Rising star - Q&A with Williams Nico Hulkenberg 03 Apr 2010
Nico Hulkenberg was arguably the biggest surprise of Sepang qualifying. On a day when champions fell like flies, the young German played things to perfection to take fifth on the grid for Williams, out-qualifying fellow Willi Weber protege Michael Schumacher in the process. Yes, the weather played to his advantage, but reading the conditions so precisely is what makes for a truly great driver
Q: Nico, how does P5 on the grid of your third Grand Prix feel - and how did you get there?
Nico Hulkenberg: Well, Friday afternoon it didnt really look that promising but the engineers did a hell of a job overnight - they really found some time in the car - and that led to the fact that it worked well for us in P3 and then took us all the way into Q3! The car worked very, very well in the rain. In all three qualifying sessions I was among the fastest five and at the end we were able to get both cars into Q3 - that was an excellent job from the team.
Q: Why do you think the Williams performs so well under rainy conditions?
NH: If my memory serves me well, the Williams always do well in the rain, at least from my experience. In the last two years I occasionally drove the car in the rain and always had the feeling that the car performs really well, and also from what I remember the team did very well last year in Brazil. When its raining you also need mechanical grip and probably this is the up-side of our car.
Q: Under such difficult conditions, especially for a rookie, where you can easily get it wrong with the tyres, how much do you rely on your race engineer? And how much is left for the driver to decide?
NH: I feed my engineers with as much information I can give them from the conditions on the track and my guys in the pits then analyze what is best. Also they see what the others are doing in term of times.
Q: When you say you feed your engineers, do you feed them with your subjective view on the situation without also suggesting what should be done for the best?
NH: I describe to them what the situation is - if it is already too dry for full-wets or if it is too wet for intermediates - but they have the overview of what all the other teams are doing and I trust them fully with their decision.
Q: If you analyze qualifying, when in your opinion was it the most difficult to drive - and keep the car on the track?
NH: That was Q3 when the session was stopped - and of course the final minutes of Q3. At the end of Q3 when we were running on full-wets that was a quite tricky situation.
Q: Did you for one moment think to risk going out on intermediates in the last moments of Q3 like Mark Webber did?
NH: I was on it for one moment but then we decided to go out on full-wets - like the majority of the drivers did.
Q: Some drivers like the rain, some can very much do without it. How is it with you?
NH: I like to race in wet conditions. In the past I always had quite good results when it was raining and obviously today the car/driver combination worked very well. Looks like weve done everything right today!
Q: Looking at the performance this weekend, what do you think you can achieve in the race?
NH: That depends much on the conditions. When its dry we are not one of the fastest, so rain or no rain will make a big difference for us. And of course what your position is after one lap. For sure it would be great if I am able to stay in P5.
Q: You said that Michael Schumacher was the driver youve admired most, so how does it feel to start the race ahead of him?
NH: Well, there are still other German drivers ahead. If I am correct there are four German drivers among the first five. That is quite amazing.
Q: What is your weather prediction for tomorrow? Obviously two top teams got it terribly wrong in qualifying, so playing the weatherman these days is a very responsible position
NH: What I have been told is that showers are expected during the race. But that is the prediction at the moment - tomorrow could be completely different. Flexibility will be key in the race - and a bit of luck.
Q: But with a position so far up the grid, doesnt that allow you to take a much more conservative approach?
NH: A little maybe, but not too much. Nico Rosberg was leading the race last year, then they got it wrong when they called him in too late and the lead was gone - and even the points. When it starts to pour youd rather pull in immediately - even if you have to wait ten seconds because your team is not ready - than stay out and drive 30 seconds slower or take the risk to go off track.