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Exclusive Q&A with Force India's Nico Hulkenberg

03 Jul 2014

Following his unexpected return to Force India this season, Nico Hulkenberg has continued to bolster his already excellent F1 reputation, scoring points in every round so far. Unlike team mate Sergio Perez, however, Hulkenberg is yet to secure a podium finish. Is the German bothered? We caught up with him at Silverstone to find out…

Q: Look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves - that phrase is probably a good description of your 2014 season to date. No podiums, but sixth in the standings - are you satisfied?

Nico Hulkenberg: Not entirely, but yes, there are a lot of positives from the first eight races like scoring points at every Grand Prix - even though it is clear in my mind that the yield in terms of points could have been even better. Of course it’s also a bit frustrating not having achieved a podium so far - and my team mate has. I think that is quite obvious…

Q: Is that something that plays on your mind?

NH: It is not something that plays on my mind, but it is on my to-do list. I want to tick that box, of course. I think I had that chance in Bahrain but wasn’t quite good enough on the day - and yes, it did frustrate me that day, but no, there is no ‘podium craze’ that works inside me! (laughs)

Q: That podium seems so close and yet so far. Are you going into every race hoping that this will be the one?

NH: No, absolutely not. It is not a thought that is constantly on my mind - not at all to be honest. I come to every race pretty open minded and not driven by that obsession. I am always making the best I can out of me and the package that I have - and then let’s see what it’s good for.

Q: …and is this the first year in your F1 career that you believe you have a realistic chance at each and every race?

NH: True to some extent, though theoretically I would not say that we have the chance to make it onto the podium at every race. We had a few opportunities - Bahrain was one and Canada was the other. For me, these two were the only ones where it was really on the table. We still depend much on the kind of track we are racing at.

Q: Coming back to Force India must seem like a blessing in disguise when you look at how Kimi Raikkonen is faring at Ferrari or Pastor Maldonado at Lotus. But the winter must have been quite a rollercoaster ride for you, losing out on those two seemingly more promising drives. How fast can you overcome such blows? Or is that the daily business of an F1 driver?

NH: Ha, the winter is long gone and any possible frustrations are long behind me. When you get going in January all these things have been ‘processed’ in your head and you are ready to concentrate on the current situation.

Q: But is putting things behind you easier when you look at where Kimi and Pastor are in the standings?

NH: I think I made a very good decision. I am very happy to be back here - it was like coming home again. There is a good character in the team. There is a good atmosphere.

Q: You appear pretty satisfied with your situation right now. It might not meet your ultimate aspirations, but for the time being you seem to have arrived…

NH: Yes, it is fair to say that I am in a good place. I am happy with my life, with my performance. Yes, the last two weekends weren’t so brilliant - more would have been possible - but there have been reasons for that. In racing there is a large part that is in your hands - having the steering wheel in your hands - but there is also a large part that you cannot influence. So as long as I am happy with what I am doing, it gives me the satisfaction that I am looking for…

Q: But surely winning is the name of the game? Are you not kidding yourself if you say you are satisfied with less?

NH: You have to isolate that a bit. F1 is not tennis where you have everything in your own hands. Here you rely on many things. Of course you have your aims, but you also have to be realistic as otherwise it can become dangerous when you get on to a negative downwards slope.

Q: But that is not for you?

NH: No, because as you just said, I am sixth in the standings!

Q: Force India are still defending P4 in the constructors’ standing, but Williams are coming dangerously close. How much do you have up your sleeves to stay ahead?

NH: It is hard to tell what will happen in the next couple of months. The cars are still so new that you cannot predict what development step will be the essential one to give you an advantage. Yes, when you look at Austria Williams have been really quick - but that was Austria. Now it’s a completely different track and situation and that might also mean that they will not be strong here. We definitely have a chance to fight and beat them, but we have to take the right measures. What we definitely should not do is sit back and put our feet up.

Q: Would you say that Checo is your strongest team mate so far?

NH: We are pushing each other hard - that’s visible. When looking back, Rubens (Barrichello) was a pretty tough garage neighbour, but I was in my rookie season and he in his 18th year so comparing was a bit unfair. But Checo and I, we have pretty much the same level of F1 experience and you always have to make sure to get the best out of yourself to stay in front of him. I would say overall we work very well together.

Q: Checo is renowned for being easy on tyres. Does that mean the team can run completely different strategies with the two of you, to try and get at least one driver up front?

NH: If you look at the races so far we have seen that the optimal strategy is the same for both drivers, no matter what differences there might be between the two of us. I would say that at the last two races things have gone a bit more his way than mine, but there is still a long way to go this season.

Q: So what about major updates here at Silverstone?

NH: Just a couple of small things. More updates are in the pipeline and coming at the next few races.

Q: We have seen that some race tracks are not really Force India’s thing - can you explain why?

NH: Right now I would say that low-speed corners suit us quite well - Bahrain was a good example for that. Our car was really strong there, with a lot of awkward slow-speed corners and angles - so tracks in that mould are good for us. Having said that, this track here in Silverstone is significantly different: high-speed corners - so this weekend might come down a bit hard on us. But let’s wait and see. For sure we don’t have to wait until Abu Dhabi. There will be good tracks for us before then as we have shown that we are good in the race at quite a number of tracks that at first glance are not our favourites. We might not be the fastest on a single fast lap, but over a race distance with a good tyre management we have been really good. Even if you don’t have the best qualifying you can still have a good Sunday, as Checo demonstrated in Austria.

Q: What about Silverstone? Again a shot at a podium finish?

NH: Ah, it would be fantastic to do well here. The factory is just a stone’s throw away.

Q: But aren’t the aforementioned high-speed corners against you?

NH: We are open for anything. (laughs) As always.

Q: So what’s your outlook for this weekend and the next two rounds in Germany and Hungary?

NH: I would like to go home on Sunday with something around P5. And for the races to follow: put our heads down and work hard. That sounds pathetic, but it’s the only way that works.