Nico Hulkenberg, Haas, Yas Marina, 2023

2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #13: Nico Hulkenberg

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When Haas announced Mick Schumacher would not remain for a third season in 2023 and Nico Hulkenberg would take his place, it was a clear vote for experience over youth.

It was also a risky call for Guenther Steiner and his team to make, as Hulkenberg had spent the bulk of the three prior seasons on the sidelines and would naturally have to shake off that racing rust – at least in the early part of the year. They needed Hulkenberg to perform, not just to support their efforts to move further up the midfield, but validate their choice of him over Schumacher.

Although the 2023 season did not go the way either Hulkenberg or his new team had hoped, he at least proved that they were absolutely right to place their faith in him. While there were not many stand-out performances from him through the season, that was largely due to the car he had to drive throughout the year.

Haas suffered all season with a chronic tyre degradation over long runs – something that heavily limited both Hulkenberg and team mate Kevin Magnussen’s abilities to fight for points throughout the year. Points did come, of course. But only twice – in Australia and Austria.

That weekend in Melbourne was probably his most outstanding work of the season – and one where he might have even been within a sniff of that elusive first podium. He was quicker than Magnussen across the weekend and secured his second Q3 appearance in the opening three rounds in qualifying. Then in the race, Hulkenberg ran solidly in the top ten from the opening lap until the second red flag.

Restarting from ninth, he evaded the chaos that unfolded ahead of him to jump to fourth place when the race was red flagged for a third time, with a possible penalty for Carlos Sainz Jnr meaning a podium may have been about to fall in his lap. However, the race order was reset to the restart order, minus the two crashed Alpines, leaving him down in less exciting but still very strong seventh place.

Austria was another weekend where Hulkenberg showed what he can still be capable of when given the opportunity. Another Q3 appearance in Friday’s qualifying was followed by a brilliant fourth on the grid for the sprint race. After overtaking Sergio Perez in the opening laps of the wet sprint race, Hulkenberg managed to keep the Red Bull behind him for nine laps before Perez finally got by. Although he fell to sixth by the chequered flag, that was still three well-earned points. Sadly, Hulkenberg never got the chance to fight for more on Sunday as a power unit problem ended his grand prix after just 12 laps.

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Nico Hulkenberg, Haas, Melbourne, 2023
A podium finish narrowly eluded Hulkenberg in Melbourne
In the second half of the season, those rare opportunities to fight for top tens vanished as the competition picked up and Haas’s tyre wear problems started to increasingly hold them back. But despite the limitations of his car, Hulkenberg continued to out-perform Magnussen more often than not, beating his team mate to the chequered flag five times over the seven races following the summer break in which they were both classified.

There were some sub-par performances over the season, but they were largely concentrated over the early rounds of the year. His first race back in Bahrain, he received 15 seconds of time penalties for exceeding track limits five times over a race where he lacked the race pace of his team mate. His first experience of the Miami International Autodrome did not go well as he crashed in the opening practice session and again finished considerably behind Magnussen in the race. Then the next round in Monaco, a lap one divebomb on Logan Sargeant earned him a puncture and a penalty.

But for the majority of the season, Hulkenberg could be pleased with his driving, even if he could never be satisfied with his results. When the only direct competition he had was his team mate who he was regularly beating and often finishing ahead of drivers in cars that ended the season with far more points than Haas, he could at least head into the off-season knowing that he had made a decent showing of himself and had proven that he was still worthy of a place among the 20 elite drivers in the world.

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    Will Wood
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    15 comments on “2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #13: Nico Hulkenberg”

    1. Just for the sake of it, would Schumacher have been able to do the same? Hulkenberg was the better of the Haas drivers this year but not constantly and by huge margins – while Magnussen admitted he couldn’t get to grips with this years car. So it kind of bags the question, wouldn’t Schumacher have been able to do the same as Hulkenberg. For me Hulkenberg is ranked to high here and I would have placed him before Zhou but behind, Lawson, Ricciardo.

      1. Schumacher and Mazepin were both awful. No questions need to be asked here. You seems like you have never seen Hulkenberg in F1 before. He even beat Sainz as a teammate over a season

        1. There’s no comparison between the 2 drivers, don’t put them in the same category, schumacher was getting to grips to magnussen later on in the season, it’s just the only real chances of points were early on, and considering now magnussen had a bad season, I’m convinced schumacher would’ve beaten him, however in answer to pacific’s question, I still think hulkenberg would’ve come on top.

