Hulkenberg’s missed win should have been “high point” for Force India

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Racing Point CEO Otmar Szafnauer says he still thinks of the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix as the race the team should have won in its previous identity as Force India.

The Force India name competed in Formula 1 between 2008 and 2018, after which it became Racing Point. The team led seven grands prix, but the 2012 race at Interlagos was one of its most competitive showings. Nico Hulkenberg headed the field for 30 laps but finished fifth after being penalised for colliding with Lewis Hamilton.

“If you look at Brazil, the race where Hulkenberg should have won, it would have been our high point” said Szafnauer, who joined Force India in 2009, in response to a question from RaceFans.

At one point, 20 laps into the race, Hulkenberg and Jenson Button were leading with the next-closest car 45 seconds adrift. But their lead was eradicated when the Safety Car was deployed due to debris on the track.

“He was, I don’t know, 40 seconds in the lead?” said Szafnauer. “I can’t remember who crashed to bring the Safety Car out and then that got everybody behind Hulkenberg again and we still had the fastest car on the track.”

Nico Hulkenberg, Jenson Button, Interlagos, 2012
Hulkenberg and Button had a huge lead at one stage
Hulkenberg led more laps than anyone else, but after losing the lead to Hamilton he tangled with the McLaren driver and was given a drive-through penalty.

“I think trying to overtake Lewis, the track was drying where the line was, he went off-line where it was a little bit more wet, then slid into him,” said Szafnauer. “I think we had a real chance of winning that race.”

Hulkenberg, who is without a seat for the 2020 F1 season, admitted the race was a missed opportunity for him. “That was the day,” he said. “Before the Safety Car I was leading by 50 seconds. It was a special race, a special day, a young Hulky. That was one special drive for the history books.”

The race was also Hulkenberg’s last start for Force India before he switched teams to join Sauber, a move he also feels was a mistake in retrospect.

“Not all moves were right or perfect,” said Hulkenberg. “That’s the difficult thing in Formula 1, you take a decision like six, eight months before you’re going to get there with things changing and it’s very difficult to predict where things will turn out.

“I always felt like with hindsight, it’s easy to say but that change probably to Sauber in ’13 was, while it was a very good second half of the season, I think all in all that move was maybe not the best for my career.” Hulkenberg returned to Force India after a single year at Sauber.

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25 comments on “Hulkenberg’s missed win should have been “high point” for Force India”

  1. Maybe not a missed ‘win’ but definitely a missed top-three finish.

    1. I recall him being nailed on for that win before the safety car, but maybe my memory isn’t what it once was. Regardless of whether he would have won or now, had the safety car not come out he would never have that hideous podium stat next to his name.

      1. @geemac Yes, you remember rightly. Before the Safety Car, Nico was under no pressure whatsoever and would likely have won the race. It was still possible afterwards, though the bunchng-up of the field made it far more difficult. That was certainly the race Nico should have broken his podium duck. Although he was under a lot of pressure at the time of the collision; I’ve seen far sillier reasons to not have a success.

  2. Interestingly, many are a bit critical of ‘lottery races’ like Germany this year.
    But if anything is unfair and a bit of a lottery then it is the SC. Firstly all drivers lose their hard-fought lead, and then there are drivers who benefit more from a luckily timed pit-stop.
    I admit that it has brought us some good racing afterwards due to the field being so close together and colder tyres.
    But that doesn’t make it fair; just ask Hulkenberg ;)

    1. That is literally why they introduced VSC. But if the track needs to be cleaned up, you either have to red flag it (and then send cars out the pits according to their gaps) or bunch em together in order to make it safe for the marshals. In the end, extra risk to a life is not a worthy price to pay for “fairness” in racing.

      1. I would never prioritise fairness over safety, @chrischill.
        VSC is still a lottery due to the pit stop advantage. I’d go for slow zones like in WEC.
        Red flag would be preferred to SC IMO. It’s safer and no free pit stop lottery.

