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News - General
Goodbye to the Incredible Nico Hülkenberg
10 Dec 2012
At the end of this season Sahara Force India bids farewell to Nico Hülkenberg as he moves elsewhere. Having spent last year as reserve driver, Nico made a big impact on his return to a race seat in 2012. He ultimately scored 63 points and claimed 11th place in the World Championship, and along with Paul Di Resta, he helped the team to secure seventh in the constructors’ table.
His season ended with a brilliant performance in Brazil, where he shone in the damp conditions and got into the lead, only to become involved in a collision with Lewis Hamilton.
Nico is far from the first F1 driver to take a year out from racing. Indeed among those who had to take one step back to take two forward are Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa and Mika Hakkinen, all of whom has spells as third drivers after they had already raced at the top level. However, they benefited from completing more mileage than Nico achieved in 2011, when his running was mostly confined to Friday mornings.
“It is the same situation, but back in the day testing was still allowed,” says Nico. “And they were driving so many kilometres, and so it was a bit of a different situation to what I did last year. But I’m still here; I survived last year not racing, I established myself and that’s a very positive thing!”
Nico did of course have knowledge on which to draw from his season of racing with Williams two years ago. But F1 moves on quickly, and even since then, the sport has changed.
“Obviously I had the whole F1 experience from 2010. But that was on different tyres, without DRS, and without KERS. Still, out of the bad situation of not racing the good news was that I was able to do 14 Friday mornings, to feel the car, get to grips with the new tyres and DRS and KERS etc. That was an important path to stay in there and keep the motivation and everything up.”
He admits that he had to feel his way back in at the start of 2012.
“Testing and driving on a normal day and having many opportunities is kind of difficult compared to a situation in qualifying where you run out of time, Q2 is about to finish, you’ve just got time for one more lap, and you’ve got to nail it. That is where it’s getting difficult, and where it’s getting more challenging...
“Having said that, qualifying in Australia was pretty good, I was in the top 10. And then racing again, how you get your rhythm on the race day, on the Sunday, being on the grid with all the cars and going into Turn One, it takes a bit of time getting adapted to it again after more than 12 months of not having that.”
Nico feels that he made a step forward once the series returned to Europe in May, and that coincided with an improvement in the car.
“Pretty much throughout the year we’ve been in a position where we could score points, so we have been competitive. From Europe onwards, it went better again, and we were able to gain some more performance.”
The key to the team’s season was a car that was consistently competitive and able to challenge for a place in Q3 and points at nearly every race. Nico himself found something extra in the latter part of the season.
“It couldn’t have been better. I think after the summer break I came back strong again, processing everything I’d learned up to that point, stepping up my performance again and just getting more confidence and more comfortable in the car. Overall I’m very happy with what we’ve done in the second half of the season and it’s been really good.”
There’s no question that the Brazilian race was a high point and while he was obviously disappointed to have been involved in contact with Hamilton and to finish only fifth, he made his mark by getting into the lead.
“In Brazil I had my first leading kilometres, which was very nice, even though at the end we couldn’t quite get on the podium. Obviously there’s disappointment there.”
So what were the other highs and lows of a spectacular season?
“On paper Spa is the most successful race, but for me Korea and Japan stand out, and Valencia was also a very successful weekend and a very good race. There was more than just one highlight, I think.
“Monza was a technical failure in qualifying, so starting from the back there was always going to be difficult. In qualifying we looked strong, but for some reason on Sunday we couldn’t replicate that, even Paul who started further up in the top 10 didn’t quite make the job we were expecting.
“For me Bahrain was more a disappointment and a low point, because qualifying wasn’t great, I had a clutch issue at the start, and then was at the back of the field driving my race but not really getting anywhere.”
Overall it was a very positive season for Nico and he leaves Sahara Force India with good memories of his spell here.
“We have been quite competitive this year. We were seventh in the constructors’, but with the competitiveness of this year, with Williams stepping it up and having a race win, and Sauber stepping it up having four podiums, it’s been very difficult. It’s been the most successful year for us as well – we never had so many points, so I think we had a good year and we can be proud of what we achieved.”