2012 F1 Driver Rankings #5: Nico Hulkenberg

2012 F1 season review

Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, Interlagos, 2012

In a year characterised by an extremely close field, challenging tyre compounds and several hectic races, Nico Hulkenberg had a quietly impressive season.

There were many drivers who showed occasional flashes of great promise in 2012. But Hulkenberg, returning to racing from a year on the sidelines, consistently delivered and improved race by race in one of the midfield’s less competitive cars.

He played himself in over the first few weekends. Australia was a write-off as first-corner contact ended his race. In the wet Malaysian Grand Prix he did not show the same form he had for Williams in the soaked qualifying session at the same track two years ago.

Beat team mate in qualifying 10/19
Beat team mate in race 10/17
Races finished 18/20
Laps spent ahead of team mate 604/1020

But once the European season began it was clear he’d shaken off the cobwebs. He resisted Mark Webber for tenth in Spain. He followed that up with fifth in despite a faulty KERS, Webber and Michael Schumacher passing him on the penultimate lap.

His best qualifying performance of the year came in the rain-hit session at his home Grand Prix. Hulkenberg planted the car fourth on the grid, but in the dry race his Force India was overcome by quicker rivals.

Both Force India drivers performed well in 2012. The VJM05 was only quicker than the Williams FW34 in five of the 20 races, yet they ended the season ahead in the standings.

As the second half of the season began Hulkenberg increasingly held the upper hand in the team, narrowly out-qualifying and beating Di Resta in Hungary. A career-best fourth followed in the Belgian Grand Prix, aided by the first corner carnage but also an excellent pass on Kimi Raikkonen at the restart, achieved without DRS and despite being on harder tyres.

Italy was a missed opportunity: Di Resta showed what the car was capable of in qualifying but Hulkenberg was sidelined with a fuel pressure problem during Q1 and retired with a brake fault during the race.

Hulkenberg’s ever-improving form was clearest over the final six races in which time he repeatedly out-performed Di Resta and almost scored a shock win in Brazil.

A gearbox penalty left him 15th on the grid in Japan, from where he recovered to seventh. In Korea he pulled off another excellent pass, taking advantage of Romain Grosjean’s delay behind Lewis Hamilton to take the pair of them and split the two Lotuses at the finish.

Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, Spa-Francorchamps, 2012Eighth in India and the USA, he reached Q3 in Abu Dhabi but was taken out in an incident with his team mate at the start.

The culmination of his late season surge was a dazzling performance in Brazil. As in 2010 he revelled in the track and the slippery conditions, moving up to third early on when Fernando Alonso went off in front of him.

As the rain started he didn’t succumb to the temptation of pitting for intermediate tyres. With slick tyres on a damp track he reeled in Jenson Button and passed the McLaren. But his well-earned 45-second advantage over the otherdrivers was eradicated by the safety car.

He led for 30 laps before a half-spin let Lewis Hamilton by. A bid to take the lead back resulted in contact and a drive-through penalty. But fifth place moved up the drivers’ championship at the expense of Kamui Kobayashi – the driver whose place he will take at Sauber next year.

Hulkenberg compared favourably against a similarly-experienced team mate, made few mistakes (Brazil aside) and improved throughout the year. That his consistent form did not always earn the results it deserved was largely down to his machinery. After a year like this it’s clear he deserves a competitive car.

F1 Fanatic readers on Nico Hulkenberg

Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, Singapore, 2012Here’s what F1 Fanatic readers had to say about Nico Hulkenberg’s performances this year:

Has shown real class and talent in a car that is arguably bottom of the midfield but one (Toro Rosso). Stunning in the wet.

Showed a real explosion in form after he got used to the Pirelli tyres, including a fantastic almost-victory in Brazil, as well as a run of points from Suzuka to the US.

His drive in Korea, fending off Grosjean for 40-odd laps and pouncing on Grosjean and Hamilton slowing each other down, was worthy of Fernando Alonso.
@Raymondu999

What a great comeback! I loved the guy in 2010, I was so disappointed that he ended up without a seat in 2011.

He had a slow start of the season, but in the Asian rounds he proved that he is a much better driver than Di Resta. His speed and his consistency were really impressive.

He is just behind Perez and ahead of Kobayashi in the standings. Considering that Sauber had a car capable of podiums in a lot of races, that?s a great achievement.
@Yobo01

Notes on how the rankings are produced

The F1 Fanatic Driver Rankings are my personal view on how the drivers performed across the entire season. Drivers such as Jerome D’Ambrosio who only competed in a small part of the season are not included.

