointing out the Hulkenberg is faster. Perez is very close, definitely within half a second of Hulkenberg.

        I don’t understand why he’s been overlooked by top teams. I don’t think teams care who drives if they are within 1/2 second of each other. My guess is that they believe they can find that time in the car. Of course, then reality sets in and they wonder like Ferrari why they are P2 or P3 in the championship.

        The equation in F1 is simple – you get the fastest and most reliable driver in the fastest and most reliable car and you sweep everything.

        As easy as it sounds, it’s so hard to even make the simple decision of hiring the fastest and most reliable driver as evidenced by Hulkenberg’s career. It’s a simple yes/no question but look at Williams – they don’t care about entire seconds and they are a mid-field team. Look at Ferrari.

        As I’ve said before , Mercedes might pass on Hulk to hire Jean Todt or Bernie Ecclestone as their next drivers and none of us should be surprised :-)

        1. Ferrari didn’t get Hulkenberg for 2014 because he was too tall and weighed too much for their liking, which would’ve meant shifting weight from the car that they didn’t want to.

          Apparently Mercedes wanted him for this year, where those issues aren’t as prominent, but of course he’d just signed for Renault so that wasn’t a possibility (sigh, he’s definitely better than Bottas…)

          1. @hugh11, are you sure about that claim of Mercedes wanting him? I thought that, because he’s already signed for Renault, they excluded him right from the beginning and he was never considered for the seat in the first place.

            I also thought that, with regards to Ferrari, Hulkenberg himself had said that, as soon as Raikkonen came on the market, Ferrari stopped talking to him and went after Kimi instead – implying that they were keener on Kimi than they were on Hulkenberg. The fact that Kimi is not that much lighter than Hulkenberg either makes me question the weight claim.

            Equally, McLaren also rejected an approach from Hulkenberg in the past (and implied that they thought he was a little overrated) at a time when they were running Button – a driver who was fractionally heavier than Hulkenberg was at the time and of similar height, so in that situation Hulkenberg might even have had a slight advantage over Button in that respect.

            @freelittlebirds, with regards to the comparison with Perez in 2015 and the comments about the VJM08B, in terms of race results where the two drivers both finished, Perez had beaten Hulkenberg slightly more often (4-3) before that car was introduced. Perez had also managed to finished more frequently in the points too (4 times to 3 for Hulkenberg) – so in some senses Hulkenberg was already behind Perez at the start of the year.

            It feels as if you’ve drawn a somewhat arbitrary line there simply because you want to say that Hulkenberg is the faster driver and therefore don’t want to admit results that suggest otherwise.

          2. @anon Hulkenberg is faster than Perez. I think their qualy stats of 35-24 in and race stats of 23-22 (when they both finished) in Hulk’s favor make it clear.

            Unfortunately, he had plenty of bad luck in both 2015 and 2016 in comparison to Perez and made plenty of mistakes too. I would say Perez was better than him those two years, but faster? No.

          3. “Apparently” @hugh11? This is F1F we don’t do apparently, we want leaked emails, dodgy videos and tapped phone calls as corroboration. There is a reason that the super consistent Hulk has not ever been signed by a major. Is it his size? Who knows but the only other consistent thing about the Hulk is his lack of top team appeal. They must see something we don’t. One day, maybe we’ll learn what it is..Until then, it’s all speculation.

    3. I don’t understand. Perez beat Hulkenberg in 2015 & 2016. Hulkenberg was nothing but overrated driver.

      1. Hulk beat perez in 2014 and we know why perez beat hulk in 2015 and 2016 although nico outqualified him

      2. Haha Hulk maybe many things but overrated? Never!🙄

  11. Kimi on main pictures on positions 9, 11 and 12.

  12. I’m predicting Verstappen will get second place, and Hamilton will get first place (ohbutofcoursemygoodsir). Vettel will come in third, most likely.

    1. I agree, because Vettel barely beat his teammate throughout the year and Max had the measure of Ricciardo all year long.

      1. Oh, you’re not directing your sarcasm towards me, good sir. Alas, it is not I who make the list.
        To be fair, I do think it’s a close call between Vettel and Hamilton’s season, and I wouldn’t hold it against Keith if he decided to put either one of them above the other (but not with one other driver in the middle, certainly not Verstappen – as much as I may like him). And I moan and whinge here in the comments about Hamilton favoritism but I don’t really really mean it :P
        BUUUUUUUT if my prediction holds true, ooooh you’re gonna hear me moan and whinge, oh yes you will!

        1. No, Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis.

          1. Well, I twirl my mustache at you in an apologetic matter.

      2. Don’t think the margin with which you beat your teammate matters: one teammate is ricciardo, another is raikkonen!

        1. I fear the sarcasm might have been lost on you. I may be misreading your comment though.

  13. I think Hulkenberg and Alonso are particularly hard to rate. Their teammates were difficult reference, Palmer weak and Vanderon a rookie. Their cars were also difficult to use for comparison.

    Hulkenberg could deserve better, but it’s just hard to tell.

    1. Thing is though, if Alonso had done exactly as well as Hulkenberg did if he was in the Renault, his season would be rated much higher, but because it’s not one of the drivers considered to be the best in the sport, Nico’s isn’t. Alonso would’ve probably done a bit better than Hulkenberg in reality, but I’m saying hypothetically if the season was exactly the same, same results, same everything, just Alonso driving.

      1. @hugh11 What I’m laughing about is Alonso and Palmer as teammates.

  14. Hulkenberg should be higher than Force India’s duo – their chassis & Mercedes engine were the best package in the midfield.

    1. Because they consistently pushed their package to the upper ends of the midpack.

      It really is and endless debate.

  15. It will be very interesting year at Renault, Sainz was immediately on the pace without one single lap of testing in the car.We will see when he does all the winter testing!!!

    1. What? Winter testing already? What time is it? I’ve been asleep. Have I missed something? 💤 💤

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