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Nico Hulkenberg Q&A: Podium the main target in 2016

15 Jan 2016

He’s long been regarded as one of F1 racing’s brightest talents, but as he heads into his sixth campaign Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg is still seeking his maiden trip up to the rostrum. In an exclusive interview, the German discusses his prospects for 2016, the importance of that Le Mans win, and why he won’t be buying curtains with Sergio Perez anytime soon…

Q: Nico, 2015 was probably not all to your liking. What do you want to change for 2016 to make it a happier season?

Nico Hulkenberg: Some things will always be beyond your control. But you have to constantly learn from any mistake - especially your own. This is how you get better, and this is what matters. I want to make this my best season in F1: in terms of points and my position at the season’s end. And I want to push myself on to the podium - hopefully and finally! (laughs). For that, I will just do what I do best: drive fast and enjoy what I love doing!

Q: Your team mate Sergio Perez is quoted as saying that he’s again waiting to make a jump to one of the top teams. What about you? Are you also constantly prepared to leap to one of the front-row teams?

NH: I have extended my contract at Force India and I am eager to deliver the best. For me, it’s not just about the rows - there is more to it. Formula One has always been a team sport. It’s about the people you work with - and I’m currently very happy with my team.

Q: In reality, speaking about a drive at a front running team, that would very likely only mean Ferrari for you. Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley is quoted as saying that the team would not stand in your way if they came knocking…

NH: As I just said, right now I am very happy where I am. Force India is a cool team. And dreaming is a dangerous thing in F1 - especially dreaming in red. (laughs)

Q: Can you understand Ferrari’s decision to keep Kimi Raikkonen? Do you think it was all about the ‘feelgood factor’ for Sebastian Vettel?

NH: Kimi is still a big name in Formula One and Ferrari has great people who need to make decisions. I think they know what they are doing.

Q: Fernley is also quoted as saying that letting you race at Le Mans contributed to keeping you at Force India. How important was that Le Mans experience - and how important was winning it?

NH: I must admit Le Mans was very special. Me, and the others (team mates Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber), gave our very best. What happened in Le Mans is a good example that shows the power of sport. Nothing is really impossible. Le Mans was not just about the title but also about the emotional experience that came with it for me - that there is still the ‘winning gene’ within me!

Q: How disappointing is it that you cannot defend that win this season as the Le Mans weekend clashes with a Grand Prix?

NH: It is disappointing for sure, but I have always said that Formula One is my first priority. This is where I’ll keep attacking.

Q: Force India had their best ever season in 2015. Some have questioned whether it was the team stepping up that delivered P5 in the constructors’ standings or whether it was down to the fading fortunes of others, such as McLaren. But isn’t it all the same? Surely keeping the momentum, as Force India did while others didn’t, is as good as stepping up, isn’t it?

NH: If you look closely at the last few years, 2015 in particular and most importantly what and also how we achieved that, you’ll see that we have significantly improved - not just kept the momentum. This is probably how those who didn’t get it right want to put it. 2015 was our best year: we, as a whole team, earned that position.

Q: Will it stay this way in 2016? Will the fact that teams will have one eye on the rule changes of 2017 work in your favour?

NH: I believe that we will be competitive again in 2016, despite what happens with 2017. It´s always difficult to judge what others will do and where you will pan out for the first race, but from what I have seen of what the team is doing and developing, I think we can challenge for good results - probably even better than in 2015.

Q: Winter is the time to recharge the batteries after a long season - but it is also the time to build up your strength again. When does relaxation end for you and preparation start again?

NH: Recharging the batteries is a significant part of the job. My family and friends are very important to me and I enjoy spending quality time with them. They take the stressful year off my mind. But now, the lazy days are over - I’m off the couch and into the pool, streets or court to get myself in good shape. Pre-season is an important time where we build up for the year ahead.

Q: Teams will run two four-day tests starting towards the end of February. Is that enough? What would be ideal for a driver of a team like Force India?

NH: At the end of the day that´s all everybody has and we all have to work with this time. Less testing could mean better opportunities during the first couple of races if we’re better prepared than others - and have kept the momentum. So fingers crossed!

Q: There’s fierce competition between every team mate pairing. But do you understand what is going on at Mercedes - that things sometimes seem to slip beyond a normal team mate rivalry?

It was a hard competition, interesting to watch and a good show for the spectators - on and off track! (laughs)

Q: How is it with you and Checo? Is friendship possible in F1 racing? Would you say that you have a friend among the other drivers?

NH: A good relationship in F1 can be described by a fun word that I just heard the other day. It’s called ‘frenemy’- a weird mix between friend and enemy. In this environment you’ll switch quickly from team spirit to rivalry - and back. It’s a wicked, wicked love/hate thing. The good thing is we don’t have to choose curtains together - I’ve heard that can be very dangerous for any relationship. But overall I am very happy with my team mate, we get on well together.