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Nico Hulkenberg




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Nico Hulkenberg


Emmerich am Rhein, Germany
Emmerich am Rhein, Germany

Official website:


Nico Hulkenberg made his Kart debut in 1997 aged ten. Within five years he was German Junior Karting Champion and the following year (2003) he won the German Kart Championship.

It was in 2005 that Nico, now aged sixteen, switched to single-seaters, opting for the German Formula BMW series. It was a remarkable debut, the youngster in many ways emulating the achievements of the previous year's champion, Sebastian Vettel. From twenty races, Nico took eight poles, scoring nine wins.

However, his season was slightly overshadowed when he was stripped of victory in the Formula BMW World Final, following claims that he had brake-tested his rivals during a safety car period.

The following year he entered the highly-regarded German F3 Championship with Josef Kaufmann Racing, augmenting this with A1 Grand Prix. While he scored three race wins in the German F3 series - finishing fifth overall - he scored nine wins for Team Germany in A1 GP, winning the second (2006/2007) series for his country almost single-handed.

With Willi Weber, Michael Schumacher's long-time manager, being seat-holder for the German A1 team, and also managing Nico, it came as no surprise when the seven-time World Champion attended the prize-giving in London. Schumacher was generous in his praise of Nico, who many believe has the potential to emulate his fellow-German.

In 2007, Nico moved to the F3 Euroseries with ASM, the team with which Lewis Hamilton and Paul di Resta had previously won the title. There were some amazing performances, not least at the Norisring, when he started from eighteenth on the grid. There were also fine drives at Zandvoort and the Nurburgring.

However, there was silliness once again, this time at Magny Cours, when he was penalised, first for a misdemeanour in qualifying and then crashing into a rival (Filip Salaquarda) in the race.

Finishing third in the F3 Euroseries with four wins, Nico also won the Ultimate Masters of Formula 3 race at Zolder, beating team mate (and F3 Euroseries championship leader) Romain Grosjean, who subsequently found employment as test driver with Renault.

Late in 2007, Nico tested with the Williams F1 team at Jerez, and out-paced Kazuki Nakajima. With Renault said to be watching the youngster, the Grove outfit made its move and signed the German as test and reserve driver for 2008.

The new testing rules meant that Nico got limited time in the Williams in 2008, however, he enjoyed more outings than most other test drivers. In addition to the pre-season tests in Jerez, Valencia and Barcelona, he also drove the car at Paul Ricard during the season and in the post-season tests in Jerez and Barcelona.

In addition to his F1 activities, Nico was kept busy with the Formula 3 Euroseries, taking the title with 7 wins and 6 poles.

In January, having been confirmed as Williams test driver for a second successive season, Nico also made a dramatic debut in the GP2 Asia series with ART Grand Prix, taking pole position at his first attempt and finishing fourth in both races.

While only taking part in 2 of the 6 rounds that comprised the series, such was Nico's form the German finished sixth in the final overall standings.

In the main GP2 Series, Nico scored points in every single round except the season opener in Spain.

His first win came in Germany, his home race, where the youngster won both the Feature and Sprint events, the first driver to do the double on home soil since Giorgio Pantano at Monza in 2006.

Third place at Monza was enough for Nico to secure the 2009 GP2 title with one round still remaining. However, rather than sit back and take it easy, in Portugal Nico scored his fifth win of the season thereby taking his points tally to 100, 25 points clear of runner-up Vitaly Petrov.

Due to the F1 testing restrictions Nico had few outings during 2009 his running mainly limited to a few straight-line runs and two days at Jerez at the end of the season.

On November4 however, it came as no great surprise when Nico was officially confirmed as a Williams driver in the 2010 world championship, the German to be partnered by Brazilian veteran Rubens Barrichello.

Nico made his debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix, recovering from an early spin to finish in fourteenth. In Australia, he was involved in a first-lap incident with Kamui Kobayashi, after the Japanese driver's front wing failed and sent him into the barrier and rebounding into the path of the German.

In Malaysia, having made it to Q3 for the first time, qualifying fifth and out-qualifying Barrichello for the first time, Nico looked set to finish eleventh until Fernando Alonso blew his engine three laps from the end, thus promoting the German to tenth and into the points.

