Exclusive Q&A - Saubers Nico Hulkenberg 21 Mar 2013
The season opener in Australia was not a great start to Nico Hulkenbergs 2013 campaign. As former team Force India put two cars in the points, a fuel system issue on his Sauber meant Hulkenberg did not even start the Melbourne race. Thus the German goes into this weekends 2013 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix slightly blind, but targeting points nonetheless
Q: Nico, your Melbourne experience was short lived. Can you explain exactly what happened that meant you couldnt start the race?
Nico Hulkenberg: Gee, dont remind me of Melbourne. (laughs) Okay, lets come to the cause: basically a vacuum developed inside the (fuel) tank, which did some damage to it and which ultimately stopped us from running. It was not safe, so there was absolutely no way of going into the race - so therefore I was not taking part.
Q: Where there any indications beforehand? Qualifying was just a few hours before the race...
NH: No, during qualifying there were absolutely no signs of any damage. They showed something about two hours before the race. I basically came back from the drivers parade and was told that there is a grave problem with the car. I ran into the garage to have a look and that was where I understood what they were talking about. The engine was out - the whole car was apart. I was shocked. What had happened? When they started to fill the car for the race, suddenly there was that issue with the tank.
Q: How did your engineers know that they were looking at a real problem? You cannot look inside the tank
NH: Well, what they could see was pretty obvious. How can I explain that? A tank is somewhat comparable to something like a Tetra Pak. When there is a vacuum inside and you fill in liquid it will swell - and eventually explode.
Q: But it was a one-off issue and nothing that will return?
NH: It never happened to the team before - and I have never heard of anything like this before - so it is an isolated, pretty unique happening. It was analysed right on the spot in Melbourne and then again in the factory in Hinwil. We understand what the problem was and we know now why it happened - and we have taken measures to make sure it never happens again.
Q: You dont have any race experience with your new car, so what do you bring from Melbourne qualifying to Kuala Lumpur? A better feeling than the winter tests suggested?
NH: Ha, Melbourne qualifying was pretty unique: Q1 on Saturday and then the rest of it on Sunday morning. The conditions were pretty difficult, with all the rain and then it drying up again. Sure we have learned something from it - you always do when your relationship with your team is quite new. Every outing on a track brings information. Unfortunately we do not have a race experience together. But lets stop focusing on Melbourne. That is behind us now and I am very motivated for this weekend.
Q: One last Melbourne question then. How was your weekend generally up until Sunday afternoon? They say you get to know a new environment best when the pressure is on...
NH: Yes, the weekend in Melbourne looked pretty promising until I came back from the drivers parade - and yes, it could be a little deficit that is not ideal, but it definitely wont be a penalty for the rest of the season. (laughs) I have done Formula One races before but, sure, to see how your team is operating - all the information, the communication and the pit stops - I am missing that from Melbourne, so its not ideal. But we will definitely catch up this weekend.
Q: Were you surprised by the race result? Did you have Kimi Raikkonen on your shortlist of possible winners?
NH: Well, there is always room for surprises - and we knew that the Lotus is a pretty quick car that is good on tyre wear. I was a little bit surprised by how Sebastian (Vettel) was struggling in the race. So I would say there is some logic behind why Kimi was winning in the end.
Q: Do you have any clear idea where Sauber stand in the pecking order?
NH: If you take the long-run data from Friday in Melbourne we were basically in the same range as Force India. But as I have not participated in the race, it would be reading the crystal ball to make a statement. Lets wait and see this weekend. Maybe it brings more of an answer - though it will definitely not be the final one. What I think is that we could have definitely raced for points
Q: Have you consulted your team mate Esteban Gutierrez, as he did race and saw the chequered flag?
NH: Yes, I spoke to him afterwards - about how everything was, how the car and the tyres felt, how things were developing in the course of the race. Yes, I got his impressions and his feedback.
Q: Sauber have to deliver this weekend. What are the prospects?
NH: How can I be realistic if I do not have a proper experience from Melbourne? Im going into the weekend somewhat blind, but nevertheless we are targeting a top-ten result.
For tickets and travel to 2013 FORMULA 1 races, click here.
For FORMULA 1 and F1 team merchandise, click here.