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Exclusive Nico Hulkenberg Q&A: My future is in F1

05 Jun 2015

When he burst onto the F1 scene with a stellar CV in the junior series, many earmarked Nico Hulkenberg for the top. And while a seat at a top team hasn't opened up yet, he says his impending Le Mans 24 Hours bow isn't a distraction - for the German, becoming an F1 world champion is still very much the goal...

Q: Nico, your team principal Vijay Mallya indicated that he would like to keep the current driver line-up for next season. What about your plans?

Nico Hulkenberg: First things first - this is June. I have a very busy month. Montreal this weekend, next weekend the 24 Hours of Le Mans, followed by the Austrian Grand Prix – that reads busy, busy, busy, so no real time for too much thinking back and forth. On top of that the driver carousel is not really in motion. Right now we are waiting for our upgrade that is due for Silverstone and that hopefully will propel the second half of our season. And good results are the best argument for any job-hopping. One thing is clear: my thoughts are still based around F1. I'd like to have a few more years here. Where, how and what – that's much too early to say. But if Vijay says so, it is a nice line for us drivers.

Q: For years you have seemed poised to make the leap to one of the big teams. Are you still hanging on to this idea?

NH: I came to F1 with the clear target to win races and eventually become world champion – every driver's ambition is this in the first place. But we also know that you need the right tool – and that is the right car! To come back to your question, yes it is still my target. So far it hasn't happened, but anyone who knows me knows that I am a fighter and I will keep on fighting and looking for my opportunity. 

Q: How important is the 'right time right place' aspect? Everybody agrees that you are a superb talent but are still running after your first podium...

NH: Timing is crucial. And you need an element of luck. Timing is important for the pieces to fall into the right places.

Q: Are you following the contractual situation of other drivers, to know when it is worth knocking at certain doors?

NH: Of course you keep an eye on these things. Sometimes it is not so clear what the real situation is as driver contracts are not posted on the next wall or tree! (laughs) But yes, you need to have a good idea when a possible door could open. You need to be ready.  

Q: If you look at the driver situation right now there is a huge gap between the highest earners and the rest. Does that also reflect the performance differences or just better deal making?

NH: I think it reflects more the performance. And some teams have deeper pockets and can afford huge payments. 

Q: Vijay Mallya said that he doesn't really believe there is much difference in the skills of somebody who earns five million a year - maybe meaning you - and somebody who makes closer to forty-five million...

NH: Well, that is down to market value, because at one point the teams spend more money but won't necessarily get better quality. In general all F1 drivers are good and there are only details that are separating us - and that is when market value comes into the game. In the end it is a question of demand and supply!

Q: A penny for your thoughts on your season so far. What adjective would you use? Unhappy, unsatisfied, impatient...?

NH: Definitely impatient - and curious to see the new car and the new parts on the car, and experience them. So far we haven't had the season we wanted. We are clearly behind our expectations. Having said that we are sixth in the constructors' championship right now, and not too far away from fifth. Given our car we have done pretty well! And from here on it is going better. We have a good spirit in the team, and good people.

Q: Monaco saw Force India in the points again. Why was the race better for Checo than for you? He says it's his favourite track, but does that really make the difference?

NH: My lap one incident with Fernando [Alonso] was the killer for my race – otherwise I am pretty sure I would have finished in the points. But looking back a bit: for the last two to three races I didn't have the best of runs, for various reasons. That is how I feel but as I said earlier I am a fighter and will bounce back. 

Q: We saw in Monaco that Lewis Hamilton lost the race due to a strategy mistake. How often have you been a victim of something similar?

NH: There is no rule of thumb. Looking back in my career I had a few occasions as well, but that is racing. You are a team, and you win and lose together. We are only humans. In that Lewis case there were some unlucky things related to the safety car. Sure it should not happen every second weekend, but yes it happens – although seldom is it as hyped as in the Lewis case. But that is also part of Monaco, because it's the big stage.

Q: Last year you finished fifth here in Montreal. What is in the car this weekend?

NH: I have good vibes that it will be a top 10 finish again and that I will bag some points. This morning it was much better than I had expected: the car felt good, the balance was right and we were able to tick a lot of boxes knowing that rain would hit in the afternoon. My prediction is that we both should have a promising weekend that will keep us in contention with the teams ahead of us – that we beat Sauber and keep McLaren at bay. I love this track – maybe the same as Checo has with Monaco! If that is not a good starting point, what is?

Q: At the beginning you mentioned the upgrades that are announced for Silverstone – what will they be able to do?

NH: To make us bounce back to our usual performance level. Right now we are definitely below our value. And as there are enough races after Silverstone, theoretically and mathematically, I could still become world champion this season! (laughs)