Nico Hulkenberg, Racing Point, Silverstone, 2020

Hulkenberg handed precious chance to bag that elusive podium

2020 F1 season

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When Renault announced last year they would not extend Nico Hulkenberg’s contract to drive for them, a career which once promised so much seemed to have come to an unsatisfactory end.

Hulkenberg’s pedigree in the junior categories was enviable, and F1 success appeared to lie ahead. He succeeded Sebastian Vettel as champion of Germany’s competitive Formula BMW series, took Germany to the A1 Grand Prix title, and comfortably beat Edoardo Mortara and Jules Bianchi to the 2008 Formula Three Euroseries crown.

The crowning achievement of his meteoric rise through the lower leagues was a consummate GP2 (now Formula 2) title win as a rookie in 2009, just as Lewis Hamilton had done three years earlier. All signs appeared to point to F1 stardom.

Underlining his potential, Hulkenberg caused a sensation during his first Formula 1 season. Amid a five-way title fight involving Vettel, Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Mark Webber, the rookie took advantage of a damp qualifying session to plant his unfancied Williams-Cosworth on pole position.

By then, Williams had already decided to take Pastor Maldonado’s Bolivars for 2010, and Hulkenberg was shown the door. He spent 2011 on the bench, then returned to competitive action with Force India – the team he will drive for this weekend, now renamed Racing Point.

Hulkenberg “should’ve won” at Interlagos in 2012
On his return to Interlagos in 2012 it temporarily seemed as if the normal rules of car performance did not apply for Hulkenberg at this track. He led 30 laps – more than anyone else in the day’s tricky conditions. But a momentary misjudgement sent him into the side of Hamilton’s McLaren, and a podium chance was missed.

Otmar Szafnauer, who oversaw the team then as well as now, called that “the race where Hulkenberg should have won”. It proved the first example of what was to become a frustratingly familiar phenomenon. Time and again Hulkenberg would work himself into podium contention only to miss out.

Quite often this was due to some misfortune – a puncture (Interlagos 2016), power unit failure (Singapore 2017) or poor strategy (Monaco 2016). But more frequently it was due to an error on Hulkenberg’s past: the Baku crashes of 2016 and 2018, or that spin into the wall in his home race last year.

The latter made for an especially painful episode of Netflix’s Drive to Survive, which tied to Hulkenberg’s departure from the team, cemented his identity: No longer the potential heir to the Schumi mantle, nor the midfield talent the top teams kept overlooking, but the guy who kept throwing podiums away.

Now he may have the chance to put that right. Over the first three races of 2020 the Racing Point RP20 has looked like a potential podium contender in the right hands. Those hands might just – at long last – be Hulkenberg’s.

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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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  • 18 comments on “Hulkenberg handed precious chance to bag that elusive podium”

    1. What a redemption story if he manages to get a podium on one of the next two races.

    2. What a movie script it would be if he finally scores a podium. The machine is there, although Perez could not benefit from it until now.

      But whose seat will be Hulk warming up for 2021? Checo’s or Vettel’s? Deadline for the so called scape clause is today, right? It this the reason why Perez took his chances and flew home? Settling things down with sponsors?

      1. Jonathan Parkin
        31st July 2020, 12:15

        Or a win

    3. Adam (@rocketpanda)
      31st July 2020, 12:15

      Always liked Hulkenberg, though he never seemed to have much luck. No matter the impressive performances he put in with Sauber or Force India he just never seemed to grab the attention of the big teams – there was always someone slightly better – almost like he had a career of never quite being in the right place at the right time. I kinda identify with that. I was pretty sad to see him go, especially with the record for most races without a podium as if a driver out there was certainly good enough to have one it’d certainly be him.

      I hope, with that car, he’s got the chance to break that record and get the podium he always should have had. Personally I hope it leads to him staying around – he should have never left. It’s great to see the immense reaction to his return.

    4. So happy to see Hulk back in F1. Such a talented driver but also a very unlucky one.

    5. I also wish for this long-waited podium but being realistic, it is incredibly hard to be on pace with just two hours in the car, without any simulation work and likely without following a full training regime of an F1 driver.

    6. Chris Horton
      31st July 2020, 13:00

      Good luck Nico

    7. If he beats Stroll…

      1. Daddy Stroll will ensure Nico doesn’t threaten his son’s status in the team, expect him to be well behind all weekend.