Each drivers’ performance in all of the race weekends are taken into account and summarised. For more detailed views of how they fared in each weekend refer to the notes produced for each Driver of the Weekend article and the driver form guides.

A selection of F1 Fanatic readers’ views appear alongside the rankings. The full rankings will be published in seven parts, with individual articles for the top five drivers, after which there will be a vote for Driver of the Year.

Over to you

What’s your verdict on Nico Hulkenberg’s season? Have your say in the comments.

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62 comments on 2012 F1 Driver Rankings #5: Nico Hulkenberg

  1. victor (@genevene) said on 12th December 2012, 12:28

    he is so much better than Perez…………

  2. Andy Redden (@andyredden-on-f1) said on 12th December 2012, 14:00

    Really think the top teams have missed a trick on this boy. Difficult to place him alongside Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton, but I’d certainly rate him up there if not above the Buttons, Webbers, Rosbergs of the world. Super Season.

  3. Todfod (@todfod) said on 12th December 2012, 14:01

    Would agree with the Hulk’s assessment. Before the season started I expected Paul and Nico to have the most interesting inter team battle… but I didn’t expect Nico to beat Paul by such a huge margin towards the end of the season.

    I think if Sergio drops the ball at Mclaren.. or some other top team has a an urgent replacement, Im pretty sure the Hulk is on the top of the list now.

  4. marcusbreese (@marcusbreese) said on 12th December 2012, 14:06

    Good choice – he was thoroughly impressive this season, Williams must be smacking their head at letting go of him, as he has the speed of Maldonado and the consistency of Senna.
    Brazil was also a hugely impressive performance, and hitting Hamilton was very unlucky, but certainly amplified by the conditions. He has come out of this season with his stock higher than when he came in.

  5. Popcorn said on 12th December 2012, 14:07

    As a Hulkenberg fan it has been a fantastic year watching him grow. :) Thanks for the lovely article, Keith!

  6. vickyy (@vickyy) said on 12th December 2012, 14:25

    What was most impressing was his defensive driving, some of I could remember:
    – Webber in Spain,
    – Senna/Button in Silverstone (eventually he lost out but Williams were miles ahead that day in terms of pace)
    – Massa in Belgium,
    – Willams pair in Austin,
    – Grosjean in Korea and India (specially in later stages Grosjean was on soft and Hulk on hard)
    – Maldonado in Suzuka
    Baring a instance or two, hardly involved in incidents, immensely talented.
    Red Bull 2014, anyone?

    • ka (@ka12) said on 12th December 2012, 14:51

      If he has solid performance in season ahead, I ‘d bet him for a seat at Ferrari, to replace Massa

      • Demonx said on 12th December 2012, 15:36

        If Alonso won’t get the WDC next year, Hulk with take the seat at Ferrari but to replace Alonso instead. Wanna bet?

    • @vickyy – Sadly I don’t see him driving a Red Bull but he could very possibly be taking Felipe Massa’s seat sooner rather than later – after all Sauber is to Ferrari like Toro Rosso is to Red Bull! I persoanlly would really like to see Felix Da Costa in a Red Bull but for the meantime that is only a hope.

      • Tifoso1989 (@tifoso1989) said on 12th December 2012, 19:31

        after all Sauber is to Ferrari like Toro Rosso is to Red Bull!

        I disagree ,this is completely false the Torro Rosso is a the Red Bull junior team owned by the same company Red Bull who has a total control of the team while Sauber is independent from Ferrari even if it has a very good partnership wit Ferrari it doesn’t mean that Ferrari have any influence on Sauber’s strategic decisions

        Sadly I don’t see him driving a Red Bull but he could very possibly be taking Felipe Massa’s seat sooner rather than later

        remember Sergio Perez

  7. magon4 (@magon4) said on 12th December 2012, 14:29

    Future WDC. For sure.

  8. I completely agree with this decision. As an up-and-coming racing driver, the important thing is to improve as the season goes on and not fade into the distance. Whole season stamina is an important asset, and that is exactly what the Hulk has shown as opposed to his more decorated teammate. Many people might be against him signing for Sauber, but for the first time he’ll get a chance to lead a team. And with the form Guti showed in GP2 this year, 2013 could really be the year that this talented, young German stands out. I just hope he treads carefully from thereon and think a couple of times about a switch to the so-called ‘big’ teams, some of which may coerce him to play bridesmaid. The Hulk can be a WC, and I believe Mac would have done a better job by taking him instead of a certain German. That’s life though, and not much can be dwelt on that.