He was tenth again at Silverstone, while in Hungary he finished sixth, a career best. He also picked up points finishes in Italy, Singapore, and Korea. In the Japanese Grand Prix, Renault driver Vitaly Petrov misjudged a move at the start and cut across Nico's nose thereby taking them both out of the race.

It was at this time that reports began to emerge suggesting that Nico might lose his seat to GP2 champion Pastor Maldonado in 2011, the Venezuelan able to bring much needed cash to the Grove outfit.

At Interlagos, the penultimate race of the season, Nico took his first F1 pole position, beating Sebastian Vettel by 1.049s. It was Williams first pole position since the 2005 European Grand Prix.

To prove it was no fluke, the youngster completed a final lap having already secured pole, increasing the gap to the rest of the field. Unfortunately, next day, after losing the lead on the opening lap, he eventually finished the race in eighth place.

Days after the season finale in Abu Dhabi, Williams confirmed that Nico would not be with the team in 2011, his seat, as predicted, going to Maldonado.

While he was unable to secure a race seat for 2011, he was handed the role of test and reserve driver at Force India.

Courtesy of the deal struck with the team, Nico was one of the few test and reserve drivers to actually have any serious mileage, replacing Paul di Resta in all the Friday morning sessions apart from Monaco and Hungary, where he replaced Adrian Sutil.

In mid-December, Force India ended weeks of speculation when it confirmed that Nico would partner Paul di Resta in 2012, the Silverstone outfit having dropped Adrian Sutil in favour of his countryman.

Once again, 2012 saw Force India caught up in the war zone that is the midfield, the Silverstone-based outfit battling Sauber, Williams and Toro Rosso, though in all honesty much of fight was with its Swiss rivals. Once again the Indian team enjoyed a low key start to the season, gaining momentum as the year progressed. Indeed, from Belgium to Brazil the team enjoyed a run of nine races in which it scored points, a feat only managed (and bettered) by five other teams.

At its best on street circuits the VJM05 lost out as its rivals continued to bring on the updates. And there's the rub, for while Force India enjoyed a healthy run of points finishes in the second half of the season it could have been so much better however, as Technical Director Andy Green admitted following the summer shut down the team effectively gave up on development and instead switched focus to 2013. Just a bit more effort, a little more self belief and it is entirely possible that Force India could have beaten Sauber to sixth overall.

As expected, the driver pairing was strong, though for much of the year Nico clearly had the edge over his Scottish teammate. Indeed, it would be fair to say that Nico was one of the true stars of 2012, a season in which several shone brightly.

Out-qualifying di Resta 12-8, Nico gave a number of impressive performances, most notably Valencia and Spa, however, it was at Interlagos, a circuit he clearly enjoys, where he really came of age. Performing brilliantly in the wet, the German looked set for a shock win until a tangle with Lewis Hamilton, thereby giving the British media good cause for another German driver to despise.

Linked with both Ferrari and McLaren, it came as a surprise - to put it mildly when Nico opted to move to Sauber for 2013, though here at Pitpass we believed this to be a stepping stone before joining Alonso at Maranello in 2014. Whether the Swiss team would allow Nico to shine again in 2013 remained to be seen, though, if nothing else, we thought we could be sure of some fireworks as the German, along with di Resta and others, vied for the attention of the big guns. How wrong we were.

Like a number of its rivals, Sauber suffered from financial problems throughout 2013 indeed, at one stage some of the more excitable sections of the media were openly asking if the Swiss team would see out the season. Maybe we should have seen the writing on the wall when the team reverted to a livery similar to that used in the 90s when Sauber first entered F1, or when Nico failed to make the start in Melbourne, his car giving up on its way to the grid.

Whilst the German finished eighth in Malaysia, it was clear the C32 was nowhere near as competitive as its predecessor, a reality underlined by the fact that in the nine races between China and Belgium the team scored but three points.

In mid-July, the team announced a "partnership" with the Investment Cooperation International Fund, The State Fund of Development of North-West Russian Federation and the National Institute of Aviation Technologies (NIAT). The team also announced the recruitment of 17-year-old Russian racer Sergey Sirotkin, who, by an amazing coincidence, happened to be the son of the head of NIAT. Funny that.

Over the summer, as most pondered what the recruitment of Sirotkin would mean for the team's current drivers, particularly Nico, Sauber was forced to deny reports that the various deals had fallen through, insisting that everything was progressing well whilst also claiming that the deal with NIAT was technical as opposed to financial. F1 being what it is however, the rumours persisted.

