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

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.

More on Nico H?‚??lkenberg

Nico H?‚??lkenberg’s career in pictures

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57 comments on Nico H?‚??lkenberg’s GP2 form points towards 2010 F1 debut for Williams

  1. Chris said on 6th August 2009, 16:25

    Too bad if he gets stuck with the Williams team. I thought Willi Weber was sharper than that. He looks like a real talent and deserves better.

    • Williams 4ever said on 6th August 2009, 20:30

      Wili Weber has zeroed in Williams for his young Client since last season. Remember in end 2008 season, Weber had stirred speculation of Nico Rosberg moving to McLaren and Hulkenberg getting his place at Williams.

  2. net.sticks said on 6th August 2009, 17:01

    I’ve seen this year’s GP2 races and the kid really impressed me. I think he has a future in Formula 1. He look a nice and cool guy. I only hope some german drivers will step out when he get’s in, otherwise, sooner than later, Formula 1 is no more a mundial event, but a German Championship… Give room to talent from other countries. Nothing againt Germany, only wanting to globalize the ‘Circus’ a little more!

  3. StrFerrari4Ever said on 6th August 2009, 22:14

    Hulkenberg will be in F1 next eyar no doubt the success his been achieving is astonishing and Williams if they are still competetive next season and decide to run their flywheel KERS system then that could be quite a nice combination. As for Kaz well probably cause of his Toyota connections his still at Williams but if he doesn’t improve Frank Williams might think Kaz nice guy but we want to get back to the front and bring in a experienced guy to help nurture Hulkenberg.

  4. Toby Bushby said on 7th August 2009, 0:51

    In a perfect world, there’d be two Nico’s driving for Williams next season. I’ve followed Hulkenberg’s career from A1, where he pretty much dominated. His GP2-Asia drives were fantastic (though he did get a bit lucky with competitors being penalised), and now GP2 proper. Wow. I firmly believe that Qualifying is the secret to modern F1. Ifd you can’t manage the tyres for a hot lap, your career is over. It seems this kid is a Quali whizz, plus he knows how to win. Williams would be silly not to slide him in and Kaz out for 2010.

    Oh, and he’d beat Rosberg too.

    • gabal said on 7th August 2009, 12:15

      I was even more impressed with his skill in the wet. ”Nicoberg” line-up next year would do well but I think I would prefer Rosberg and Kubica if possible.

  5. wasiF1 said on 7th August 2009, 2:44

    Yes, I saw him in A1 & GP2 he is awesome.

    • Terry Fabulous said on 7th August 2009, 9:48

      I agree mate.
      I watched him win two races at Eastern Creek for A!GP and it was like watching the Schu.

      The man can drive a car and will win F1 races.

      In fact, he will have a superior career then Nico Rosberg.

  6. Yeah he should be in F1 next year. I don’t care if it’s a German or not, he’s just a pheamnominal driver and he might very well be the next big thing. I also heard Williams possibly breaking with Toyota engines and moving towards renault because of the lower Budget of Toyota so there will be no reason to keep Nakajima there.

    Rosberg deserves a spot with McClaren btw. I think he’s an excellent and very talented driver, he also won the GP2 championship. Nakajima is not a bad driver at all but if you look at the difference between Rosberg, who performs consistently (apart from last weekends) and Nakajima.. it’s huge! I’d like to see him go toe to toe with Hamilton in a McClaren, I think he’ll do a lot better than Kovalainen and if Williams trades Rosberg for Kovalainen that would be a rather strange deal.

    Webber may have tested more but he was not as active in the car design and the setup because he was injured during the winter. Vettel is awesome, the guy won a race in a toro Rosso!! And since he got to red bull, Red Bull has started to win races as well. It’s like Alonso going to renault after performing well in a minardi, winning 2 world championships, after which he went to a not competative McClaren which he then made competative (Hamilton benefitted from that) again. Alonso and Vettel have that insight, they can really improve the set up of any given car (although Alonso is struggling now because of the problems within the renault team).

    Back to H√ľlkenberg. He has proven in all those series he’s been winning in that he also seems to possess that kind of insight. He made the ART car competative again, he was dominating the A1 series, finishing 35 points before nr. 2, winning saturday and sunay races in one weekend in Gp2 (a feat only accomplished by Nelsinho Piquet jr.) and winning that championship with one race to go, which no one before him (including Hamilton) has accomplished. I think we’re looking at a new future multiple world champion here.

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