HomeFormula 1The Heavens smile on Nico Hulkenberg again, but can...

The Heavens smile on Nico Hulkenberg again, but can the German answer the prayers?

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11 October 2020 was no ordinary day in the life of a certain Nico Hulkenberg.

On that very day of the Eifel Grand Prix, Lance Stroll of Racing Point had taken sick; on race-day he’d test positive for the Coronavirus.

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This only meant one thing and one alone.

Nico Hulkenberg, who last sat in an F1 car some two months ago, which was at the 70th anniversary Grand Prix, was all set to replace the sickly Canadian.

And while the widely noted German sucked, absolutely sucked in the qualifying, placing his Racing Point RP20 twentieth on the grid, he did something stellar in the main race.

The Emmerich-am-Rhein-born scored an eighth in the contest and thus earned four valuable points when Racing Point could actually have bagged none.

Moreover, Hulkenberg, lest it is forgotten, a replacement to Stroll, managed to outscore the quintuplet comprising Grosjean, Giovinazzi, Vettel, Raikkonen and Magnussen in that order.

All of that was at the back of having not sat in an F1 car for over 60 days.

It was an effort that, on race day, proved that when the going gets tough, the Hulk doesn’t sulk.

Not that in his long Formula 1 career Nico never tasted success, but then having his name against a P4, his best-ever race finish, must not have been the sweetest feeling in the world.

For someone who perhaps gracefully hides even today the boiling frustration of having never scored an F1 podium despite 184 Grands Prix entries, Nico Hulkenberg is quite an enigma.

Or maybe, he’s the destiny child that F1 loves and hence, keeps coming back to despite knowing that ‘the Hulk’ with all his experience and potential hasn’t quite returned that love.

Armed with a discerning smile, blessed with an uncomplicated personality and known for being an easy-going lad who minds his own business, this former Renault driver is about to chart his second innings in Formula 1.

That he’s getting a chance at Haas, a team that has effectively shut the door on Mick does prove the fact that the ‘never say never’ phrase doesn’t allude only to a James Bond movie; but has relevance in Formula 1.

But beyond things we can and cannot control, the following will, once again, be the question most would focus their energies on.

It’s, needless to say, a subject that could stoke the anti-Hulkenberg sentiment all over social media in the days that rest ahead.

Can Nico Hulkenberg, the 24 hrs of Le Mans winner of 2015 (and that too, in his first year in the sport with Porsche AG), experienced F1 driver, always a fine trier, change his F1 career once and for all?

Can he claim what he should have a long time ago, something that’s considered a basic measure of F1 success: a podium?

To the world out there that dwells beyond biases (and things like ‘winners’ and ‘losers’), Nico Hulknenberg is still very much a force to reckon with.

Whether Sauber, Sahara Force India, or Renault, Hulkenberg continued to score points albeit hits and misses.

Many of which have cemented the belief that here’s a guy who can be trusted to perform consistently but can he land on the podium regularly enough to form the big ‘if.’

As a matter of fact, one of the most under-appreciated facts about F1 in the past decade is that not once from the onset of 2013 until 2018 did Hulkenberg finish outside the top ten on the Driver’s Standings.

The 26-year-old young man who arrived at Sauber in 2013 and immediately reciprocated the faith by scoring a fighting tenth in the end (Driver’s rankings) would stand seventh in 2018 with Renault (penultimate season), his headlining-act.

But you see; that’s where the Hulkenberg dilemma rests, somewhere between being consistent and at the same time, a disappointment that all he could ever salvage up to this point was a best result of 7th on the charts.

It’s not that he’s not had the cars in the past to go all the way.

While Renault fought their way back to the frontal end of the midfield in 2019, scoring 91 points in all (though still 54 shy of McLaren), it was Ricciardo who extracted the best out of a decently fast midfielder.

The Honeybadger scored 54 of those points whilst the affable German scored only 37 whilst driving the exact same machine.

Though make no mistake; Nico Hulkenberg still has the desire to race hard (and fair, not to forget).

He’s still that driver that can turn up with performances like the hugely underrated P5 at the 2018 German GP.

That’s where he beat fair and square the likes of Carlos Sainz, Charles Leclerc and, Fernando Alonso of all drivers, and that too, in both qualifying as well as the Grand Prix.

He did that, lest it is forgotten, in a Renault, not an express machine on the grid by any speck of the imagination.

But having said that, where it stands at the moment, the intrepid F1 fan and Motor Racing leagues around the world understand the Nico dilemma.

That there’s a chance he could be out there and yet, not score anything! 

And if not, then that the new Haas story could be another one of those run-of-the-mill sagas, where K-Mag will drive the team forwards whilst an experienced man will perhaps sulk.

But again, Hulkenberg’s return does excite the one for whom the F1 grid isn’t only about the top three or the backmarkers.

After all, here’s a nice bloke who shepherded Force India and Racing Point during their testing years.

We know that his consistency albeit the sad lack of podiums have strengthened an image that really mustn’t be doubted:

“Team in trouble, who do you turn to?”

In Cricket, there was Rahul Dravid, in F1, of late; it’s Hulkenberg, a man of immense credibility.

Which is why there was little surprise when his boss-to-be Guenther Steiner expressed in no uncertain words his feelings ahead of the Hulk’s comeback in 2023:

“The experience and knowledge base Nico brings to the team is clear to see – with nearly 200 career starts in Formula 1 – and a reputation as being a great qualifier and a solid, reliable racer. These are attributes, which when you pair them together with Kevin Magnussen’s experience, gives us a very credible and well-seasoned driver line-up which we believe will help push the team onwards up the grid.”

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Dev Tyagi
Dev Tyagi
Dravid believer, admirer of - the square drive, Drew Barrymore, Germany, Finland, Electric Mobility, simplicity and the power of the written word! Absolutely admire contributing to KyroSports

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