          1. No he wasn’t. When Magnussen got Pole Schumacher was dead last. Schumacher never impressed. He only got better of Magnussen in some of Magnussen’s off-days. The car got much worse this year. No comparison can be made here.

      2. As in schumacher could’ve beaten magnussen this year, but I don’t think to the same extent as hulk.

        1. Mick Schumacher is a Zhou level driver at best. He had the best F2 car in 2020. No, Schumacher beating Magnussen is a pipe dream

    2. He had a great season but in a slow car it’s always difficult to stand out. Still, I find his ranking way too low.

      Magnussen was ranked 12th here last season and Hülkenberg was this time clearly better than Magnussen but is still ranked only 13th. It could be argued that Magnussen was this time worse but I think he was okay and Hülkenberg was great.

      I have rated Hülkenberg highly but I was afraid he might not be competitive any more after his hiatus. He proved me wrong, he really did.

      1. But doesn’t the performance of other drivers result in changes in the rankings. The position each year being different won’t always mean the performance is that different.

        1. That is true but the central limit theorem should apply here. That mean the distribution of items, in this case driving performances, should be fairly stabile; the relative differences are comparable across seasons but absolute differences can change (i.e. more paydrivers -> bigger difference between the top and the bottom) and the overall quality can change (i.e. new innovations make everyone better). Even if we forget mathematics, I don’t see meaningful differences in overall standards between 2022 & 2023 – some drivers had a better season (see Tsunoda), some had a worse season (see Stroll), some drivers were replaced with better ones (Schumacher -> Hülkenberg), some with worse ones (Vettel retiring opening the door for de Vries). Therefore the performance of (let’s say) the 10th driver in 2022 should be comparable to the 10th driver in 2023 in relative terms.

          But the comparison of Magnussen’s ranking in 2022 to Hülkenberg’s in 2023 wasn’t important. The point was that it’s easier to shine in better cars and Hülkenberg’s impressive season doesn’t get enough recognition because Haas was so slow. As someone mentioned below, Ocon and Gasly weren’t very impressive this season but they had a faster car and hence more moments in the sun. Who notices if someone drags a Haas to a 12th place, which is far better than their usual performance?

          1. Yes, it’s a good point, some cars are so bad that an 11th or 12th place might be a better performance than 10th, which gives points, with an average car.

          2. The point was that it’s easier to shine in better cars and Hülkenberg’s impressive season doesn’t get enough recognition

            100% agree.

            The central limit theorem states that if you take sufficiently large samples from a population, the samples’ means will be normally distributed, even if the population isn’t normally distributed.

            In no way, shape or form does the CLT state that the measurement for the 13th observation in consecutive samples (a yearly performance rating is indeed a sample) should be similar.

            Hulkenberg 2023 can outperform Magnussen 2022 and still be ranked lower. On a quick count, about half the grid had a better season than 2022, and about a quarter had a similar season. It is credible to assume that mean performance has shifted.

            1. a yearly performance rating is indeed a sample

              This should be
              If a yearly performance rating is indeed a sample.

    3. Way too low. I don’t see how you can justify putting Bottas ahead of him. Also IMO Gasly and Ocon did more mistakes and maximize their machinery less than the Hulk had. And that’s after 3 years out of a full time drive. I would put him 10th in front of those three(Bottas I would put even lower, 14th behind Tsunoda who had had a better season overall)

      1. Bottas has had a huge amount of bad luck compared to Hulkenberg though. and on race day, their cars have both been pretty bad. I think it’s reasonable enough to vote either one ahead. Bottas however had certainly missed out on quite a few points due to issues out of his control.

      2. @thegianthogweed I disagree. Bottas had more bad luck than Hulkenberg, true, but not by such a huge amount. Definitely not enough, to overcome the 2 factors in the Hulks favor:
        1) he’s been stranded with the objectively worst car of 2023 in race trim that didn’t allow him to show anything in races. That’s like a whole season of bad luck
        2) The Hulk beat Magnussen more convincingly or at worst on par as convincingly in some aspects as Bottas beat Zhou. And with all the respect that I could muster for pay driver Zhou he’s not the same level of opposition. Through all the years watching Zhou in junior formulae and F1 there was never a thought in my mind that there’s some hidden spark there. A final turn of speed is sorely lacking even if he’s very competent for a pay driver.

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