Exclusive Q&A - Nico Hulkenberg on his Sauber future 01 Nov 2012
Force Indias Nico Hulkenberg has been very much in the headlines this week, thanks to news of his switch to Sauber for 2013. The two teams are locked in battle for P6 in the constructors championship going into this weekends Abu Dhabi race, but Hulkenberg insists there will be no conflict of interest
Q: Nico, yesterday the rumours became reality: you will be racing for the Sauber team in 2013. How did that come about?
Nico Hulkenberg: Recently the part of the season where both teams and drivers look for opportunities started, and things moved around and my engagement with Sauber was made official just yesterday.
Q: What attracted you to Sauber?
NH: For me they are going through a very positive development curve. Last year they already looked very good, although they did not have such a strong car then, and this year theyve had four podium finishes, on one or two occasions missing the win just by a small margin. So this is a very good performance, and since Formula One is very much performance driven, this was the main trigger to me.
Q: Your 2012 season has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride, but you have scored points in each of the last three races. How was it possible to raise your game so late in the year - especially with the limited scope for making improvements at these flyaway rounds?
NH: It is all about your experience and the level of confidence, and this is only my second year as a competing Formula One driver. After having been out of the seat last year, after a good season in 2010, coming back this season you have to get your racing head back together. It is all about small details in Formula One. If the slightest thing goes wrong you can be out-qualified by just half a tenth of a second or anything silly can happen to you. To bring all these things together is very difficult, and this will only happen if you can get much more experience in the car. You have to get as much mileage on your clock as possible. Also you need to feel happy and confident within the team. And all of these things have come together for me in the second part of this season, and this is why we have had some quite positive finishes, and especially now in the last three races. Besides Red Bull Racing, only Force India have had such a strong climb throughout the last few races, especially considering that we have not come up with any new parts on the car. So that means we have learned to understand the car better and how to use the tyres in the race. Also we have optimized our set-up. All those parameters together mean that we were quite consistently at a good level.
Q: Force India are strong midfield contenders this season and catching Sauber in P6 seems possible. Are you feeling any conflict of interest there?
NH: This is a fair question, but no. I have to thank Force India, and especially [team boss] Vijay [Mallya] for picking me up after 2010, giving me a chance again and putting trust in me. For this reason I want to repay them. So for me there is no doubt that I am committed to Force India for the three remaining races of this season. What happens next year is a totally different story, but as for this year I am totally focused on my job here and nothing has changed for me in this respect. The only conflict of interest I know is between me and my ambitions. (laughs)
Q: Not too long ago you mentioned that you feel you have now completely arrived again in F1 racing. So where do you want your journey to take you? And how high are your aspirations?
NH: Of course I want to continue to push my career upwards. Naturally I want to challenge for podiums and race wins and later also for championships. This is my ultimate goal and this is what I will be working on step by step, as this does not come overnight. There are only a very few guys who end up in one of the top seats straight away, as for the most of us we have to work our way up. And this is what I am currently going through. The pure Olympic ideal is not enough for me, as I am hungry for success. Before coming to Formula One I had a very strong junior career, with Formula BMW, Formula Three, A1 and GP2. I have won quite a few championships already and this is what I want to achieve in Formula One as well.
Q: In India you finished eighth, but people were celebrating as though you had won the race. Why was that?
NH: After the finish line I had to stop the car in Turn Four and I stopped right in front of one of the big packed grandstands. When I jumped out of the car people congratulated me as if I really had won the race. I could see a lot of Force India shirts and Indian flags, so they are getting more and more into Formula One. When all these people were cheering at me I really got goose bumps and this was really a special moment for me.
Q: Five points ahead of your team mate. Does that mean anything?
NH: It is common knowledge that the first guy to beat is always your team mate, so it is important. But there are still three races to go and things can still change. Of course, my goal is also to finish these three races on a positive note with some points, and for sure to try and finish ahead of my team mate - just like he wants to finish ahead of me. Between Paul [Di Resta] and myself there is a great competition. We are pushing each others limits - and therefore the team - very hard. But we still have a healthy and very good relationship.
Q: Whats the plan for this weekend? You could catch your possible future team mate Kamui Kobayashi in the standings, as he is only one point ahead. Could that be a goal?
NH: The goal is clearly to finish in the points again. The last three races I finished in the points, and I want this to happen for the last three races to come, which would make it six races in a row. I am very optimistic that we are able to achieve this, although it will not be an easy goal to reach. But we will push for this for sure. I have worked quite a bit in the simulator, and also the memories from 2010 are still present. Looking back at the Indian circuit, which was completely new to me, that was very positive to see that this is not a handicap for me. Here it is very important to have a well-balanced car, especially in the twisty corners from the last sector. If we do an equally good job as we did in the three races before, I am confident that this will also be a good race for us.
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