2013 F1 season driver rankings #4: Nico Hulkenberg

2013 F1 season review

Nico Hulkenberg, Sauber, Circuit de Catalunya, 2013

It’s one thing to be able to demonstrate your abilities by racing in a quick car at the front of the field. Life in the midfield is tough in a different way, but Nico Hulkenberg has consistently risen above its frustrations to prove he is worthy of a front-running car.

Those frustrations began in Australia, where his car failed before the race have even begun. The next grand prix began in wet conditions and Hulkenberg took advantage, moving up to sixth before the track dried out. He took his first points with eighth but Sauber were beginning to get a sense of their car’s shortcomings in normal conditions.

Despite that on lap seven of the Chinese Grand Prix Hulkenberg’s car appeared in the lead. This was partly due to several of the front runners making early pit stops, but also because Hulkenberg had taken of the scrapping behind them to pass Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button. His tyre-troubled car slipped to tenth at the flag.

The extent of Sauber’s tyre troubles became clear in the following races but at times the team made life harder for themselves. Hulkenberg was working his way towards the points places in Spain when he was waved into the side of Jean-Eric Vergne’s car in the pits.

Beat team mate in qualifying 18/19
Beat team mate in race 12/15
Races finished 17/18
Laps spent ahead of team mate 808/943

A slow puncture delayed his progress at Silverstone. And there were more problems in the pits in Hungary where a gearbox fault caused him to exceed the pit-lane speed limit. But amid that disappointment there were signs of encouragement for Sauber.

With a new aerodynamics package on the C32 and aided by the mid-season change of tyres, the car was suddenly a more competitive proposition. The transformation was immediately apparent in Hulkenberg’s performances: having missed Q3 by a few hundredths of a second on several occasions he now became a regular visitor to the top ten.

He delivered on that potential in extraordinary fashion in Italy, out-qualifying everything that wasn’t a Red Bull, then claiming fifth in the race behind them and the Ferraris. This was top-drawer stuff in a car that clearly wasn’t capable of more.

Hulkenberg continued his giant-killing in Korea where he not only held off Fernando Alonso but seized an opportunity to pass Lewis Hamilton as well and kept both of them behind for fourth place.

Sauber’s hopes of catching Force India in the points standings were scuppered by further misfortune on Hulkenberg’s car: a floor problem in India and another unsafe release from the pits in Abu Dhabi.

Hulkenberg was back up with the front runners at the Circuit of the Americas where he narrowly lost out in a scrap with Alonso.

It almost goes without saying that he blew rookie team mate Esteban Gutierrez into the weeds. The only time Hulkenberg started a race behind his team mate was in Singapore, due to a DRS problem in qualifying.

With cash-strapped Sauber unable to keep hold of him, Hulkenberg has returned to Force India for next year. Despite another impressive season he continues to be overlooked by the top teams. It’s a sad indictment of Formula One that talent like Hulkenberg’s is being passed over for those who have more money.

Nico Hulkenberg 2013 form guide

How the rankings are produced

This is a ranking of how drivers have performed in the 2013 season, irrespective of their form in previous years. Among the data referred to in producing the rankings are notes on each driver’s performance at each race weekend, compiled data on car performance, direct comparisons between team mates and each driver’s form guide.

Over to you

How highly do you rate the drivers who’ve appeared so far in the rankings? Give your views on them in the comments.

Image ?Ú?« Sauber

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41 comments on 2013 F1 season driver rankings #4: Nico Hulkenberg

  1. Juan Pablo Heidfeld (@juan-pablo-heidfeld-1) said on 16th December 2013, 11:22

    I don’t think that money played such a big role in Hulkenberg not getting a better seat, apart from Lotus who are in serious financial trouble.

    Red Bull chose one of their young drivers, as did McLaren. Ferrari chose world champion (and presumably 3rd in this list) and Mercedes kept two very good drivers.

    • vinicius.jlantunes (@vinicius-jlantunes) said on 16th December 2013, 11:40

      Yeah, that’s what I was thinking too.

    • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 16th December 2013, 11:50

      @juan-pablo-heidfeld-1 McLaren didn’t want him because of his weight, and they also overlooked him last year.

      It says a lot, tho, that Red Bull HAD to get a driver from Toro Rosso just to make the idea of 2 teams work. Because, otherwise, there’s no denying that Hulkenberg is just better than Ricciardo… and Lotus and Sauber being tight on money meant they also missed him.

      Not long ago, a driver of such calibre wouldn’t have his future looking so dark after 3 years of very, very good performances.

