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. He has had a stunning season and a 5th place here is well deserved I think. McLaren seems to have missed out on a huge opportunity here. I think Hulkenberg has what it takes to fight for a championship sooner rather then later.
    His speed is good, but probably not earth shatteringly so. But his consistency is. Its hard to be consistent in the midfield with so many crash happy drivers around, and the drivers in the midfield that prove consistent seem to be too slow and forgiving. Senna for instance. Good consistency, but not enough speed to make much use of it.
    But Hulkenberg somehow manages to be fast and consistent. And he was that just half way into the season. After a year at the sidelines and just one year at Williams in 2010, to then have that sort of consistency is pretty fantastic.
    And its not the Heidfeld syndrome either. He isn’t fast, consistent but opens the door way too easily. He seems very good at defending, but without getting into trouble, and his double overtake in Korea proved that he has the aggression that is needed as well.
    For a driver in his 2nd season after a year on the sidelines to be that polished. Wow.
    Vettel wasn’t that clean in his 2nd season. And that is probably what worries me.
    Has he all ready hit his peak? He seems too polished for a young hot shot. As if he has too little to work on.
    I hope not, and moving to Sauber to lead a team and sort of start over from scratch actually seems like the best move right now. He will get new input, and new reasons to improve. And I hope he does that. Because trouncing Di Resta once more, could just make him lean back a little too much and end up a like Rosberg. As a driver with great potential, which didn’t really come to much after all.

    • Fernando Cruz said on 13th December 2012, 11:35

      “Senna for instance. Good consistency, but not enough speed to make much use of it.”

      Senna has speed in races and he can recover the speed in qualifying next year. He is also very good on the wet. In Malaysia he was as fast as Alonso, Hamilton and Perez and he could have done a similar race to the one Hulkenberg did in Brazil if Vettel had not put him out…

  2. Jimmy Clark said on 12th December 2012, 16:36

    Great article. Thanks Keith. Hulk deserves it. F1 deserves him…

  3. KeeleyObsessed (@keeleyobsessed) said on 12th December 2012, 17:41

    Definitely the second biggest surprise of the season for me.The biggest being Raikkonen.
    Such a shame that with all the focus higher up the grid this year, Hulkenburg didn’t really make an impact until Brazil, but he was actually always there… Great season from someone who I’ve been critical of in the past. Hope it continues

  4. Enigma (@enigma) said on 12th December 2012, 17:44

    Can’t believe this time last year he was yet to be confirmed by Force India and we were fearing he’d leave the sport for good. Glad he got the chance and took it with both hands. For me there’s no doubt he’s the most talented driver on the grid that’s not with a top team.

  5. Gagnon (@johnniewalker) said on 12th December 2012, 17:56

    I have to say GJ to Hulk in this season, he was very very good, future WDC stuff here. And I have to say I was the first to say he’s overrated afters his first season with Williams, and I even didnt want him back for this year. But this is a revelation, this driver got what it takes, hes clean, good defense and got the speed. He’s the best of the rest for this years for sure !!

  6. James (@jamesf1) said on 12th December 2012, 19:12

    I’d have to disagree with his placing. I agree with the points made, but if we forget about his performance in Brazil, I dont think we’d be holding him in quite as high regard. Personally I would swap Hulk with Button or Webber.

  7. This are the top 5 according to me.

    5. Hulk
    4. Kimi
    3. Seb
    2. Alo
    1. Ham

  8. BasCB (@bascb) said on 13th December 2012, 10:25

    I first saw Hulkenberg racing (only in footage though) in the A1 series, he was doing as stunning a job as Hamilton had done in GP2.
    Then came his year in GP2, and his entry into F1. I must say i was unsure how good he really was from the F1 year at Williams, although his pole in Brazil showed the talent is there.
    I understand he had been good at giving feedback to Williams, so I guess the year being 3rd driver at FI was good for him as well. I am glad that he confirmed his talent this year, especially in the second half of the year there have been more and more occasions for him to shine.

    Not completely sure what to make of his move to Sauber, but given that Ferrari already had wanted to sign him mid season in 2009 (which he did not take), I hope its a bit of the prancing horse giving him on loan to Sauber now to further develop him (and maybe to have an option on him not fall through?) because they decided to keep Massa for another year.
    That might also explain why McLaren never even mentioned Hulkenberg being an option for them. Just imagine, Vettel in a Red Bull fighting Hulk in a Ferrari, call that Schumi having handed over to the next generation!

  9. William Brierty said on 13th December 2012, 21:14

    This is why I smashed the keyboard of my computer upon finding out that Williams had dumped him. This is why I was so surprised when he dropped it in Valencia ’11 and was comprehensively beaten by Di Resta in the first half of this season. This is why I was constantly saying, “It’s the car” when Perez scored his podiums. He is, without a doubt, the finest young prospect in motorsport, and has also been quite useful this year. Hulkenberg has concluded that after Vodafone withdrew a large proportion of their sponsorship McLaren are strapped for cash, which is why they’ve opted for a less talented, but heavily backed, driver in Perez. Sorry Sergio and Romain, but Hulkenberg, Frijns and Da Costa are the future of F1, and all world champions in waiting.

  10. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 17th December 2012, 13:28

    That’s a surprising but fair rank for the guy. He has delivered and certainly provided more entertainment than his team mate. I do think a side ways move is good for him, he’s perhaps not ready for the big time yet but I can certainly feel more confident about Sauber providing him with a better platform next year than Force India.

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