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Nico Hulkenberg Q&A: Perez's blistering form a headache

26 Nov 2015

There has been plenty to celebrate for Nico Hulkenberg and Force India this year, not least securing the team's best ever championship placing. Hulkenberg, though hasn't had it all his own way: Sergio Perez's late-season surge means the German faces finishing second to a team mate for the first time since his maiden F1 campaign in 2010. Speaking exclusively to Formula1.com, Hulkenberg talks team mate battles, why he is still waiting for his 'big break', and what rumours of an Aston Martin-Force India tie-up might mean for his future...

Q: Nico, another season is coming to its end: what are you taking home from it?

Nico Hulkenberg: Ha, I only take the positive stuff back home and leave the bad tastes behind! (laughs) I only move forward. For Force India to end the season in fifth in the constructors' championship - without doubt the best result the team ever had - stands out, for all of us. Now it is up to us to carry that momentum into 2016. 

Q: When you say you leave out the bad moments and take only the good ones, what were the bad moments? And what was good?

NH: The second half of the year was a bit mixed, to say the least. There have been some hiccups and races that didn't go to plan so obviously you could learn from them and erase these kinds of errors.

Q: If you look at 2015 you've sometimes made mistakes in best rookie fashion...

NH: ...thank you for the flowers! (laughs)

Q: Have you been too hungry, did you want to force matters?

NH: Maybe. I am not sure. You are trying hard and sometimes things don't work out the way you wanted. In the end I think it was some sort of chain reaction. There were two or three races where twice in a row I had technical issues - and there was a driver error - and three or four bad races in a row means things don't go in your favour. That's especially true if your team mate has a strong run at the same time.

Q: How irritating is it when you are struggling and your team mate is on a high?

NH: It's not fun, believe me! But actually I was not too bothered because I knew the facts and many times when he scored and I didn't I was ahead of him, so I knew I could match him or even do better - but for certain reasons it didn't happen. I would say 'annoying' is the right word. It was annoying me. That's it.

Q: So you don't throw anything against the wall in your hotel room?

NH: I do...

Q: You are 10th in the standings – last year you finished in P9. Checo, your team mate, is 14 points ahead. To overhaul that, you'd need a podium here in Abu Dhabi. Ready for it? 

NH: That sounds like a target doesn't it? But to be clear: here everything is about the championship – who wins and who comes in second. Then it is nice to be in the top ten, but that's about it.

Q: Doesn't a single-digit number read better than a double digit?

NH: For sure single digit reads better. So yes, as I said: that looks like a real target for finishing the season in style.

Q: You are one of the most respected drivers in the paddock, but still you are chasing the a big break. If you reflect on your six years in F1, have any decisions led you away from the sort of careers Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel or Nico Rosberg have enjoyed?

NH: I think my first season in F1 in 2010, especially the end of it - the exit from Williams. Losing a regular race seat was sort of moment when things went wrong. That was a cut, a dip in the career. Without that who knows what could have happened. Yes, that is all past now but I still believe it was a decisive experience.

Q: Was that the kind of moment where you thought everything would go wrong?

NH: It was the kind of moment where everything went the way I didn't want it to go. It is not a good thing for a rookie to lose a race seat after the first season. That is definitely not ideal as it is the time where you still have to keep on learning – so to then be sidelined is hard to swallow. 

Q: Is there a driver you would love to have as team mate?

NH: Not really. Probably the weakest one! That's a joke!

Q: Force India are having their best season to date, on a relatively small budget. Boss Vijay Mallya always speaks about the special vibes of the team contributing to a big portion of the success. Can you say what these special vibes are for you?

NH: Vijay brings many of these vibes to the team on the sole basis of his personality - of the person Vijay is. He is a real character and a really cool guy, and he lives that! You feel that kind of special person that he is every time he is at a race, and that shows in the team. We have a great environment. It is very professional - but at the same time Force India is a relaxed and fun place to be. The team spirit is extraordinary.

Q: From rumours you wouldn't make the grid in Australia to P5 in the constructors' championship - that's some rise. What do you say to those who wrote-off Force India  at the start of the year?

NH: (Thumbing his nose) This - but I cannot put that into words! I am well educated! (laughs) 

Q: There are rumours in the paddock about a tie-up between Force India and Aston Martin. Can you dream of what that would mean - apart from a nice road car...

NH: It sounds good - but in the end that is all very premature and what it would mean in hyping up technology I have no idea. Everything I would say is speculation so I better not do it. 

Q: Vijay indicated that the team have even more ambitions plans after securing fifth this year, What is your outlook for next season?

NH: Wins! Anything else would be disappointing! (laughs) Of course, I am joking. Yes, we are optimistic - but realistic as well. I think we have put ourselves in a really good position; now we have to make something out of it. We have to build on the platform we have with the B-spec car and keep developing it in the right direction. The priority is to close the gap to the front-running teams and go for better results. Points and podiums - that's what it is all about. We are pushing for that, but at the same time we know that success doesn't come from nowhere. So hard work is in the end the answer to that - and a bit of luck. But from the development we've seen with the B-spec I am positive that we are moving in the right direction. I have confidence and faith!