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Exclusive Nico Hulkenberg Q&A: I’m still acclimatising 11 Apr 2012

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Force India F1 VJM05.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 16 March 2012 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Force India F1 VJM05.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Sepang, Malaysia, Saturday, 24 March 2012 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Force India F1 VJM05.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Sepang, Malaysia, Saturday, 24 March 2012 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Force India F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Sepang, Malaysia, Saturday, 24 March 2012 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Force India F1 VJM05.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 23 March 2012 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Force India F1 VJM05.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 16 March 2012 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Force India F1 VJM05.
Formula One Testing, Day 4, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 4 March 2012

Making an impression second time around is never the easiest of tasks, but Nico Hulkenberg is tackling just that challenge this season. Sixteen months separated his last Grand Prix for Williams in 2010 and his first for Force India in Australia in March. Hulkenberg knew it would take a bit of time to get used to racing again and the Melbourne round proved him right. In Malaysia, however, he took his first points of the year and now the young German is targeting more of the same in China this weekend…

Q: Nico, you are two races into the second wave of your Formula One race career. How are you faring? Did you need to acclimatise again?
Nico Hulkenberg:
Yes, there was and still is some acclimatizing going on. Sixteen months without racing is a long, long time. It’s going well, but I am still learning every time I’m in the car and of course every race weekend. It‘s about learning, adapting quickly and finding a good rhythm.

Q: Can you talk us through the Malaysian weekend? Qualifying was messy but the race seemed to go well…
NH:
In qualifying the gaps were very small - especially in the midfield there was a really tight competition. Half a tenth meant a three-position improvement on the grid. The race was great fun! The conditions mixed up the whole field. It was quite challenging for me as it was effectively my first race of 2012, as I didn’t get much of a race in Melbourne. We ran in all possible conditions and on all possible tyres so I was able to take valuable experience from it. I struggled on the intermediate tyres, but once the track started drying it got better for me. Some of the frontrunners had problems in the race, so I was quite happy with P9.

Q: Are you satisfied with your personal performance so far this year?
NH:
I am. To be honest with you, it feels pretty much as I expected prior to the first race, but I have to confess that there are still situations every now and then when I feel I can improve my game. But I think that’s just natural after 16 months without racing.

Q: Force India had a fantastic end to the 2011 season. Is the momentum still there? Expectations were probably a bit higher than the two actual results…
NH:
Yes, the momentum is still there. It’s still too early to draw any final conclusions. Remember that my first race ended at Turn One (laughs) and the second one was in messy conditions, so I can’t really say how strong we are yet. Let’s wait another few races and we will know more, especially from our performances from Barcelona onwards when our new aero updates will be crucial. I think we have a car with potential, now it’s our job to extract that!

Q: What happened between the winter tests and racing? In February Force India seemed to be one of the strongest teams, but where did that strength go?
NH:
I wouldn’t say that we were one of the strongest. We knew that the top teams were hiding their pace, so we didn’t expect to be fighting for podiums. So, it’s not that we have lost our strength, it’s more that probably the others were sandbagging more than in previous test sessions. We expected it to be close in the midfield and that’s what we see now.

Q: What are the car’s shortcomings?
NH:
I think there are a few areas where we can improve on the car. The traction is one area, but we do not have one major issue, so this is a promising scenario.

Q: Do you also face the same tyre issues afflicting some of your rivals?
NH:
Not in particular. Everybody has tyre degradation, some cars more than others. I don't think that this is an issue for us and that should put us in a good situation to improve our competitiveness.

Q: The team’s deputy team principal Robert Fernley said that updates are underway. Can you tell us anything about that?
NH:
Like probably most of the other teams we are bringing updates to Barcelona. It helps that there is the Mugello test between Bahrain and Barcelona, where we will get the chance to evaluate the new parts of the car. It’s hard to say how big a step it will be. Obviously we know about our parts, but the other teams are bringing updates as well, so we have to make sure that the step we do make is bigger than the one the others make.

Q: This weekend’s Chinese race could see some mixed weather. Do you think you can add to your points tally?
NH:
As I just said before, the midfield is very close together. On a good day that could mean we are just out of the top ten, on a bad day it could also be 16th, as it was for myself in Malaysia. The aim is to leave China with some more points in our account.

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