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Nico Hulkenberg Q&A - the next Michael Schumacher? 05 Nov 2009

(L to R): Nico Hulkenberg (GER) ART Grand Prix with Patrick Head (GBR) Williams director of engineering.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 13 September 2009 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Williams FW31 Formula One Testing, 15 March 2009, Jerez, Spain. Nico Hulkenberg (GER) ART Grand Prix.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Belgian Grand Prix, Race Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, 30 August 2009 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Williams FW31 Formula One Testing, 15 March 2009, Jerez, Spain. Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Williams Formula One Testing, Day Two, Autodromo Algarve, Portimao, Portugal, Monday 19 January 2009.

When the news broke that Williams had signed reigning GP2 champion Nico Hulkenberg to partner Rubens Barrichello in 2010, it didn’t surprise many paddock insiders. After the departure of his namesake Rosberg, it’s not simply a case of the team favouring drivers called Nico. Hulkenberg tested for them last winter and has been busy in various roles in their UK factory since March. More importantly perhaps, the 22 year-old German is the latest protege of Michael Schumacher’s manager Willi Weber. Has the legendary talent spotter hit gold again?

Q: Nico, how long have you known you’d be driving for Williams in 2010? There have been rumours ever since you tested last winter, despite the limited running available to the team…
Nico Hulkenberg:
Actually I’ve known it for quite a while. For several weeks I would say.

Q: How difficult was it to keep it a secret? Was your first impulse to shout it from the rooftops?
NH:
On the one side yes, sure. But then it was paramount for me to know that the contract was signed and that I’ve arrived in Formula One, which meant that my immediate future was secured. Everything else was rather secondary.

Q: But it’s kind of Sir Frank Williams to let you know in advance… there have been drivers who didn’t know that they had a drive until ten minutes before the announcement…
NH:
That is a question Frank would have to answer.

Q: Can you describe your relationship with Sir Frank? He always seems a pretty tough taskmaster…
NH:
I think that many people when they see him have the completely wrong impression about Frank. You might think that he’s tough, but when I visit him in his office it is always laidback, we joke together and the situation is very relaxed. He’s always in a good mood - not a bit grim at all. He is full of vitality with a very positive attitude.

Q: Has he outlined his expectations to you?
NH:
Nothing has been said about any expectations, but I am sure they have their reasons for choosing me.

Q: Frank Williams is known as a passionate racer, while Michael Schumacher was the ultimate racer. Is Frank banking on your manager Willi Weber’s good nose for another good driver? Weber, of course, famously managed Schumacher…
NH:
I don’t know, but I hope so. And should I be as good a racer as Michael was then that would make me really proud. But that is something that we’ll see next year and hopefully in the years to come.

Q: Why do you think Williams picked you?
NH:
At Williams they’ve followed my career for a while, especially (technical director) Sam Michael. There are quite a few championship wins over the years on my side, aside from this year’s GP2 title. I guess that did it. And why did I sign with Williams? Well, because for two years I’ve been working with the team and I feel very much at home there. It is a good atmosphere, I like the people and I see a great opportunity there. Aside from that I had a pre-contract with them.

Q: If Williams hadn’t taken up their option on you, would you have looked elsewhere?
NH:
I am sure that I would have secured a seat had Williams not taken the option.

Q: You just mentioned your GP2 title. What makes you a winner?
NH:
I cannot pinpoint one thing. It’s a combination of many things. Obviously you must have the racing gene, but then you must also surround yourself with the right kind of people and be at the right place at the right time. And so far that’s worked out pretty well for me.

Q: Williams is definitely a good school for a young driver. How do you expect to improve?
NH:
It’s difficult to say at the beginning of a Formula One career where it will take you. The rookie season is always very unpredictable, but I am determined to soak up as much as I can, and also learn from my experienced team mate.

Q: Speaking of your new team mate Rubens Barrichello. The two of you will have the biggest age gap of any driver line-up. How do you think it will work?
NH:
Well, I hope. I don’t know him yet but I do not expect any problems and I also don’t see the age gap as something to worry about.

Q: You have been an almost constant visitor to Williams’ Grove factory, and have even volunteered in some departments. Was that your idea or did the team ask you to do it?
NH:
That was my idea. Some time ago I asked Sam if I could get a better insight into the work at the factory, and if it would be possible for me to look over the shoulders of the engineers. And Sam said yes, no problem. So in March I moved to the UK and have spent as much time at the factory as possible. It works very well and I have gained a lot of insight into the technical side of a Formula One car and its complexities.

Q: Was it to do with improving your technical understanding or more about getting to know your future team mates?
NH:
It was a gain on both sides - technical and human. All that will definitely not make me faster, but it is good to start the season equipped with as much technical knowhow as possible, to understand when I’m sitting in the car what the engineers are talking about. Plus to build up a sound human relationship with the individuals in your new team is never a bad approach.

Q: But taking such steps implies that you expect to stay with Williams for quite some time…
NH:
You could say that, yes. But when I moved there in March I had no idea that I would definitely get a race seat at Williams for 2010. Probably the key motivator was a healthy thirst for knowledge.

Q: What’s going to happen over the next couple of months? Will you be busy working on your fitness and gaining even more insight into the factory?
NH:
Sure, my fitness will be enhanced and worked on more specifically and I will spend more time at the factory. Unfortunately testing is not possible, so I will do anything outside the car to prepare me as much as possible.

Q: How are you coping with the thought that you’ll have to wait for four months to pass until you’ll be racing in your first Grand Prix?
NH:
That’s really hard to swallow. The season has just finished and everybody is longing for a vacation, and I am burning to start racing. So patience is what I need at the moment!