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Lotus here I come? - Exclusive Nico Hulkenberg Q&A 19 Sep 2013

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Singapore Grand Prix, Preparations, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Thursday, 19 September 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 8 September 2013 (L to R): Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber and Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari on the drivers parade.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 8 September 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, Italian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Monza, Italy, Saturday, 7 September 2013 (L to R): Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing, pole sitter Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing and Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber celebrate in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, Italian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Monza, Italy, Saturday, 7 September 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race Day, Hungaroring, Hungary. Sunday, 28 July 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber C32 and Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India VJM06 battle.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race Day, Hungaroring, Hungary. Sunday, 28 July 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, German Grand Prix, Practice, Nurburgring, Germany, Friday, 5 July 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, German Grand Prix, Qualifying, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 6 July 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, German Grand Prix, Preparations, Nurburgring, Germany, Thursday, 4 July 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Montreal, Canada, Saturday, 8 June 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 10 May 2013

Great things were expected of Nico Hulkenberg when he joined Sauber from Force India for 2013. However, the Swiss team have failed to provide Hulkenberg with a competitive car and now the German is set to move on once more for 2014. His fifth place at the last round in Italy came as an unexpected boost, but will it be enough to land him a top drive for next season? We caught up with him ahead of this weekend’s 2013 Formula 1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix…

Q: Nico, two months ago a Ferrari drive for 2014 looked a realistic possibility - then they signed Kimi Raikkonen. How big a disappointment was that?
Nico Hulkenberg:
Of course driving for Ferrari is absolutely special - it is a dream for pretty much every driver in the paddock. But it’s history now - for the moment - and so there’s no point in crying about the situation. What is important now is to refocus on my performance - especially this weekend- and on good results in the next couple of races, and then find a good solution for the future.

Q: But it must do something to a person when your dream has been so close…
NH:
It is a moment of disappointment, but that is Formula One. It is a very fast-moving business - and from every disappointment you have to move on.

Q: What impact does it have on your career planning?
NH:
Right now it means that I won’t be with Ferrari. For the rest I have to see what other options are available and find the best possible solution for me and my future.

Q: How serious were the negotiations - and how strong were the signs from Ferrari that you would join them?
NH:
Well, there was a realistic chance, but there is no point in debating now how serious it was, all the ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’ and whether it was only a carrot-and-stick plot. It is over.

Q: Did your strong Monza showing come too late? Could it have changed things with the Ferrari situation had it happened in Spa?
NH:
I don’t know. I am not sure. It was good to have it in Monza - and it was possible there. It simply was not possible in Spa or Budapest. Believe me, if it had been possible there I would have done it. But it wasn’t. The performance of the car wasn’t as good as it was in Monza, so there was no choice…

Q: …but sometimes the course of a career can change in the blink of an eye…
NH:
I know that timing is always important in life - and especially in Formula One.

Q: What was it that suddenly enabled you to fight for serious points at the last race? It came as quite a surprise…
NH:
Overall it was good team effort. The car had been behaving really well on the circuit - it had good balance - and the performance was there. Obviously Monza is quite unique and different to other circuits: it is low downforce - which is very different to here, and to the races before - and for some reason the car simply switched on and performed well there.

Q: You had 11 races before Monza where you were pretty much nowhere and then suddenly you were in the top five - that must have been quite a shock, even for you…
NH:
It just happened. There was no indication on Friday - and very little in qualifying. Sure, we reached Q3 which was a huge surprise already. Before going into Q3 we discussed our chances and came to the conclusion that P6 would be sensational. Then we went out and decided to do only one lap - with only fuel for one lap - and that in hindsight was a fantastic decision. It was a stunning lap - the car felt incredible and with the track improvements due to all the rubber on it we really made it. (laughs)

Q: What did that Monza result do for you? Suddenly being able to take on the big boys again and knowing that you’ve not lost it…
NH:
In all modesty, I knew that I’ve not lost it. We had such a situation in China when I was leading a couple of laps…

Q: …but finished tenth with only one point.
NH:
Well, I know that I’ve made the most out of my chances with the car and that I’ve got the absolute maximum out of it - but then when it is not a result like Monza, it is a bit difficult to swallow.

Q: Rear aero issues have been identified as the main reason for the Sauber’s weak performance so far. Is that on the road to recovery, or was the Monza result down to the specifics of that track?
NH:
I am sure it is - the next few races will tell. There will be no magic trick that means we will suddenly be in the high points or near the podium - I am realistic about that. Also here in Singapore, with high downforce and slow corners - all that has been our weakness so far, so it will be interesting to see where we really are. But I’m quite confident for the remaining races that we can be nearer the top and sneak a couple of points here and there.

Q: Can you sum up your Sauber season so far? Your looking elsewhere after only seven months with them speaks of huge frustration…
NH:
Well, the year is not going exactly to plan - for both the team and me. If you move to a new team that always comes with high expectations. You want good results to enhance your success curve, so this year has been disappointing for sure. We could not come close to the results we wanted to have - only 17 points from 12 races was not the idea.

Q: The next best 2014 seat available is at Lotus - the one that Kimi left - and quite a number of drivers have their eye on it. What would you say speaks in your favour?
NH:
Look up the Monza video footage! Yes, there are a number of drivers on the market now, but I am sure teams with availability will analyse their performance very carefully. There you have it…

Q: Returning to Force India seems another option. Team boss Vijay Mallya has already predicted that he will quite likely again be last to announce his driver line-up. That uncertainty was one of the reasons you left Force India. How would you cope with that now?
NH:
Vijay is the boss. He has the control over his line-up. Everything will become clear.

Q: And there is even a rumour of you replacing Jenson Button at McLaren. What do you say about that?
NH:
Ah, another rumour. I like that. There is nothing to be said about that. There is speculation everywhere - and I ignore it all. I want to prove my value on track. Rumour never got you anywhere. Of course, in the next couple of weeks I will look at the general situation I am in - what seats are available, where I could go and where I could fit - and then make a decision.

Q: It is no secret that, top teams aside, many would prefer a driver comes with sponsors in tow. Does that make negotiations more difficult?
NH:
I am not sure. I am not thinking about it. My situation is unchanged: I have a personal sponsor, but I don’t have a lot of backing in the background that I could bring to a team. So the simple truth is I have to drive better to convince a team.

Q: Seven races to go and you are 14th in the standings. What would be a satisfactory ending to your Sauber adventure?
NH:
In the final seven races we can bag points, but I’m not sure if we can repeat the Monza result. The target for the rest of the season is bagging points here and there.

Q: And what’s possible this weekend?
NH:
As I said, the slow-speed corners are our weakness, so let’s see how the car performs. The direction of the new Pirelli tyres from Budapest has helped us a bit, so let’s see how much it helps us here.

Q: Do you have to be a night owl to be successful here? You are known to be an early riser…
NH:
Ha, no. That will not matter here.

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