      • Juan Pablo Heidfeld (@juan-pablo-heidfeld-1) said on 16th December 2013, 11:58

        @fer-no65

        Yeah, no doubt Hulkenberg is better than a couple of the drivers in the big teams, I’m just saying it’s not as down to money as some people suggest. Weight is also a very silly issue, and Red Bull had to justify the second team as you say

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 16th December 2013, 12:53

        I think the reason why McLaren did not agree with Hulkenberg might have been more to do with his pre-contract with Ferrari. As was the case this year, Ferrari clearly had an option on signing him before they eventually chose keep Massa last year and take the opportunity to sign Kimi this year (remember they also had wanted to take him on in 2009 already, to replace Massa), so its not a giant leap to conclude that there was never a real option of taking him on last year.
        And this year, I doubt McLaren would have dropped Perez if they didn’t felt they had to put Magnussen in a car, for fear of losing him to the competition.

        The argument about size feels concocted to me, because surely when Hulk is as big and heavy as Button, the car has to be build for that anyhow. Its more likely that argument was highlighted in the discussions about raising the weight limit.

        • Jeanrien (@jeanrien) said on 16th December 2013, 13:41

          @bascb What if he is next in line for ferrari ? Since they have announced Raikonnen alongside Alonso, I feel like it will be a tense year at Ferrari with probably the polemic of the year. Can’t see that driver line up last either and if I remember well Alonso is in his last year of contract for them… Hulkenberg could be well placed for next year in contention with Bianchi (too bad Bianchi didn’t get a beter seat this year, would have been a great battle to watch and follow).

          For ferrari it would be the occasion to prove they have linked drivers too as RedBull and McLaren playing new cards this year.

        • Sharon H (@sharoncom) said on 16th December 2013, 17:24

          I wonder how much of it is about McLaren saving face. If they drop Perez for Magnussen, they can justify it by saying their youngster whom they have been grooming for years is the better prospect. If they dropped Perez for Hulkenberg, when they had the chance to sign Hulkenberg in 2012, it just looks like they made a poor choice to start with.

          • smokinjoe (@smokinjoe) said on 17th December 2013, 9:31

            In hindsight Mclaren look the right decision.Perez had a good first half of 2012 with couple of podiums and looking like best talent out there.Mclaren quickly grabbed him once lewis announced he moving to merc, while hulk best performance came in second half of 2012 while Perez performance dipped once he signed for Mclaren

  2. Joshua Mesh (@joshua-mesh) said on 16th December 2013, 11:24

    Well deserved. WD Hulk.

  3. I hope Nico will move to Ferrari for the next season.

  4. Trido (@trido) said on 16th December 2013, 11:47

    What I don’t get is the mans skill cannot be questioned, and if money is the reason, why can’t something be done about that? He is one of F1′s brightest potential stars, someone who has actually demonstrated that he can get the job done unlike some of the drivers brought in showing promise and not delivering. Why are there not more companies out there ready to help him get into a top team? Is there too many talented Germans on the grid? He just can’t compete with the likes of Rosberg, Vettel and the specter of Schumacher ever present? Or is the money merely an excuse and his ‘bulk’ (And I laugh when I say that) is what is really holding him back?

  5. WidowFactory (@widowfactory) said on 16th December 2013, 12:15

    I can’t remember the last time when someone with such obvious talent bounced from mediocre team to mediocre team, year after year. If Magnussen disappoints next year hopefully McL will pick up the Hulk for 2015.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 16th December 2013, 12:55

      Frankly I hope that Magnussen will stun the field and be great. We can never have enough great drivers in the sport.
      Then Ferrari can take Hulk when Kimi walks out on F1, or who knows McLaren can replace Button with him.

    • Journeyer (@journeyer) said on 16th December 2013, 13:53

      @widowfactory Giancarlo Fisichella springs to mind. And if Hulk does not get a frontrunner seat sooner rather than later, he may follow Fisi’s fate…

      • fisichella?fisichella was even weaker than coulthard and always ready to moan and display excuses. truth is that fisichella is a damn mediocre driver, trulli was even better.I’m italian, no need to say something against my country, but fisichella? no no…I’d say heidfeld deserved much more than what he had, alongside kubica and frentzen.
        fisichella had his chances, just like kovalainen, trulli, webber, massa, barrichello and so on.
        if fisichella deserved something more, then montoya deserved to be at least one time wdc, rosberg one time wdc, raikkonen at least twice, moss at least twice, the same for peterson.
        hulkenberg is far more strong than fisichella. can’t be compared sorry. two different levels.

  6. Eddie (@wackyracer) said on 16th December 2013, 12:34

    Keith favorizes Hulk :P he has him on the home page of F1 Fanatic on FB, probably on a poster in his bedroom :P

  7. BasCB (@bascb) said on 16th December 2013, 12:45

    I certainly hope to say that Hulkenberg deserves a top 5 in the drivers ranking again next year. Having his first podium, or even win, can surely only be a matter of time and opportunity.

