Nico H???lkenberg’s GP2 form points towards 2010 F1 debut for Williams

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

H???lkenberg was first to test Williams' 2009 F1 car

The last rookie looking for his F1 break I wrote about found himself making his Grand Prix debut 17 days after I wrote about him.

But on his form in GP2 Nico H???lkenberg doesn’t need my blessing to make the grade. He’s looking ever more likely to snap up a Williams drive for 2010.

GP2 has excelled as a proving ground for upcoming F1 talent. If anything it has been too successful, and now its ranks are swelled with drivers in their third or fourth seasons, still hoping to grab the attention of F1 bosses.

Last year’s champion was Giorgio Pantano who amassed over 100 starts on this sub-F1 tier (including F3000) and few were surprised when he failed to land an F1 drive.

But this year things are looking very different. Williams test driver Nico H???lkenberg has taken over the championship lead in his first GP2 season and is showing the kind of form last seen when another rookie – Lewis Hamilton – won the title three years ago.

H???lkenberg has a strong CV having won the 2006-2007 A1 Grand Prix championship for Germany. He followed that up with an emphatic victory in the Formula Three Euroseries last year.

In GP2 he has the benefit of driving for top team ART. But this is a championship where all drivers have identical cars, and ART hasn’t won the title since Hamilton’s days.

H???lkenberg impressed with a brief appearance for the team in the GP2 Asia series last winter. He finished sixth overall in the championship despite only starting four of the 11 rounds, and set pole position in both his qualifying sessions. He won his third race at Qatar, a masterful drive in which he amassed a 45 second lead before his final pit stop on a day when low grip conditions flummoxed his rivals.

He had a rough start to the main series in Barcelona, being taken out of one race by a rival. But he’s only failed to score points on one occasions since then, and now leads the championship by 12 points from Romain Grosjean. With Grosjean expected to take Nelson Piquet Jnr’s place at Renault, H???lkenberg’s title bid is looking ever more promising.

His achievement is all the more impressive when you consider the amount of experience his rivals have, including team mate Pastor Maldonado:

Position Name Points Career GP2 starts
1 Nico H???lkenberg 57 12
2 Romain Grosjean 45 32
3 Vitaly Petrov 41 61
4 Lucas di Grassi 40 66
5 Pastor Maldonado 31 44

H???lkenberg credits his recent successes – including three consecutive wins, two at Hockenheim and one at the Hungaroring – to a breakthrough on car setup which has allowed him to get more from his tyres.

He has been just as impressive on-track, largely steering clear of the inevitable clashes and penalties that go with the territory (Grosjean should take note).

H???lkenberg’s GP2 form is just one reason why he looks increasingly likely to bag a place on the F1 grid sometime soon. He’s managed by Willi Weber, who masterminded the careers of the Schumacher brothers.

And he’s already got a foot in the door with Williams. Testing mileage is hard to come by these days and H???lkenberg is one of few drivers other than active F1 racers to have sampled a 2009-spec.

He drove the Williams FW31 before regular drivers Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima did. Both of them have been tipped to leave the team at the end of 2009 – Rosberg potentially heading to McLaren and Nakajima not having done an awful lot to merit a third season – which could leave a vacancy for H???lkenberg:

He seems to be unstoppable – he’s in our plans for the long-term future.
Frank Williams

Frank Williams’ ‘long-term’ remark seems to suggest a debut next year might not be in the works just yet. But what would be the value in holding off H???lkenberg’s debut for another year? Particularly with testing opportunities for third drivers so limited at the moment.

Lewis Hamilton’s contract with McLaren meant his F1 debut in 2007 was assured by his victory in the 2006 GP2 championship. Does Weber have a similar arrangement in place for H???lkenberg at Williams?

With Michael Schumacher making his return, F1 will have six German drivers on the grid at Valencia. Don’t bet against H???lkenberg being the next one.

Do you think Nico H???lkenberg is ready for F1? Have your say in the comments.

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