Following the well-trodden path of most great drivers, Nico Hulkenberg began his career on the kart track. After starting at the tender age of ten back in 1997, within five years Hulkenberg was already making waves. In 2002 he was named German junior karting champion and the following year, after progressing up the ranks, won the German karting championship proper.
Sixteen years earlier, a young Michael Schumacher had clinched the very same title. It was a fact not lost on Schumachers legendary manager Willi Weber, who promptly signed up the young lad from Emmerich. By 2004 Hulkenberg had added an Italian Junior Championship to his list of achievements and Weber began looking for a way into single-seater racing for his young protege.
The opening came in the German Formula BMW series where in 2005, aged just 18, Hulkenberg made his debut. Racing for Josef Kaufmann, he won the championship with ease, claiming the title with eight victories from 20 starts. In doing so he followed in the footsteps of Sebastian Vettel, whod won the series the year before, and namesake Nico Rosberg, who had taken the honours in 2002.
For 2006 he moved to A1GP to compete for Team Germany, and in terms of success it was pretty much the same story. Dominating proceedings, he won nine races and took the title for the German team virtually singlehandedly. Over the course of a single season he remains the most successful driver in the series history.
Hulkenbergs 06 season also featured outings in German Formula Three series, including one win and five further podiums. In 2007 he made the move up to the fiercely competitive F3 Euroseries. Up against several Formula One names of the future, including Kamui Kobayashi, Sebastien Buemi and Romain Grosjean, he acquitted himself well, taking four victories and 72 points on his way to third in the standings.
And in that years Formula Masters race at Zolder he was unstoppable, winning by six seconds after starting third on the grid. It secured the attentions of the Williams Formula One team, who invited him to test their car over the winter. He impressed - the British team described him as quick and capable and promptly signed him up as their test driver. Racking up almost 700 laps from December 2007 to July 2008, Hulkenberg was clearly becoming a valued commodity.
In addition to his test role, he kept his race skills sharp in the 2008 F3 Euroseries, where his persistence paid off. Taking the championship with 85 points, seven wins, seven fastest laps and six pole positions, it was a very strong showing from, aged 21, such a young driver. It was also Hulkenbergs second junior formulae title in just four seasons.
Hopes of a Williams race seat for 2009 were dashed when the team decided to keep their existing line-up of Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima. But Hulkenberg remained as test and reserve driver, and over the winter, as well as taking a victory in the GP2 Asia Series, Williams gave him more time in the car than any of his fellow 2009 reserves at other teams got, despite the FIAs stringent new testing regulations.
But Hulkenberg wasnt content to just wait in the wings for 2009. The young Germans workload showed no sign of easing as he signed up to race in the main GP2 Series, where again his talent quickly shone through. He took his maiden victory at his home race at the Nurburgring and a further four wins later he was declared champion with an event to spare.
In the background, however, Hulkenbergs focus remained his Formula One dream. At the start of 2009 he moved to England and set about organising his very own work experience programme at Williams Grove factory, shadowing various team members throughout the year. His dedication and loyalty paid off, and in November the team duly announced that he would race for them alongside veteran Rubens Barrichello in 2010.
Hulkenberg made a promising start to his F1 race career, qualifying fifth and scoring his first point with a 10th place at round three in Malaysia. Although he generally struggled to match the far more experienced Barrichello, he impressed with a sixth place in Hungary and a spectacular pole position in mixed track conditions in Brazil. It wasnt enough to keep him at Williams for 2011, though, and he lost his seat to another rookie, the well-funded Venezuelan, Pastor Maldonado.
Unperturbed, he moved to a test and reserve role with the far more competitive Force India team, where he provided valuable feedback in Friday practice sessions at 14 of the 2011 seasons 19 races and was rewarded with a 2012 race seat with the Mercedes-powered squad.
It took several races for Hulkenberg to get back up to speed, but once he did he was a regular points-scorer, often outperforming team mate Paul di Resta by the end of the season to finish 11th in the points. Fourth place in Belgium was the Germans best result of the season, though he might have won the season finale in Brazil were it not for the safety car being deployed whilst he was leading. Hulkenbergs strong form led to speculation that he might join Ferrari, but he eventually signed for Sauber for 2013.