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Exclusive Q&A with Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg 07 Jun 2013

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 7 June 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 7 June 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 7 June 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 7 June 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 7 June 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 7 June 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 7 June 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 7 June 2013

When Nico Hulkenberg went from Force India to Sauber for 2013, he hoped it was the move that would finally propel him into the Formula One frontline. But while Force India have been threatening the podium this season, Sauber have been struggling to even score points. And based on Friday’s form in Montreal, Canada looks set to be another tough weekend. We caught up with Hulkenberg to find out how he’s dealing with the situation…

Q: Nico, Montreal is one of those unpredictable tracks. Could that be to your advantage?
Nico Hulkenberg:
Ha, maybe a bit of crazy weather won’t be so bad for us. We have always performed well in the race in wet conditions. I definitely wouldn’t be against it if it were to be raining - even if that didn’t really help us today. We had put new parts on the car - a new rear wing to assess, and a new nose - but the conditions in the morning were of that kind that we couldn’t run our programme, so it is too early to say if the new parts work. It takes more than two runnings to know if something delivers or not. Maybe Montreal is also not the perfect track to go for significant changes. In the afternoon we discovered a set-up error, but even after eliminating it the car felt difficult to drive - nothing to make a happy face. We will have to sit down and go over the data to see what changes we have to make to make Saturday morning a good preparation for qualifying.

Q: Of course the tyres will again play a major role in the race…
NH:
…like always! They again will be sensitive and delicate to handle, so I hope that we will find a reasonably good set-up that it is not about watching the tyres and the car.

Q: After today’s running what would you be satisfied to go home with?
NH:
One, two, or four points - that would be a nice haul. But we have to stay realistic: points are the ultimate goal, but we have to get ourselves in the position to be able to grab them. I hope that we will find an answer to our troubles tomorrow morning and go into qualifying with a realistic chance to do well on Sunday.

Q: How does the season feel so far for you? You’ve pinned high hopes on 2013. The switch to Sauber was meant to get you into another league of drivers…
NH:
It was a pretty difficult time, those past six races. Going into the season we all - the team and I - expected significantly more than where we are now. The main issue as I have identified is that we are simply lacking pace - that we are not quick enough compared to our competitors - and that is not good in racing. Nevertheless we find ourselves in this situation and we have to dig ourselves out. There’s no point in crying. It is time to stand up and fight. Everybody in the team is working very hard to transform the car.

Q: What exactly is it with the car? Is it a bit like McLaren where they seemingly ruined a competitive car with overly adventurous modifications?
NH:
That is easy to say from the outside. True, the narrow sidepods look quite radical - that for sure is an obvious change from the outside - but I don’t think that it is only that. It is never only one thing that is not working, but rather the whole concept that needs a change. There needs to be harmony in the car and obviously we seem to struggle with that. Sounds easy - but isn’t!

Q: You’ve frequently been asked if you regret having moved from Force India to Sauber and you have always said no. But with the season advancing and with the poor results, isn’t there a growing question mark in your head?
NH:
I certainly regret not having a quick enough car, that is for sure! (laughs) That is really painful for a race driver, not being able to fight for results. On the other hand you make decisions in life and have to live with them. When I took the decision for the change things looked quite different, which teaches you one thing: there are no guarantees in life - especially not in Formula One!

Q: That all sounds pretty worldly-wise, albeit with a pinch of frustration. But there must also be happy moments…
NH:
Of course there are. Plenty. I do what I love to do. I have a great team around me and I am still one of the only 22 F1 drivers in the world. Of course the aspirations and expectations grow the longer you are in F1 - and if you cannot live up to them it is, of course, tough. But we are working on it.

Q: Tell us about your happiest moment so far. When and where?
NH:
Probably Barcelona - after the race. We didn’t score points but were on target for points as I could have finished eighth. Qualifying was not good and neither the team nor I expected that we would be able to challenge for points and beat two McLarens. Then we had an issue with the pit stop where we had the crash with the Toro Rosso. We were given a penalty which was a costly setback, but the race itself was a very positive sign and showed us that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.

Q: When do fears for your future set in? A Formula One career is a delicate thing?
NH:
Sure, you’re thinking about that. It’s not that there are real fears or that I don’t sleep at night right now, but of course we need to deliver - deliver results. Otherwise it will be a dark rest of the year.

Q: One third of the season is history - but there are still two-thirds in which to improve. When will we see a jump in performance? Or is the focus already on 2014?
NH:
Well, we have to see the car as a whole and not focusing on parts. There is not one major weakness of the car - we have to lift the whole performance of the car to be honest. If we can do that we are again in the window of being an all-rounder, meaning that we can have results on any circuit. That is our target. I hope that this will kick in within the next couple of races - or at the latest in the second half of the season.

Q: So you don’t expect a pragmatic decision from the team to move on to 2014? Arguably a move that would be logical for the team - though perhaps not for the driver…
NH:
Of course these [rule] changes make it necessary that teams develop [two cars] in parallel. But Sauber is still looking at this year’s car - we can’t finish the year the way we race now. We definitely need to improve now.

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