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News - British GP
Nico Hülkenberg: “It was a totally strange weekend”
11 Jul 2012
The British Grand Prix is always a highlight of the year for the Sahara Force India team, and Nico Hülkenberg came close to bringing home a useful helping of points.
Unfortunately his ninth place slipped away in the closing laps as his strategy played out, but nevertheless there were some bright spots during the weekend, including Nico’s pace when the track was wet.
Nico didn’t drive at all in FP1, when the car was in the hands of Jules Bianchi. That meant he had a lot of catching up to do in FP2. It wasn’t easy to adjust to the wet conditions, which was emphasised by Bruno Senna – who had also missed FP1 – crashing out.
Nevertheless Nico was an encouraging ninth in that session, and he repeated that performance in the dry FP3 session on Saturday morning, suggesting that whatever the weather, a spot in Q3 was on the cards.
The bad news was he picked up a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, so he went into qualifying knowing that his position would be compromised.
Heavy rain returned and made life difficult for everyone, but it was soon clear that Nico was enjoying the conditions. He was second in Q1, beaten only by World Champion Sebastian Vettel, and then was also second in the interrupted Q2 session, behind Lewis Hamilton.
He wasn’t able to follow up on that in the crucial Q3 session as the track dried, but ninth was still a respectable outcome – except of course it became 14th after his penalty was taken into account.
Nico’s choice of higher downforce for the wet had certainly paid off: “I think our full wet pace looked quite strong, and I went for a more aggressive set-up in terms of downforce for more rain because we knew I’d get the five place grid penalty anyway, so we chose to take a bit more risk and be more aggressive. Obviously that fitted well with qualifying in the wet.”
Nico opted to start on the hard tyres, along with the likes of pole man Fernando Alonso and Hamilton in eighth. He had a good start and a good first lap and at the end of it was up to 11th. Unfortunately one of the drivers he passed was team mate Paul Di Resta, who suffered a puncture after a touch from another car.
“I got a really good start off the line. I don’t know what happened with Paul. I didn’t see the contact with Grosjean, he just slipped away, and I thought that he had a puncture at that moment.”
Nico stopped for a second set of hard tyres on lap 16 and went to softs on lap 35, leaving himself with a 17-lap stint to the chequered flag. At that stage he was in a solid ninth place and of those ahead only Alonso was on a similar strategy.
It wasn’t easy to keep up a good pace on the softs, as everyone else had discovered, Nico did his best, but right at the end he was passed by both Bruno Senna and Jenson Button, which dropped him out of the points, before Kamui Kobayashi demoted him a further spot.
“It was a difficult race for me with all these cars behind pushing me on and just defending, really. It was a difficult race and especially in the last stint Bruno was pushing me. Unfortunately on the second last lap my rear tyres locked up and he got really close.
“I had some problems then to defend and from that point on it went away from me, it was the key moment. It was a shame to lose ninth place and two points. If I would have brought it home it would have felt like a win, because it was quite a tough race.”
Meanwhile up front Alonso – who only had to do 15 laps on his softs – lost the lead to Mark Webber. But Nico has no regrets about his strategy: “I think my graining and degradation wasn’t as bad as Fernando’s and I think he was even slower at some point. From my point of view 17 laps in the final stint on the soft was OK – as far as I’m concerned I think my strategy was perfectly fine.”
Nevertheless it was painful to lose points so close to the flag.
“It’s disappointing and frustrating. It’s a shame really, because up to then I drove really well. It was a totally strange weekend, with the Friday – not running in P1 and waiting one hour in P2 – and then having such a big wait in qualifying. The weekend felt to me like it never really kicked off, really, because it was always interrupted with the rain. It felt strange, but that’s the way it is sometimes.”
Nico was happy with his high downforce set-up even in the dry, although the early retirement meant that the team was unable to make a direct comparison with Paul’s lower downforce dry set-up.
“I’m not sure it was such a big penalty, which is quite surprising. I think we can learn from that. It would have been a good comparison and a good data point as well.”
Nico’s attention now turns to his home race, the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, a track nobody has visited for two years.