        1. I’ve been complaining about this for a long time.
          There were other cases like this, I remember China 2010 for example, the use of Safety Car is completely unfair and is an arbitrary decision by a human, it will always be incoherent and subject to discussion. Is also an open invitation for crash-gate situations or similar like:
          Driver: “I’m losing power”
          Pits if the other driver is in position of taking advantage of a SC: “Ok, Stop the car”
          Pits if the other driver is not in position of taking advantage of a SC: “Ok, Bring the car in”

          Also in terms of Safety, joining the cars all together is not great. As we saw with Anthoine Hubert the risks of having the pack all together are much greater than leaving a car outside the track in the inside (like Bottas in Brazil).

          I think the best option would be to resume the race always with the same difference the cars had before the intervention (of any kind), this could be achieved by having the cars on the grid again with a start light for each timed for the difference they had for the leader.

          This “reset button” in the middle of an event is pretty ridiculous.

        2. @coldfly Red flag also had pit stop issues in this era because of the free tyre change that can be done under them. (That rule changed in 2015 after uproar due to this deciding a race result).

  3. “He was, I don’t know, 40 seconds in the lead?” said Szafnauer. “I can’t remember who crashed to bring the Safety Car out

    To answer Otmar’s query, it was actually for debris rather than a crash that brought out the Safety Car.

    1. @brickles Debris usually (though not always) means someone crashed into something. Vettel and Senna hit each other and Maldonado hit both a kerb and the wall, so we have three candidates even without considering off-camera “offs” during the light rain that preceded the Safety Car. (Of course, multiple cars may have contributed – it hadn’t been a good race for stuff getting cleared up quickly).

      1. @alianora-la-canta – If I recall, Nico Rosberg had a puncture a lap or two before the safety car was deployed. Can’t remember who he made contact with though.

        1. @brickles That would do it!

  4. That SC was brought just for Alonso to have a crack at the win.

    Poor Nico’s crash was used a pawn in the grand scheme of things

  5. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    6th January 2020, 14:44

    Can’t help but wonder if Hulkenberg had sealed a win or a podium finish that day then his career since then would have been very different to the one he had. Always thought he was an excellent driver and one of my favourites – just he seemed to have terrible luck.

    1. Honestly, he lost that podium for a mistake on his own, not bad luck.
      Same with the German GP this year.
      Some drivers are simply unable to take a chance, Hulk is definitely one of them.

      1. It’s one of those tiny mistakes that happens with such track conditions that could have wildly different outcomes, but in this instance it was a bad one for him and Hamilton.

  6. As Murray used to say “F1 is if spelt backwards…”

    1. Absolutely. Also, as Eddie Irvine used to say, “if my auntie had balls, she’d be my uncle”.

  7. It was Hulkenberg’s own mistakes that meant he didn’t win. Not the team’s fault. At Spa 2009, if they’d given Fisi a couple more laps of fuel at the first stop, he would have jumped Kimi – another missed opportunity. And Perez looked good for the win at Canada 2014 – and the team said afterwards they thought they were going to win – before he had brake issues then the incident with Massa. I miss the days when a team like Force India could actually scare the ‘big’ teams.

    1. 2014 isn’t your best example for that, since it was the absolute peak of Mercedes domination. It was only through the freak circumstance of both of their cars having an identical issue that Perez was ever in the running.

      1. @exediron Yes I know Mercedes were dominant, but behind it was much closer. Now the top 3 teams are so much further ahead. Force India, Williams got podiums on merit. Couldn’t happen now.

      2. @exediron Yet FIF1 managed to scare those big teams that were still present on track – with the 4th-smallest budget in F1 (out of a field of 12), it (and Williams, who at the time had the 6th-smallest budget) were ahead of Ferrari and Red Bull on merit.

  8. @ANON, thanks for the good natured and explanatory response to my “rose tinted” dig 2 days ago.

  9. For those who wanted a replay of that race:

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