Nico Hulkenberg: The Hulk that F1 didn’t allow to turn “green”

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Nico Hulkenberg started driving go-karts when he was 10 and graduated to Formula BMW in Germany in 2005. The Hulk dominated the championship following the likes of a certain 4-time world champion, Sebastian Vettel.  Hulkenberg went on to win the world final, only to be stripped of the trophy after being accused of brake testing one of his rivals during a safety car period.

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A young Nico during his Karting days

In 2006, he joined the A1 Grand Prix series and raced for Team Germany where he won 9 races and handed the championship to Germany almost single-handedly.

In December 2007, Hulkenberg tested for Williams, outpacing official driver Kazuki Nakajima. His performance impressed Williams enough to offer him a test driver seat for the 2008 season.
Whilst Nico was a test driver for him, he tried his hands at GP2 Asia Series, where he put his car on pole in his first ever race and went on to finish sixth in the championship despite only competing in four races.

The following season he progressed to the GP2 series where he wrapped up the championship in the penultimate round; for the first time the series had been won before the final round.

All this made up for a sparkling resume and Williams hired The Hulk alongside Rubens Barrichello for the 2010 season. Hulkenberg had a strong and an eye-opening first season in Formula One. His qualifying lap at the Brazilian Grand Prix in treacherous damp conditions was breathtaking and nothing short of brilliance and to put the cherry on the cake, it was Williams’s its first pole position in six years.

His lack of funding spoke more about him than his driving on the track and in 2011, Williams ousted Nico for a well-funded Pastor Maldonado. So he took a sabbatical and found himself a race seat with Force India for the 2012 season where he outperformed his more hyped and talked-about teammate, Paul di Resta.  Hulkenberg was linked with a move to Ferrari before Felipe Massa was re-confirmed; eventually he switched to Sauber on a one-year deal for the 2013 season.

Sauber had shown promise in 2012 with Sergio Perez driving his car to multiple podiums, however Sauber had neither the finance nor the design to repeat that success story in 2013, so Nico had a low-key season if we focus on the result but his driving was phenomenal and spectacular as ever with a fourth place finish in Korea being the best result of his season.

Though the podium still eludes him, his displays saw him linked with Ferrari and Lotus before the former re-signed Kimi Raikkonen and the latter chased Pastor Maldonado’s cash, Hulk couldn’t stay away from the tri-colors for too long, he returned to Force India to partner Sergio in 2014 and that proved to be the move of his career in Formula One.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sahara Force India F1 VJM05. Malaysian Grand Prix, Friday 23rd March 2012. Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Nico Hulkenberg in the cockpit of the Force India

Force India had the strongest of the three engines and that showed with Hulkenberg finishing in the points for ten consecutive races in 2014. He always had an edge over the Mexican if the season is looked as a whole.

The biggest reason a driver of this caliber resides in the mid-field of Formula One is not because he hasn’t got what it takes and nor because of his lack of funding, but it’s highly likely that he’s too heavy and a bit too tall for a current Formula One car. It is rumoured that because of his weight, Hulkenberg already faces a 0.4-second deficit compared to his teammate, and by F1’s standards, that’s a lot of time.

So with uncertainty surrounding his career in Formula One, surely it would make sense for him to explore his options and with Porsche on the rise in the ultra-competitive World Endurance Championship races, the Hulk couldn’t refuse an offer to drive for them in the most prestigious race in the world, The Le Mans 24 Hours.

And boy did he drive the wheels of that #19 Porsche this weekend at the Le Mans circuit. He became the first active F1 driver in 24 years to win the Le Mans 24 Hours and he triumphed in his first ever attempt.

So, will Porsche offer him a full-time drive deal? Will Force India renew his deal? Will any top team even think about signing such a talent? Surely, he doesn’t need to prove his worth anymore.

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Nico Hulkenberg celebrating win at the Le Mans with his teammates

Formula One better hurry up if it wants to retain the Hulk as one of its prized possessions because WEC is circling about just handpicking the best drivers on the grid.

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