Back on track, Nico celebrated that end of the summer break by taking fifth in Italy, having qualified third, ahead of the Ferraris. In Singapore both drivers were in the points, running 6th and 7th after pitting under the safety car, but as their tyres went away Nico could only manage 9th.

Frustrating Rosberg in Italy, Nico gave a typically impressive performance in Korea, fending off Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso to take 4th and thereby allowing Sauber to leapfrog Toro Rosso in the Constructors’ Championship. A week later Japan marked the team's first double points finish of the season with Nico finishing 6th after running most of the race in 4th.

The German scored a further 12 points in the final two rounds thereby taking Sauber to seventh in the standings, 20 points down on Force India, and claiming tenth in the Drivers' Championship, his best result to date.

Despite the team's assurances, and media speculation that the new weight rules might leave him side-lined in 2014, Nico opted to leave at season's end, the German returning to Force India. Pitpass has it on good authority that a deal with Ferrari was all but done, however the German and his management couldn't agree certain aspects of the contract. He may well come to rue the day.

With money, or lack of it, decreeing that Sauber was in no position to retain Nico, Lotus was keen, but, being in a similar financial situation, had to pass up on the German in favour of Pastor Maldonado and his PDVSA millions. Consequently, Nico traded places with Adrian Sutil and headed back to Force India.

In many ways, 2014 was Force India's best season to date, scoring more points than ever before and its second ever podium finish. And though the team scored points in all but two races, not for the first time it was a season of two halves. This time around however, the drop-off over the second half of the year wasn't the result of regulation changes.

With the team running the Mercedes power unit, without question the power unit of 2014, it's believed that much of the drop-off in performance was down to aero, an opinion enforced by the post-season team's announcement that it would use Toyota's Cologne windtunnel in 2015 and bey

Though Nico scored 37 more points than his teammate, it was Perez who looked the more convincing. Indeed, for much of the season the German was a shadow of the man who had supposedly walked away from a Ferrari drive a year earlier and had also been linked with McLaren.

Much like his team, Nico's was a season of two halves; in the latter stages never looking close to recapturing the form of the opening seven events. In fact this is the opposite of what we have come to expect from Nico, who in the past has started the season slowly and then built a head of steam.

With no perceivable interest from the big teams, despite a number of high profile vacancies, Nico was retained for 2015, even though the announcement, which came as early as October, caused barely a ripple.

Though he scored points in 15 of the 19 rounds the German never really impressed, and though retained for 2015 his decision to contest Le Mans with Porsche suggested the love affair with F1 was waning.

In recent years it has been 'traditional' for Force India to start the season well then gradually run out of steam. 2015 saw the complete opposite, the Silverstone outfit struggling at first and then coming into its own, going on to the best finish in its history.

Still struggling financially and yet to begin serious work in Toyota's windtunnel, the team began the season with what was essentially the 2014 car.

Indeed, the much anticipated unveil in Mexico City in January was for the "dynamic new livery" as opposed to anything technical, the VJM08 not appearing until the final (Barcelona) test, the team having used its 2014 contender at the first two tests.

Making its debut in the post-Austrian GP test, it was soon clear that the VJM08B was an entirely different animal, only failing to score points in one race (Hungary) following its introduction. However, whilst the B-spec car saw Perez come in to his own, it was Nico who appeared to have the upper hand in the early part of the season in the 'old' car.

A strong seventh in Melbourne was followed by a somewhat lean period, though he was unlucky in both Malaysia and Canada.

Then came his impressive - first time out - win at Le Mans, a victory that was the talk of the F1 paddock and had the likes of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button (understandably) looking on in envy. How sad therefore that due to 'scheduling issues', Nico will not be able to defend his crown in 2016.

In the latter stages of the season, whilst Perez took centre stage, Nico was largely disappointing. Strong outings in Japan and Brazil were compromised by poor performances in Singapore and Russia. That said, technical issues in Belgium, where he suffered a power loss on the grid and Austin, where his front wing failed, didn't exactly help.

Like Perez, Nico was retained for 2016, and after being out-shone by the Mexican in 2015 we wondered if the talented German might reverse the position.

