F1 2018: Is this a new and improved Nico Hulkenberg that we're Witnessing?
If you travel toward North-Western Germany, you will be struck by this everydayness of a town known as Emmerich em Rhein. Nothing fancy, nothing plum, Emmerich em Rhein is a happy-go-lucky town. Restaurants and bars notwithstanding, there's nothing magnificent that would make tourists feel besotted as with other fancy destinations such as Berlin or Munich.
You are met with the quaintness of a town that has no more than 30,000 people.
But, what Emmerich em Rhein does have, in fact, is a harbour and a kay. The harbour is where hundreds of boats, luxury cruisers, sailing boats and, powerboats are comfortably docked, knowing well that they'll be safe and taken care of well.
While there's nothing showy about the harbour, it's the safety of the boats docked there that counts.
So it's only fitting that someone like Nico Hulkenberg hails from Emmerich am Rhein, the city of the famous harbour. For Renault, he is the harbour of faith. In him, the hopes and expectations of a vastly improving team are parked.
If you were to explore some of his recent performances, you'd find just why there's so much riding on "The Hulk".
In a sport where speed matters just as much as tenacity, there's hardly a surprise that the topmost drivers matter the most. For the fate of the competition changes within a split-second. The Top honours rest with the fastest. Those who thump their fists, celebrating the out-pacing of opponents become the cynosure of everyone's eyes.
Therefore, very little is reserved for the backmarkers.
For a scathing critic, the backmarker is a term that may only tantamount to being blithe on the natural order of the competition.
But Hulkenberg - not your fastest man on the grid, not a regular backmarker either- weighs in somewhere in the middle.
For driving a car that's neither the quickest on the grid nor hapless, Hulkenberg's been roughing it out in a car that pundits and the fraternity are singling out as a 'vastly improved' machine in F1.
The Renault doesn't have the imperious pace of a Mercedes and Ferrari. It lags behind the Red Bull. But it's being piloted to some useful results by arguably one of the more talented names on the grid in Nico Hulkenberg.
Having contested in 8 Grands Prix so far, Hulkenberg sits comfortably on Seventh on the Driver's standings.
Would you mark this as abysmal?
Implicit in the journey of the Renault F1 machine has been a season of consistencies, first coming to light upon the completion of the battle for 2016 Constructor's standings.
From gathering a lowly ninth in 2016, the Enstone-based outfit would jump to sixth in 2017. From there on, the team has only experienced an upward trajectory under the main man, Cyril Abiteboul and if there's a force that the managing director constantly falls back on, then it's Nico Hulkenberg.
Few drivers, realistically speaking, would've experienced such a surge in form and ability to garner constant points in their last two seasons as Nico Hulkenberg.
Hulkenberg has gathered some impressive numbers to justify his serious talent.
In 2016, a season where, in Hulk's own words, "The idea was to build a brand and see where the car would lead us", amid tons of technical glitches, he would gather 72 points.
In there would be a best-place finish of P4 at Spa-Francorchamps in the Belgian Grand Prix along with a slew of P7 finishes, gathered at Australia, Britain, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, and Abu Dhabi.
To his chagrin, Hulk would face constant mechanical failures in the car, coupled with some average driving to endure 5 DNFs.
But, if you were to really understand just how well has the German coped up in a vastly-improving Renault machinery, you'd follow his 2017 results, comparing those with 2018, thus far.
Cut to 2017, Hulkenberg would gather a best-placed finish, a rather sedate P6. This would again feature Spa-Francorchamps. Britain, Spain and, Abu Dhabi.
When compared to his 5 DNF's in the previous season, he'd endure a more painful run- copping up 7 race retirements. This would include a familiar skirmish at Baku, involving, "I hit the wall" moment.
When compared to the 72 points he'd accumulated sweating it out in 2016, he'd only gather 43 in 2017.
In here lays the key to understanding Hulk's massively-improved run
Driving the black and yellow liveried RS 18, where this year's results stand, Hulkenberg's been driving home some rather bright sparks. championship.
At this point in time, if you really cared to explore the enigma of "The Hulk", you'd care to appreciate the force lying behind the many P7s and P6s he's gathered.
From the 8 Grands Prix that he's participated in, Hulkenberg already gathered 34 points. When you consider that from 20 races the previous year, he'd managed all but 43 points, you realise the impact the Renault wingman is having this season.
A few hours before, Hulkenberg drove around 53 laps, including a memorable mini-battle with Sebastian Vettel for ninth in the middle stages and eventually collected a P9. So far, of the 8 races, he's finished inside points on 6 occasions - a massive improvement when compared to both previous runs at this point in time.
However, if there's something that Nico would quite like to do is to eschew the one dubious record that he has against his name; that of not having clinched a single podium despite 143 race starts in his career.
It neither looks good on his report card nor appears to amplify his talent.
Arguably speaking, had Hulkenberg been in a Red Bull, he may have attempted to finish inside top 3. Lapping his teammate, Carlos Sainz Jr. well over a second in eventual results for a greater part this season, there's little doubt about Hulkenberg's race pace.
It's just that one solid podium finish that his sparkling talent deserves and is so desperately in search of.
But the Enstone outfit has finally produced a car that's lapping the likes of McLaren, Williams a lot quicker. It also looks solid to claim a spot perceptibly in pursuit of the Red Bull.
Can 2018 bring about that difference?
For starters, there's hardly a doubt about Hulk's innate potential. He's, after all, the incredible man responsible behind the sterling Le Mans win in that Porsche LMP1 in 2017. Just how many would've tipped "The Hulk" for such a formidable success?