After 9 years and 176 races, Nico Hulkenberg will soon be stepping away from Formula One. His was a career filled with a gigantic, ‘What Could Have Been’ question mark. When he debuted in 2010 with Williams, he came with a wealth of talent and impressive accolades.
He was the A1 Grand Prix champion in the 2006-07 season for Team Germany. In the same year and series, he defeated a soon-to-be teammate, Sergio Perez and bagged 9 wins. He was even the Masters of Formula 3 winner in 2007 and the 2008 Formula 3 European Series champion, beating the late Jules Bianchi.
In 2009, he firmly placed himself on the map when he seized the GP2 Series championship on his debut. As a result, the Williams F1 team were quick to pounce on him straight off the bat in early 2010.
In his maiden F1 season, Nico Hulkenberg recorded a best finish of 6th in Hungary, also as Best of the Rest. However, his magnum opus would come later in the season
An aggressive lap out of the pit lane allowed him to generate sufficient heat against the weather conditions. His time of 1:14.470 was enough to earn him a maiden pole position in his career. It was also the Williams team’s first pole since Nick Heidfeld at the 2005 European Grand Prix. Unfortunately, he could not make it last, and he slipped down to 5th place.
2012 Brazilian GrandPrix
Brazil 2012 presented another golden opportunity for Nico Hulkenberg to finally prove that he has what it takes. Rain was a constant threat during the race and once the sky fell, many pitted, leaving Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg out front. This proved to be a strategic masterstroke since the rain decreased shortly afterwards and cars had to pit again. Hulkenberg continued proving his mettle by overtaking Button for the lead at the end of lap 18.
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton carved his way up and was soon past Button and Hulkenberg. Unfortunately, that was when thing went horribly wrong, as the German driver half-spun. After losing the place, Nico Hulkenberg chased the McLaren but slid into him. A penalty dropped him to fifth, ruing what could have been a glorious victory, which instead went to Button.
Le Mans Victory
With questions surrounding Hulkenberg’s talent increasing, he silenced his critics in 2015. Partnering Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber in the Porsche, Nico Hulkenberg won the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans. Nico Hulkenberg drove in the final hours of the race and took the chequered flag a lap ahead of teammate Brendon Hartley and their rivals Audi, in 3rd.
Hülkenberg’s success attracted praise from fellow Formula One drivers. During the pre-race press conference in Austria a week later, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo believed that the victory made it more possible for Formula One participants to compete in other forms of motor racing.
Year Off as a Reserve Driver
Nico Hulkenberg’s impressive debut season should have made him hot property in Formula One. Unfortunately, that was not the case, as he was dropped by Williams and other offers were not so attractive. So, he was stuck in a reserve driver role at the erstwhile Force India team.
Since Nico Hulkenberg is one of the taller and heavier drivers, a popular theory was that his height and weight were a massive issue. Around 2013, it was those problems that led to him being overlooked by McLaren and Ferrari, according to The Telegraph.
According to an analysis from RaceFans, while that cars usually obey the minimum weight limit, the advantage lies with the shorter drivers. The ballast they carry to reach the minimum weight limit can be placed in an optimal position on the car. That means on the floor, and either forward or rearward as the car’s set-up requires.
Spa 2018 Crash
This was a massive low for Nico Hulkenberg, as he was the catalyst for a massive crash and giving the new HALO its first real test. He misjudged his braking point and speared into the back of Fernando Alonso. This resulted in the McLaren going over the Sauber of Charles Leclerc, giving him the shock of his life.
Hockenheim 2019 Crash
This would be the last golden opportunity for Nico Hulkenberg to grab that elusive podium. At the time, Max Verstappen was leading from Hulkenberg’s Renault and Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas. Unfortunately, on Lap 40, the German driver threw it all away when he slid into the gravel and beached his car.
Red Bull Saga
For a long time, there were so many rumours in 2019 linking Nico Hulkenberg to Red Bull. Even the likes of Nico Rosberg urged Red Bull to consider Hulkenberg for Max Verstappen’s 2020 team-mate. However the Austrian team refused to take the bait and stuck to their own pool of drivers.