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Exclusive Nico Hulkenberg Q&A - Silverstone will reveal Force India’s 2015 fate

02 Jul 2015

It’s safe to say that the last few weeks have been nothing short of sensational for Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg - not only did he score an incredible debut victory for Porsche in the punishing Le Mans 24 hours - his first win in any category since 2009 - but he followed it up with a season-high sixth place finish in Austria. As a result the German is once again hot property - and with Force India bringing a promising set of updates to their car for this weekend’s race at Silverstone, things could be about to get even better…

Q: Nico, how does it feel to realise that you have not forgotten how to win a race?

Nico Hulkenberg: Ha, it was mind-blowing! My last win was 2009, so I had a long dry period! To be on the podium again, to hear your national anthem and see people cheering for you – that made me realise how much I’ve missed these moments in the last few years. Because [these moments] are why you get up in the morning. It is a huge push in motivation.

Q: Having done so well, did you get yourself a nice treat?

NH: Ah. (pause) I bought a car. A Porsche…

Q: Winning a race like Le Mans can be something of a life-changing experience, as everybody loves a winner. Are you now bombarded with cockpit options for 2016?

NH: No, not really! Yes, the echo that I received was great – even from my driver colleagues. They were all very curious. And of course it reads very well in my CV: Le Mans winner, 2015.

Q: But there are many rumours about possible cockpit changes, with the future of Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari the subject of much of the speculation. The latest rumour is that should Kimi leave, Valtteri Bottas would move to Ferrari and you’d move back to Williams to take his seat. What is reality?

NH: To be honest in this game you are always as sexy as your last result. And I had a few good races lately so people tend to put me in different seats now. But I think that’s happening to half of the drivers right now. For me there is no point adding to the speculation. Of course I am working on my career and my future and trying to keep the momentum – and that will be the best advertising for me. Then when the time is ready I will see what happens.

Q: The last race in Austria saw an unleashed Nico Hülkenberg. Can sailing on the tailwind of a super result be translated directly into time gain? It was the same old car – but obviously a new you…

NH: I don’t know if you can translate that directly into time gain. It is probably something that happens in your head: that confidence and a kind of laid-back [attitude] makes you wait for luck to come your way instead of pursuing if forcefully. It’s about a good flow.

Q: Can you talk us through that last race? Were you been surprised that it worked out that well without any upgrades? Force India seemed to jump up the pecking order in just one race…

NH: Well, we did a very good race. We had good car performance all weekend long. Austria is a power track from the engine point of view. We had the soft tyres and didn’t do any mistakes. We were able to pull it off when we needed to. I know that sounds simple – but it is not. It has something to do with the oldest secret in the book: hard work!

Q: But still it remains a bit of a mystery, as it was the same car that you’ve been struggling with since pretty much the start of the season…

NH: …pretty much the same, yes!

Q: But how is that possible to have such a change in the car?

NH: I would say that a few parameters played to our advantage. It was an engine matter in Austria and the use of soft and supersoft tyres favoured us – and it wasn’t very windy. We always have issues in windy conditions. All positives came together.

Q: Silverstone will see the introduction of the ‘B-Spec’ VJM08. Isn’t it a bit of an irony to change everything now that you appear to have made your peace with the car?

NH: We are quite confident that we will make a good step forward. With the Austrian spec car we definitely would suffer here. So we definitely need updates to make us competitive here – and at the tracks to come in the second half of the season. This weekend is very important for us, as it will set the direction of our fate for the rest of the season.

Q: What is different?

NH: It is a radical change. It is a change of the aero philosophy. From the middle to the rear you will see it with your own eyes. Even fans in the grandstands will immediately see the difference! The bodywork underneath also saw some major changes, like the suspension and so on. It is a radical change to the car – and hopefully to our performance as well.

Q: Will it work straightaway at Silverstone?

NH: That is the idea! But it is also common that if you bring updates they need a bit of time to sink in. Two or three practice sessions are probably not enough to evaluate the whole package. Usually with more running you find the sweet spot.

Q: After your Le Mans success, some have suggested that your future should now be in the World Endurance Championship. What’s your say?

NH: Ha, was it anybody who wants my cockpit? (laughs) To be honest: not right now. I still have unfinished business here. I came here with the dream to become world champion – and that has not changed. I am still chasing that: I don’t feel too old or think that I am running out of time.

Q: That leads directly to the question: if you still hang on to the dream of becoming a world champion – where would that be?

NH: Ha, nice try! Where – that is secondary! (laughs) We all know that if you want to win the title you have to sit in the right car. Right now I’m exploring my options. The ‘silly season’ is slowly coming into gear but I will stay put, work quietly in the back and see where I come out in the end. That’s the plan.

Q: But there are talks – with Force India and some other teams…

NH: All I’ll say: I am working on my future. Quietly in the back…

Q: Bernie Ecclestone promised Max Verstappen that the 2017 rule changes will move the driver back into the centre again: less PlayStation and more driving, less chit-chat from the pit wall and louder engines again. What would be your wish if you could post one?

NH: If I could have three wishes free: make [the cars] louder, faster and more aggressive again.