  9. Force Maikel (@force-maikel) said on 12th December 2012, 14:52

    Massa is going to need a massive drive next year to keep him out of that Ferrari.

  10. Hairs (@hairs) said on 12th December 2012, 14:59

    Good article. While all the attention was on Grosjean and Pastor, the hulk got on with what a racing driver is supposed to do: Race.

    In the Williams or the lotus, I think he’d have produced much better results than either of them.

  11. robk23 (@robk23) said on 12th December 2012, 15:09

    WDC material and the guy McLaren should’ve hired for next year.

    • david d.m. said on 12th December 2012, 19:06

      Yes McLaren could’ve taken him in, but remember they took the decision around Singapore, by that time he was behind Paul and he had yet to prove his worth, Pérez was the safest option believe it or not.

      • JerseyF1 (@jerseyf1) said on 13th December 2012, 11:16

        I think people tend to have short memories and that is a large part of why Hulkenberg is highly rated at the moment. If the race outcomes had been in reverse order in 2012 then Hulkenberg’s purple patch would stand out less and Perez’s fine results would dominate the discussion.

        At the time Di Resta was mentioned in discussion almost as much as Hulkenberg, yet by the end of the year no-one is doubting that Perez was probably the better pick of those two.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 13th December 2012, 12:10

          But there IS a difference in being slower at the start of the year when you are back into a racing seat after a year as 3rd driver and losing one’s edge towards the end of the year.

  12. Tifoso1989 (@tifoso1989) said on 12th December 2012, 15:11

    I can’t imagine what he could has done this year if he was behind the wheel of that Williams

  13. montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 12th December 2012, 15:30

    Completely agree with Hulk at 5 and with vast majority of lower rankings too. The Hulk is a fantastic driver, a future WDC if there ever was one, but I hope it’s the last sideways move in his career, as there were many cases of huge potential wasted by wrong career moves in the history of F1.

    Also, in the perfect world he would be partnering KOba and not Gutierrez in Sauber, but it’s not a perfect world by any means.

    My ranking (including the top 4, let’s see how they compare to Keith’s would be:

    1) Alonso
    2) Hamilton
    3) Vettel (controversial I know, but I rate 2012 performances by ALO and HAM higher than his)
    4) Kimi
    5)Hulk
    6) Webber
    7) Button
    8) Perez
    9) Kobayashi
    10) Rosberg
    11) Di Resta
    12) Schumacher
    13) Grosjean
    14) Ricciardo
    15) Heikki
    16) Massa (being good for 5 races is no excuse for being awful in 15)
    17) Glock
    18) Pic
    19) Petrov
    20) Vergne (inexcusable qualifying disaster)
    21) Senna
    22) De la Rosa
    23) Karthikeyan
    24) Maldonado (speed is not everything, doesn’t deserve to be in F1 IMO because he is dangerous, rude, lacks respect and self-consciousness)

  14. kbdavies (@kbdavies) said on 12th December 2012, 15:32

    I’m sorry Keith, but i’m going to have to call you up on this again – And I think you are being over generous with your choice of words. Yes, i’m being pedantic.

    But his well-earned 45-second advantage over the othe drivers was eradicated by the safety car.

    How is a 45sec lead caused by other drivers pitting twice before you “well earned”? Yes, they stayed out on the tires – but that in itself did not what earned them the lead. I just dont understand why this fact isnt’t taken into consideration whilst objectively discussing the lead Nico and Jenson had.

    A bid to take the lead back resulted in contact

    A bid to take the lead back resulted in him crashing into Lewis Hamilton. Using the word “contact”, though grammatically correct, does not tell the full story and is a slight misrepresentation.

    • OEL F1 (@oel-f1) said on 12th December 2012, 17:05

      How is a 45sec lead caused by other drivers pitting twice before you “well earned”?

      Because in tricky conditions where the likes of Hamilton and Alonso “chicken” back to the pits, he and Button had the guts to stay out. And it was a gamble that worked out very, very well indeed, only to have that gap slashed by the safety car.

      • kbdavies (@kbdavies) said on 12th December 2012, 19:56

        You say they had the guts to stay out, and in another sentence, you call it a “gamble”. In my opinion, they had the guts to gamble, which in itself is a good thing. But my point is the led was not caused by them staying out, it was caused by the others coming in. The two are related, but seperate. No reason why this distinction cannot be made when describing the event.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 13th December 2012, 10:30

          Its not a gamble to feel the track good enough to be confident of keeping it on track and doing solid laps on slicks in these conditions.

