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09 Dec 2010

Nico Hulkenberg Q&A: Force India my best shot

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Preparations, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Thursday, 23 September 2010 Pole sitter Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Williams in parc ferme. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 6 November 2010 (L to R): Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Williams and Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 19, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Race Day, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Sunday, 14 November 2010 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Williams FW32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Practice Day, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Friday, 24 September 2010

The recently published FIA entry list for 2011 revealed there are still plenty of potential spaces left on the grid for up-and-coming drivers. But as Felipe Massa’s manager Nicolas Todt recently warned, tough economic times mean talent alone is not necessarily enough. You need funding too. After losing his seat at Williams, could one of 2010’s brightest hopes, Nico Hulkenberg, yet be left out in the cold? He chatted exclusively to Formula1.com…

Q: Nico, after your incredible pole position at the Brazilian Grand Prix, and with team principal Frank Williams hailing you as a future champion, your exit from Williams was a surprise. Now you’re in the hunt for a 2011 drive. What is the state of affairs right now? Are you racing in Formula One next season?
Nico Hulkenberg:
Right now as we talk I am not sure. I hope, and we are working very hard, to get a deal done but it is no secret that there are not many good race seats left. The hope is still there and I am not giving up. I hope I can give you a positive answer very soon. Hopefully before Christmas.

Q: Which team is the most likely candidate at the moment?
NH:
That’s no big secret. Force India is our best shot, but it is also no secret that quite a few drivers are trying to land a seat there. We are talking to them and let’s wait and see what develops.

Q: It seems that apart from the leading four teams, pay drivers are growing in number. How hard is it to find a place based on talent, rather than the money you bring with you?
NH:
It has become much, much harder to open doors if your application does not come with a serious sponsor package and you really only rely on your talent as the sole ‘sales argument’. This is quite frustrating and somewhat sad - especially if you can show you have had a good season as a reference.

Q: Were you hoping that your Brazilian pole would help you keep your Williams seat?
NH:
Of course. This Brazilian pole position was something that Williams had not tasted in years, but then again, one lap does not change the course of history. There had been signs before that there was something brewing, because the team repeatedly delayed contract talks, putting it off to ‘manana’, so I was forewarned that something was going on. Nevertheless I would have liked to stay with them.

Q: When did you know you wouldn’t be staying?
NH:
I didn’t know until they told me during the Abu Dhabi weekend, but there had been signs weeks before.

Q: But how can they praise you one minute and then get rid of you the next?
NH:
From the outside it is obviously hard to understand, but there must have been circumstances within the team that required such a step.

Q: The casual observer would likely suspect it had something to do with funding. After one year with the team how do you see the situation?
NH:
Sure, it has something to do with the still difficult global financial situation. It has become much harder to find funding - sponsors are either dropping out or cutting their budget. Unfortunately the team has not done too well over the last couple of years and we all know that Formula One is a tough business environment where your performance permanently judges you. And if you cannot produce that performance you eventually have to look for other ways to close the budget gap.

Q: Looking back over your debut season, where did you make the most gains and what was your steepest learning curve?
NH:
Clearly being teamed up with Rubens (Barrichello). He is a great guy and still a great driver. I really enjoyed working with him. Starting the season next to him was quite tough as he had 18 years of Formula One experience in his pocket and I was the rookie. Once I got into the mode of F1 I was able to look him over the shoulder and was able to learn a lot. Up until Montreal he was definitely quicker, but from that race on things were coming more my way and I could show a glimpse of my true colours in a Formula One car.

Q: You must have a Plan B for 2011. What is it?
NH:
I don’t want to think about a Plan B. My focus is 100 percent on finding a good race seat for 2011. That is where all my efforts are going right now.

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