He is arguably Formula One’s most underrated driver, but what you can’t take away from Nico Hulkenberg is the talent to survive in a highly competitive world of motorsport and the will to drive with a top team and perform at the highest possible level in Formula One.
As someone who started with karting at the age of 10 and has found his way to the pinnacle of motorsport, Hulkenberg made his debut in Formula One in 2010 for Williams and scored impressively, though halfway on the points compared to his teammate, F1 veteran Rubens Barrichello. One of his achievements that year was helping Williams secure its first pole in over 5 years.
The 27-year old German moved to Sahara Force India in 2011 as a test driver before finally securing a racing seat in the 2012 season. The following season, Hulkenberg moved to Sauber, driving impressively in not-so-impressive machinery before moving back to Force India for 2014. All said and done, Hulkenberg has struggled to gain the attention of the top teams despite his consistent performances and regular point finishes.
Hulkenberg, who is a former title winner at the A1 GP, Euro F3 and GP2 is yet to win a race or grab a podium finish in Formula One. His best performance by far has been a fourth place at the Belgian Grand Prix in 2012 for Force India and at the 2013 Korean GP driving for the Sauber Team.
In the 2015 season, the German started with a seventh place finish in Australia but struggled in the later 5 races, only to be back in points at the Canadian GP. Hulkenberg recently added another feather to his cap by winning the 24 hours of Le Mans, the most highly regarded endurance race in the world of motorsport at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France. The last time an active F1 driver won a race at Le Mans was way back in 1991 – this was British driver Johnny Herbert. Hulkenberg also helped team Porsche continue the winning streak it has been on since 1998.
Carrying on from his victory at Le Mans, he has managed to turn around his fortunes in F1 with 6th and 7th place finishes at Austria and Silverstone. But Hulkenberg finds himself in a “déjà vu” situation. Last season he almost secured a seat with Ferrari, but the Italian outfit went ahead and signed Finnish legend Kimi Raikkonen. This year the story is no different. He has been linked to a seat with Ferrari next to compatriot and four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari, with Raikkonen struggling to make a mark in the first-half of the 2015 season.
He is also rumoured to drive for Williams again in case the British team decides to drop experienced driver Felipe Massa, although this does not seem very likely for now.
One of the reasons that Hulkenberg hasn’t really managed to get a seat with the big teams is that he doesn’t have huge sponsorships to back him as compared to some of the other drivers. But a team like Ferrari can surely take the chance of giving a talented driver an opportunity to move up the grid.
But can the German get his much-needed break into a top-team in 2016? With the silly season around the corner, Nico’s fans will surely be hoping so, as he continues to impress in a mid-field team season after season. For Hulkenberg, the dream to become a World Champion lives on.