    8. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      31st July 2020, 13:46

      I think it is incredibly unlikely that he will be getting a podium. He has got an unexpected call and he hasn’t been involved with anything to do with F1 since he left last year. Coming in at such late notice is not going to be easy and people thinking he’ll be getting a podium I think are expecting too much. He’s also missed quite a few opportunities of podiums in the past and I don’t think that given the late call and his lack of experience with this car will help his case at all. I can understand it will be a real challenge for him and even simply filling in the position and finishing in the points will be a good job, but are people really expecting him to come in and instantly do an amazing job?

      Di Resta was the official reserve driver at Williams in 2017 when he replaced Massa when he was feeling unwell. He obviously had experience with the car as he’d been with the team and was prepared for this possibility. Hulkenberg may be known to be better than Di Resta, but he’s not in the same situation as he isn’t a reserve driver and doesn’t have any experience with this car what so ever. Di resta qualified 8 tenths of a second behind Stroll. I’m not really sure why people are having such high expectations from Hulkenberg given he’s had less than 24 hours notice to something he hasn’t even been training for. Stroll beat Perez comfortably last time out and I can’t see Hulkenberg even being remotely close to Perez given the situation.

      I personally think that Gutierrez actually having a role as a reserve driver for this team and Mercedes would have been a better choice simply because he will have had more time to perpare over the last 24 hours as well as the fact that car is very similar to last years Mercedes which he was the test driver with.

      Don’t be thinking that I think Hulkenberg is worse than Gutierrez. Overall, he certainly isn’t, but given the circumstances, I think Gutierrez will have been a better choice given he is, well, a prepared reserve driver that was actually there at the time it was announced that Perez will not race!

      1. When Paul Di Resta raced for Williams in Hungary 2017, it was his first race for three and a half years, whereas Hulkenberg is returning after half a year. Di Resta also missed all three practice sessions, as Massa only withdrew before qualifying, but Hulkenberg will gain experience with the new car in these practice sessions.

        I agree that Hulkenberg will probably be behind Stroll in the race, but he will most likely be much closer than Di Resta was.

        1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
          31st July 2020, 15:08

          The difference is that Di resta was the reserve driver… He will have had the training to fit the circumstances if he was needed. Hulkenberg is already having pain in his neck due to a lack of F1 running since last year. Di Resta may have been out of f1 as a main driver for longer, but he was still in the garage keeping himself in shape. That is the big difference.

      2. Adam (@rocketpanda)
        31st July 2020, 13:59

        Does rather make a joke of being a reserve driver, doesn’t it? Like what’s the point of Gutierrez if they’d rather pick a driver that’s not driven in months over an official third driver that was already there? Perhaps Racing Point want to minimise their Mercedes connections given the protests? Perhaps they have no faith in Gutierrez.

        You’re right though, realistically a podium for Hulkenberg would be an absolute shock! Possible, but unlikely. More likely is he’ll bring back some decent points but if I was betting on a driver to get big points out of Hulkenberg or Gutierrez I know who I’d pick, and it seems Racing Point would agree.

      3. Imagine actually believing Gutierrez would do a better job than the Hulk

        1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
          31st July 2020, 15:14

          Well sorry, but in this situation, I think he will have done. His job is a test and reserve driver, therefore he is still very used to all the forces involved in these cars due to needing to be ready to be a reserve driver. Then when his time comes, they go for Hulkenberg who has had nothing to do with F1, no training or anything since the end of last year. Once Hulkenberg is back up to speed like he was at the end of last year, there is no question that he is better than Gutierrez, but I actually think Gutierrez will have been a better choice given the situation. Hulkenberg is already having pain in his neck which will almost certainly be related to lack of training which I don’t think Gutierrez will have had due to far more recent and frequent test runs.

          1. @thegianthogweed
            Gutierrez needs at least 300KM in a formula car to get his super license updated.. Gutierrez was out of the question from the start.
            Stoffel could do it.. but has a busy schedule.
            So with Hulk its by far the best option.

      4. Bruno Verrari
        31st July 2020, 16:49


    9. Never really rated Hulk.
      He has always been a solid midfielder in my eyes but not much more.

      I want him on that podium though. The guy has worked hard year after year and totally deserves that accolade.

      If this was one of my short stories he would kiss the trophy – lay it tenderly on the floor – and walk away from F1.

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