Nico H???lkenberg has arrived

Brazilian Grand PrixPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Nico H???lkenberg, Rubens Barrichello, Williams, Interlagos, 2010

There may be better ways for a rookie driver to make an impression in Formula 1 – but beating the championship contenders to pole position by a full second in the penultimate race of the season is hard to top.

Nico H???lkenberg came into F1 with a racing CV to die for – including GP2, Formula Three and A1 Grand Prix titles.

For those who were wondering when his potential was going to become apparent, that time has surely come.

The most common observation about H???lkenberg prior to this weekend was that he hadn’t delivered quite what was expected of him given his impressive rise through the junior formulae.

His scintillating performance in qualifying at Interlagos was an example of H???lkenberg’s touch in wet conditions – one that has served him well earlier in his career already.

It was in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series that H???lkenberg began to make a name for himself. Aged 19, he won his second race in the category at a wet Zandvoort in the Netherlands.

He won again when the rain fell at Malaysia, zipping off into an 11-second lead in the first five laps showing the same skilful touch for the conditions he used to take pole position yesterday.

H???lkenberg’s efforts yielded nine wins and a championship victory for Team Germany.

Managed by Willi Weber (formerly the man behind Michael Schumacher), he earned a place on crack squad ART’s roster of drivers, with which he won his F3 and GP2 titles.

In recent weeks rumours have surfaced that Williams are planning to replace H???lkenberg with GP2 champion Pastor Maldonado.

Maldonado certainly impressed in GP2 this year, his fourth season in the category, with six consecutive feature race wins. But when he and H???lkenberg were team mates last year H???lkenberg romped to the title in his rookie season while Maldonado amassed barely one-third of his team mate’s points total.

It’s been said before that F1 team can be too quick to give up on rookie drivers That’s even more true now, with testing restricted so tightly. H???lkenberg has started his F1 career with far less testing mileage under his belt than the likes of Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel did.

But he has gradually improved throughout his rookie season. In just his third F1 race he out-qualified Rubens Barrichello in a wet session at Sepang, taking fifth on the grid.

In the latter half of the season he’s usually been within range of Barrichello in qualifying. He impressed at Monza – those who poured scorn on him for his off-track excursions while running ahead of Mark Webber tended to overlook the fact that he out-qualified and out-raced his veteran team mate. Technical director Sam Michael called H???lkenberg’s drive “his best to date”.

The Maldonado rumours always seemed more like a reflection on Williams’ financial state (he brings substantial backing from a Venezuelan petroleum company) than H???lkenberg’s potential.

But now that potential has been translate into a major achievement – he’s the sixth-youngest pole sitter of all time, and has put Williams at the front of the grid for the first time since 2005.

That achievement that should guarantee him a place in F1 next year.

Nico H???lkenberg

Images ?? Williams/LAT, A1 Grand Prix