While the German usually had the edge in qualifying, it was his Mexican teammate who usually had the better of it on Sunday and on those occasions where Nico did finish ahead it was usually when the Force India duo were somewhat lower down the pecking order.

Russia, the race before the team introduced its B-spec chassis, was pretty typical of the German's season. Clouted by Esteban Gutierrez at the start his race was over before it began. Indeed in Singapore and Austin it was early bath time as he suffered the overenthusiasm of rivals at the start.

Still to score his first F1 podium, things were looking good in Baku until Nico spun in Q2, thereby allowing his teammate through to Q3 and ultimately take his second podium of the year.

Monaco saw the German catch countryman Nico Rosberg on the hop, catching the Mercedes unawares on the final lap to take a fine sixth place, though Mercedes repaid the compliment in Brazil when Lewis Hamilton, with the aid of DRS, blasted by the Force India in the final stages to demote Nico to fourth, the German's race already compromised by a poor strategic call.

Austria was another race where Nico looked set to break his (podium) duck. Starting second, things were looking good before he slowly began to succumb to a technical issue. Mexico also saw a strong performance from the German who had out-qualified the Ferraris.

Overall, it wasn't a bad season for the German, who contributed 72 of his team's 173 points, but for the most part he was overshadowed by his teammate, again.

That said, once the deal with Renault for 2017 was done, the German concluded the season with a run of seventh places.

Having written-off its debut season due to the lateness in buying Lotus, Renault was expecting a significant step forward in 2017 and was looking to Hulkenberg to play a major role.

That after 116 Grands Prix, he had yet to climb on to the podium, sums up the quandary that is the German, yet nobody could doubt a driver who won Le Mans on his debut.

Though there was a marked improvement from Renault in its second year it was some time in coming, reliability and pace issues meaning that heading into the summer the French team trailed Haas and Toro Rosso.

While his performance in 2016 was hard to assess due to the lack of competitiveness from his car and teammate, the same could be said of 2017 also.

However, the general feeling is that Nico raised his game accordingly. Clearly frustrated by the car's reliability and lack of pace in the early stages of the season, when Renault provided its first serious upgrade the German responded by putting his car 6th on the grid, and 7th in the next two races. Finishing 6th at Silverstone was one of several races where Hulkenberg was best of the rest, which made one wonder what might have been had Renault given him a suitable package at the outset.

Late season reliability issues resulted in another string of DNFs, the German failing to score a single point between Spa and Brazil, but then responding with a magnificent 6th in Abu Dhabi to leapfrog Toro Rosso in the team standings.

The German had taken a huge gamble in leaving Force India and as he trailed Perez and Ocon in 2017 he must wondered whether it was worth it. However Nico never appeared down - only angry after clashing with Magnussen - and gave a number of performances that suggested what might be possible if his team could sort out its various issues.

With no threat from Palmer, Carlos Sainz' arrival, albeit on loan, signalled fun and games in 2018, however, in 2017, for the most part, Nico had it under control, though a needless mistake in Baku cost him a possible first trip to that elusive F1 podium. Also, putting aside Renault's issues, there was a clear lack of consistency from the German.

For as long as we can remember we have been saying that 'this year is make or break' for Nico, but in 2018 we really meant it, for with so many drivers out of contract at the end of the year, Renault, assuming it took a significant step forward, would be in a position to entice the likes of Ricciardo, therefore it was vital that Nico made it clear that he was worth retaining, perhaps even be lured by one of the bigger teams.

Fact is, like so many previous seasons, 2018 proved inconclusive, for while Nico finished 'best of the rest' - or Formula 1.5 champion, as Gene Haas would have it.

The German finished the season seventh overall with 69 points, albeit 101 points down on sixth-placed Ricciardo. However, with Nico only scoring points in ten races, not for the first time one is left wondering 'what might have been'.

Sixth place in the opening two races certainly looked promising, but then followed two successive races in which he was eliminated following an accident, including failing to complete the first lap in Spain. With two further DNFs due to technical issues and two further crashes - Belgium and Abu Dhabi, like Barcelona, ending before the first lap - the verdict remains very much out as far as Nico is concerned.

In Azerbaijan which virtually guarantees a shock result or two, Nico was running fifth when he hit the wall, while Sergio Perez, who was several places behind the German at the time, went on to finish third.