  8. Hulkenberg is that one unlucky fellow, or rather the F1 teams with their silly reasons, even being one of the best in the grid unable to get a good ride. Which he deserve on his talent alone.

    He has that brilliance of a driver, to become a world champion without a doubt. He had proved that many a times, while pushing the car above it’s weight or more than what the car deserves. That just purely shows his talent.

    Unlike the other youngsters, he knows when to attack and when to defend, that knowledge makes him, stands out from the rest, thus making less errors than the guys playing the same level.

    Now coming to the reasons why he did not get a top ride. First silly reason, Over weight? Come on he has already out performed all his team mates who were significantly has less weights.

    Second silly reason, sponsors? yes that did affect him more than anything in the recent times. I really believe if he could achieve couple of podium finishes. He will get some big guys to back him. Or I should rather tell some one with a good marketing brain already should be doing so!!

    Third silly reason, his profile? within the short span of career he had tried too many options. however the real question here is, “how well he performed and adapted to those new conditions / environment / car / team”. Definitely the answer should be, he performed better than anyone in the current league.

    Now all these Silly reasons of a Silly Season made him, with out a top drive.

    May be his destiny lies in a midfield team to make them one of the top team. Who knows what is in store for 2014.

  9. Maciek (@maciek) said on 16th December 2013, 13:21

    Clearly, he should have been in the Lotus next year.

    • Estesark (@estesark) said on 16th December 2013, 16:16

      With the financial troubles Lotus have been going through, who is to say that they will have a better car than Force India next year? Especially if the rumours are to be believed and the Mercedes engine will be the one to have next year.

      H├╝lkenberg’s time will come. One more strong season, ideally with a podium or two, and he will be replacing either one of the Ferrari drivers or Button at McLaren.

      • ThrillerWA09 (@thrillerwa09) said on 16th December 2013, 16:46

        I agree – - Hulk is probably in a better position with FI than with Lotus. Furthermore, FI stopped development on their 2013 car back in August after the tyre change. With any hope, the extra resources will allow FI to leap frog Lotus in terms of pace.

        • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 16th December 2013, 18:48

          I’m certainly hoping that FI produce a great car next year. I’ve never been a fan of the team, but I’ll definitely be supporting them next year for H├╝lk alone. He deserves a car that’s at least capable of fighting for the odd podium.

  10. V. Chris (@vasschu) said on 16th December 2013, 13:43

    I am sure Nico will find better drive in 2015. There is no guarantee that one team can carry its momentum from 2013 to 2014. Force India is good team to enter the new era of F1. Or he could easily find himself in situation like Perez this season – great team, horrible car. This has the potential to destroy his career.

  11. Malik (@malik) said on 16th December 2013, 14:38

    McLaren did not appointed the Hulk because he is German I swear

  12. Malik (@malik) said on 16th December 2013, 14:40

    Mclaren didn’t appoint The Hulk because he is German

  13. Hulkenberg – 2010 -15th , 2012 – 5th , 2013- 4th. Can he make it to top 3 next year in Keith’s Rankings?

    • W (@yesyesyesandyesagain) said on 16th December 2013, 19:39

      Not driving a Force India. I think all the mid-fielders will struggle to keep up with the rapid development pace next year and the top three drivers will be from the big teams.

  14. kpcart said on 16th December 2013, 15:41

    I think this rating is over-rated for him. he did some good things, but in past seasons we saw drivers like sutil and kubica doing way better things in midfield teams as “best of the rest” and more consistently. I think the top 4 teams agree. the saubers virtuosic top speed advantage over the rest of the field, gave hulkenburg some artificially high results this season

    • George (@george) said on 16th December 2013, 18:33

      Kubica, yes. Sutil? I dont think so.

      Sure the Sauber’s top speed helped in Korea and maybe other places too, but he had to get to that position first to take advantage of it. And results aren’t the only measure of performance, he’s been nothing but rock solid in racing situations and soaked up a lot of pressure to hold those ‘artificially high results’. The only mistake I can think of is when Alonso re-passed him at COTA.

    • davidwhite (@davidwhite) said on 16th December 2013, 20:23

      @kpcart I have to agree. He’s been good but so many punters seem seem to think he’s the best thing since sliced bread. The fact that he can’t get a seat in a top team speaks volumes – i don’t buy the weight or money argument. If you’ve actually made it to F1 and you genuinely ARE good enough to challenge for wins and world championships, one of the big teams will pick you up.
      For me, he’s a good driver who has yet to prove he can win races. In Brasil last year when he had the chance (the car underneath him was awesome by the way) he botched it up. To put him as the 4th best driver this year just doesn’t make sense.
      I think there will be some home truths next year when he’s up against Perez….

  15. spoutnik (@spoutnik) said on 16th December 2013, 17:34

    Well deserved, shame it goes not the same about a contract with a top team :/

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