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Exclusive Nico Hulkenberg Q&A: A solid start for Force India

22 Aug 2014

Having scored points in the first ten rounds of the season, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg headed into the summer break on something of a low, after crashing into his team mate and retirement in Hungary. That, Hulkenberg insists, is now history - and after a solid showing in Friday practice at Spa-Francorchamps, the German seems quietly confident of resuming his top-ten trend on Sunday…

Q: Nico, you still have two world champions - Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen - behind you in the driver standings. That must have given you a cozy feeling heading into the holidays. But will that be enough to keep you happy for the rest of the season?

Nico Hulkenberg: Ha, to be honest: sometimes it has to be enough! You have to look at what options we have - how fast our car is - and being realistic, we have fallen a little behind since the beginning of the season. Some teams have overtaken us - like Williams. We have been in front of them - or at least as quick as them - at the beginning, but now we have slipped back because we haven’t developed enough I would say. It is what it is now and therefore we have to be happy with what we can achieve - and try to maximize everything.

Q: Force India had essentially the same car at the last couple of races before the summer break. Is there another development step this weekend?

NH: Not really. Traditionally at Spa people bring lower downforce levels because it is a high-speed circuit with a lot of straight lines - and that is what we have - but apart from that we don’t have a lot of developments [for Spa] in the pipeline. In the factory back in Silverstone the guys are working very hard for some updates, which are coming in the next couple of races…

Q: When you say in a couple of races, will that be early enough to defend your current P5 position, since McLaren are only one point behind…

NH: It is what it is. Sometimes updates take time: you can’t change things overnight. It’s always a long process if you want to make a bigger overhaul: find something, build it, and then implement it in the car. Hopefully it will be early enough to achieve our goals.

Q: Your team boss Vijay Mallya has identified Valtteri Bottas as the surprise of the season. Was that a bit of blow - your boss praising a driver from another team?

NH: No, not really. You have to be realistic and give credit to what Valtteri has done - but Daniel (Ricciardo) has achieved even more in his Red Bull. So no, no envy at all.

Q: What does that do to your position in the pecking order on the grid? Your name has often been linked to big teams in the past. Is that now shifting towards Bottas?

NH: It doesn’t worry me. It is just natural. It’s how the sport works. He has done a good job and has been on the podium a couple of times - he has a competitive car. When you get on the podium, that is quite something, and everybody sees it: TV stations, media - and team bosses. That is probably when their focus shifts. But I am not massively concerned.

Q: There seems no doubt that this is your best F1 season so far - and you have proved that if the car is there you will deliver. When the car is not there, how do you stay calm and convince yourself that your time will come?

NH: Being in F1 in such a situation you are a bit like a passenger. You can do everything that is in your power, but then there are so many things that are beyond your power: how much we can develop, budget issues - many other issues. So there is only so much you can do as an individual, but we as a team are doing everything we can - the rest you have to accept.

Q: When 16-year-old teenagers are breaking into F1 racing, like Max Verstappen [who recently signed a 2015 contract with Toro Rosso] then those who were dubbed ‘youngsters’ not so long ago suddenly start to look a lot older…

NH: Well, everybody is looking for sensations - and that is maybe what Max Verstappen is now: something very special. But he will be the exception and not the rule. So, no, I have not felt that with him joining F1 I have ‘aged’ overnight! (laughs) I am pretty happy with everything right now.

Q: The Budapest race was quite a setback for the team - and obviously your ambitions. Now that the dust has settled: can you talk us through that lap 14.

NH: Budapest? I have deleted it! (laughs) No more memory…

Q: But it happened - you clashed with your team mate Sergio Perez…

NH: Yep, I did - and I felt quite disappointed. It was one of those days. Sometimes you get up on the wrong side of the bed - apparently that was one of those days. I have made a couple of mistakes - one that ended my race. But as I said, I have left that behind and moved on. We had ten good races and one bad one - that, I would say, is a good percentage.

Q: Checo was also in the wars …

NH: We both had a bit of a black Sunday.

Q: Had it been Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg clashing it would have got significant attention. With you and Checo it was just another incident…

NH: Well, that is what the media make out of such situations. It was just a race accident. I was probably a bit over-optimistic, but these things happen - end of story.

Q: Some time away from racing gives one the chance to adjust focus. What have you done over the break to get into the right fighting spirit again?

NH: Not much. I stayed at home for two weeks - to relax and enjoy more of my home and the area where I live - but summer didn’t want to come out so I went to Ibiza for a couple of days. It was basically all about recharging the batteries. I started to speak with my engineers at the beginning of this week to get in the right mode of thinking again.

Q: Spa has always been pretty good to Force India cars - will that trend continue this weekend?

NH: Yes, I do remember that amazing pole position that Giancarlo Fisichella scored a few years ago. Well, let me put it this way: it is an engine track - and that should help us over other-powered cars. Today was a solid day and we’ve been able to run all our programs. It stayed dry which is always a benefit when you want to collect data. It will be interesting to see what will happen if conditions change tomorrow as expected. Then it’s a whole different ball game.

Q: So how will qualifying go for you?

NH: Well, first, Spa is an engine track so that should play to our advantage. But on the other hand there is a trend that we are not so good in qualifying as in the race. But this is a track where you can overtake - so this is not so harmful.

Q: So… both cars in Q3 and then on Sunday both cars on the podium?

NH: That would be much appreciated. That would be very, very good - sensational almost.