His needless mistake at Spa, which led to the first corner elimination of Alonso and Leclerc, earned him a grid penalty for Monza, while he 'argued' with the walls again in Suzuka before ending his season with a nightmare crash in Abu Dhabi which left fans and fellow drivers holding their breath.

Having regularly made it into Q3, come mid-season there was a period where he clearly struggled in qualifying. Nonetheless, over the course of the season he out-qualified teammate Sainz 13-8, with an average place of 10th on the grid.

Admittedly, the Renault struggled, but his results when he kept it on the black stuff showed that Nico was capable of far more, even if that only meant consolidating his seventh place in the overall standings.

At Austin and Mexico, as was the case in the opening two races, he brought his car home in a respectable sixth, but in many ways it was too little too late.

In 2019 Nico would be partnered by Ricciardo, a proven race winner and without doubt his toughest teammate yet. With Renault keen to take a significant step forward - if only to get one over on Red Bull and Honda - 2019 was likely to be a watershed season for the German.

Indeed, it was.

While it was understandable that the French team's senior officials and drivers were told not to make any comparisons to Honda, one had to wonder why the order was given "do not comment on the following at this point in time"...

"Do not let yourself be drawn on the number of points we want/expect to score," team members were instructed. "Do not state we are targeting podiums, the position we want to finish in the Constructors' Championship (eg. Fourth / third) or our aim in classification in the drivers' championship".

Other topics that were verboten, included: "Engine power in kW. Our expected / planned engine evolutions over the season (different specifications etc). Technical details on the chassis (eg. evolutions on suspension / performance gains) and Aero points we have gained or lost since 2018."

Clearly, Renault was expecting a tough season, and didn't want to say anything that might come back to haunt it at a later date.

It was right not to make any rash predictions, for by season end, having lost out to McLaren, the French outfit was under increasing pressure from Toro Rosso.

While the engine was an improvement on previous seasons - stop tittering at the back - the chassis was actually a step backwards, with reliability also an issue. The retirement of both cars within a lap of one another in Bahrain, both suffering the same MHU-K issue, was a clear sign that the French team still had some way to go.

As the French outfit focussed on reliability rather than pace it began to lose ground, and the numerous upgrades throughout the season barely helped.

Like Haas, the RS19 appeared to have the tiniest of operating windows, and was only truly competitive at low-downforce tracks like Montreal and Monza.

Race pace was usually better than single lap pace, but poor performance on Saturday afternoons meant the team was already at a disadvantage come Sunday.

While Nico got his season off to the best possible start by claiming 7th in Melbourne, in many ways that was pretty much as good as it got.

The German claimed another in 7th in Canada, the low downforce track one of the few that played to his car's advantage, while Monza saw him come home in 5th, albeit behind his teammate.

The performance in Italy was particularly interesting, for it came just days after Nico had learned that Esteban Ocon would join the team for 2020, thereby making him redundant.

While pundits pondered what other opportunities there might be for 'The Hulk', who was linked to a number of teams, most of them, like Williams, towards the rear of the grid, the fact is that over the course of two seasons he had been effectively seen off by Sainz and then Ricciardo. Indeed, talking of Sainz and Ricciardo, the media linked Nico with both Red Bull and Toro Rosso but Helmut Marko was quick to scotch talk of the company recruiting outside the 'family' for either of its teams.

In the wet and wild conditions in Germany, Nico finally appeared set to get the monkey off his back and claim his first F1 podium. However, it was not to be, the German, who usually excels in such conditions, one of several to end up in the barriers.

His search for a 2020 drive appeared to inspire the German, who, in a seven race run after learning that he was out at Renault, scored 20 points, the one race in that sequence where he failed to score being Japan where both drivers were disqualified after they were deemed to have benefitted from an illegal driver aid in terms of automated brake bias. Even then however, he had finished tenth to Ricciardo's sixth.

One by one the possible berths for 2020 were spoken for, and in Abu Dhabi Nico walked away from Renault and F1.

Ruling out a move to IndyCar or Formula E, outwardly at least, Nico didn't appear that disappointed to be leaving. Fact is however, that anyone who saw him in GP2, A1GP and the early days of his F1 career, believed that this was a potential champion. Alas, 7th in 2018, 9th in 2014 and 2016 and 10th in 2013 and 2015, was as good as it got.

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