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Why Hulkenberg's name always crops up during Silly Season

Why Hulkenberg's name always crops up during Silly Season

10-11-2022 12:32 Last update: 14:41


Nico Hulkenberg seems to have a good chance of returning to Formula 1 at Haas. Although the German is a familiar name to most fans, GPblog dives into his past once more to see why people have such high hopes for him.

Hulkenberg is mentioned

It is not for nothing that Hulkenberg's name always crops up in Silly Season. Hulkenberg was arguably one of the greatest talents of his generation, but somehow he just couldn't quite deliver on that promise in Formula 1. Indeed, the omens were great.

In karting, Hulkenberg won several German championships before making the move to racing cars. In 2005, he made his debut in Formula BMW ADAC. At the age of 18, Hulkenberg managed to win the competitive German championship straight away. The Hulk won eight races and beat Sebastien Buemi in the battle for the title.

Hulkenberg put himself on the map and after a gap year in 2006, he shone at the A1 Grand Prix in 2006-2007. On behalf of Team Germany, he won nine races in that championship and took the title again. It earned him a move to the Formula 3 Euro Series, where he finished third in his first season.

The chance at Williams

He got the biggest chance that year at Williams. His manager Willi Weber arranged a test at the F1 team in Jerez. During that test, Hulkenberg was faster than Kazuki Nakajima, the team's regular driver. The performance caught the eye of Frank Williams' team and so Hulkenberg got a contract as a test driver for 2008.

In 2008, he lived up to his status as a talent by winning the Formula 3 Euro Series, after which he still had to wait for a move to F1. Williams didn't dare and so Hulkenberg made the move to GP2. In the class now known as Formula 2, the German won the title in his first season.

That title eventually proves to be enough for Williams' confidence. In 2010, he got the seat next to Rubens Barrichello. The experienced Brazilian came over from BrawnGP. Hulkenberg struggled against his experienced teammate but showed his sheer talent in Brazil. There, he humiliated the competition by driving a second faster than anyone else in qualifying in the rain. In the race, however, it was dry and he dropped back to eighth place.

That unique performance proves not enough to keep his seat in F1. Williams needed more money and opted for Pastor Maldonado in 2011. Hulkenberg got a chance at Force India as a reserve driver, behind Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta. After a few free practice sessions, the team were impressed by the German and changed to Hulkenberg from Sutil in 2012.

Consistency factor in F1

In the years that follow, Hulkenberg demonstrated that he is a consistent driver. In 2012, he beat Di Resta in his first season and an unsuccessful switch to Sauber also showed how good Hulkenberg is. When he returned to Force India in 2014, he was paired with another talent: Sergio Perez. Together they drove for Vijay Mallya's team for three seasons.

In 2017, Hulkenberg got the chance to make the switch to a factory team. Renault were back in F1 for a year as a factory team and wanted Hulkenberg as the new figurehead. At the hand of The Hulk, the team climbed from ninth position before his arrival in 2016, to fourth in 2018.

2019 then marks a turning point in Hulkenberg's career. The German, who has managed to beat almost every opponent until then, gets a driver next to him in Daniel Ricciardo who seems to have more talent. When Ricciardo sets a faster lap time, Hulkenberg sounded puzzled over the team radio: 'How does he do that?' It means the end of Hulkenberg at Renault, where they favour Frenchman Esteban Ocon.

While one year out need not immediately mean the end of an F1 career, the German's career will also be looked back on more often in 2019. Although he has only been in action for middle teams in F1, he has been blamed for never-ending up on the podium. Opportunities were there, but where teammates like Perez managed to peak at the right time, things often went wrong for Hulkenberg at those moments.

The Brazilian Grand Prix in 2012 and the 2019 German Grand Prix, for instance, are cited as great opportunities where Hulkenberg himself blew it. Still, the fact remains that he can perform very consistently over an entire season and would be an asset to many a team.

Still, Hulkenberg did show that he is a winner. In the junior classes, he won the Formula BMW ADAC, the Formula 3 Euro Series and the GP2 championship. All titles many a talent will dream of. He also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2015 in between. So Hulkenberg can win, but not yet in F1.

Reserve at Racing Point/Aston Martin

By the end of 2019, no teams believe that peak will ever come again in F1, so Hulkenberg has to make do with a reserve role at Racing Point. He did so well, as in his second race for the team as a substitute for Perez, Hulkenberg beats Lance Stroll in qualifying for the second Grand Prix at Silverstone that year. In the race, he finished seventh and scored points. He also picks up points at the Eifel Grand Prix later that year with an eighth place when he replaced Stroll.

Hulkenberg's performances put him in the picture as Red Bull Racing searched for a teammate for Max Verstappen. Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon were deemed too light and Red Bull is looking for more experience. However, after his victory in Sakhir, Perez is preferred and Hulkenberg has to make do with a reserve role again.

In 2021, Hulkenberg will not be in action as a reserve, but he will remain involved in F1 as a reserve for the team that now goes through life as Aston Martin. In 2022, that still yields two more races, when Sebastian Vettel becomes infected with COVID-19. This time his incursion does not yield any points, but the fact that he beat Stroll without preparation in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix once again shows the German's qualities.

For the seat at Haas, it seems to be between Schumacher and Hulkenberg for 2023. Given The Hulk's CV, you can understand why he is in the picture at Haas. The American team needs consistency to score points and finish higher in the rankings. Consistency Hulkenberg can certainly offer, although the question is whether he still has the same pace after three years without a permanent seat in the sport.

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