          A gamble would have been coming in for wets in the hope/expectation of worsening rain.

        • JerseyF1 (@jerseyf1) said on 13th December 2012, 11:19

          @kbdavies – this is like saying “the driver who wins the race didn’t do it by driving fast, it was caused by everyone else being slow”.

          The two are not “related but separate”, they are the same.

          • kbdavies (@kbdavies) said on 13th December 2012, 11:38

            The circumstances that enable a driver to win a race should not be obscured or misrepresented.
            In the statement you made above, if a HRT won the race because everyone else DNF, would it then be correct to say it was as result of their superior pace relative to every one else??

            This is not a complicated argument at all. Wining a race, and the reasons that make you win are NOT the same.

          • BasCB (@bascb) said on 13th December 2012, 12:11

            @kbdavies, In that example it would be HRT winning due to better reliability and/or their drivers making less mistakes.

    • AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 12th December 2012, 17:15

      The lead was well earned, but of course Button and Hulkenberg would also have had to come in for new tyres quickly if there hadn’t been a safety car, so their net lead would have been less than 30 seconds; still that would have seen Button and Hulkenberg fight it out for the victory.

    • JamieFranklinF1 (@jamiefranklinf1) said on 12th December 2012, 17:54

      As other said before me, their lead was justified, and even with pit stops would have had a sizeable lead.

      As with the ‘crashing’. It was hardly intentional, as you imply. Sure, Hamilton wasn’t at fault, but in conditions when even drivers like Alonso were struggling, then you can hardly lay too much blame on Hulkenberg. It was a bold move that resulted in something unfortunate.

      I’m sure you’re probably the kind of person who thinks that Hamilton destroyed Button every year, and wasn’t at fault for his poor performance in 2011, but don’t discredit Hulkenberg’s racing this year.

      • kbdavies (@kbdavies) said on 12th December 2012, 20:02

        even with pit stops would have had a sizeable lead.

        How so? Please take 2 pitstops out of 45secs and tell me what you have left.

        As with the ‘crashing’. It was hardly intentional, as you imply

        Where did i imply it was intentional? I simply said Keith is being over generous with his words by using the word “contact”, which actually implies no one was at fault. Hulk was at fault as the onus lies on him not to crash into whoever he is overtaking. It wasn’t intentional, but it was reckless, giving the conditions at the time.

        in conditions when even drivers like Alonso were struggling, then you can hardly lay too much blame on Hulkenberg

        Erm…other guys had completed overtakes in the same conditions without any crashing. The stewards certainly thought all the blame lay with him.

        • javlinsharp (@javlinsharp) said on 12th December 2012, 21:15

          The bogey time at that track is something like 21 seconds… . 21 seconds from time of enabling the Pit speed limiter to the time of being free to climb back up to racing speed. In consideration of this, he could have done 2 pit stops and still been ahead of the pack by 3 seconds. 3 seconds is a big gap in F1.

          It was remarkable for NH to have a 45 second lead purely because so few of the top drivers were able to drive so well as to match that domination. It is even more impressive that he did it in a Force India chassis, certainly not one of the best.

          The rain is the same for all, as are the tires. NH was able to do more with the conditions and materials than any other. Because of this, the lead was remarkable.

      • What would have happend if Vettel would have been leading last race and Hulk taking him out :).

    • BaKano (@bakano) said on 13th December 2012, 11:09

      @kbdavies I think you are taking all the merit from Hulk just because of the 2 stops the other drivers did.
      Hamilton that was the leading driver actually lost little more than 46 seconds on his first 2 pit-stops (http://www.formula1.com/results/season/2012/883/7155/pit_stop_summary.html).
      This explains why he was in front and then before the SC he was 45 seconds (or so) behind.

      Still it needs to be said that Hulk, as Button, managed to stay out in what in not the best tyres and did not loose any time. They did not loose it when others were on intermediate, neither they lost it when other switched back to new slicks.
      And of course they both should take the credit for taking the decision to stay out. You say several times they did not gain anything by staying out, the other drivers lost it by pitting twice. It almost sounds like everybody else made a mistake…
      I think Hulk and Button deserve all the credit for staying out and still be fast enough for those 23 laps that their lead was 45 seconds to the rest of the pack that took the safer decision to pit for intermediates (which meant a 2nd stop for slicks later).
      And Hulk being on a Force India and actually taking 1st place and keeping it for 30 laps not being threatened by Hamilton cannot be discounted as well!

  15. kbdavies (@kbdavies) said on 12th December 2012, 15:33

    All that said, i do agree with his ranking.

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