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Nico Hulkenberg Q&A: Renault’s the new challenge I need

28 Oct 2016

He has started well over 100 Grands Prix, claimed a pole position and two fastest laps, and has also won Le Mans. But despite a total of five seasons with Force India, Nico Hulkenberg is still to taste the kind of F1 success he was so widely tipped for early in his career. So is his decision to join Renault for 2017 his final spin of the dice? A works team it may be, but one still very much in its infancy. Will the gamble pay off? We got Hulkenberg’s thoughts in an exclusive chat ahead of this weekend’s Mexican race…

Q: Nico, your move to Renault came as a surprise as you had already signed with Force India for 2017. Can you say something about the reasoning behind the change?

Nico Hulkenberg: That is quite simple: looking ahead for the next couple of years this future holds a lot of perspectives for my career. I always wanted to race - and work - for a manufacturer team in Formula One as I have not done that to date, so I believe joining Renault is a very good opportunity as I believe in the long term they will be able to supply me with a competitive car.

Q: Renault team principal Fred Vasseur said that you first started talks around the time of the Italian Grand Prix. How long was it before you really knew that putting your signature on a Renault contract was the right thing to do?

NH: Not too long to be honest. But that does not mean that it was an easy decision. I really thought about it hard and, of course, looked at the pros and cons - the situation here and there - and then made my decision.

Q: So can you tell us the pros and cons?

NH: I have made the reasoning for myself and don’t want to go into details - but the result was that I have signed with Renault.

Q: Fred said that he’s wanted to go racing with you again ever since your GP2 days together. Was his presence the icing on the Renault cake for you?

NH: It is certainly good that he is Renault’s team principal, as it is no secret that Fred and I have a good past together, winning two championships. And now to work with him in F1 is certainly something I am really excited about, as I think he is an important part of the team - but it was not just about him. If he weren’t there I still would be there in 2017. So yes, the icing on the cake.

Q: To switch from the team currently fourth in the constructors’ standings to the one in P9 is a pretty tough decision…

NH: Yes, but what about next year? Will it be the same next year?

Q: So you think things could switch around?

NH: No, no. I do believe that Force India will be competitive in 2017, but for me the perspective was the key issue - the long-term future. Yes, Renault has had a very difficult 2016, but don’t forget they bought the team very late last year with the result that they’ve lost a lot of good people - and in reality haven’t done a lot with the development of this year’s car. So, of course, the expectations are that it will be better. But it will take time - I have no illusions about that. It would be wrong to think that I have moved there believing that there will be podiums next year. It will be a long journey - a lot of work - but it is a new challenge for me and that is what I love and need: a new challenge. Hopefully we can seal P4 in the standings with Force India this season - that would be a huge achievement - but then it is time for a new challenge.

Q: How did you explain to Force India boss Vijay Mallya that you are moving on? Was it a heart breaking moment?

NH: It is, of course, tough when you talk to your boss and you like him and you have to tell him that you are leaving. That was not an easy moment. But when it comes to Vijay and the top management of Force India we do have a special relationship - not the usual driver and team principal relationship - so we were able to work it out on a good and friendly basis, which I really have to thank them for. I am very grateful to Vijay.

Q: So heart breaking but with a good ending for both sides?

NH: Yes.

Q: Do you have any idea of who will be your Renault team mate next season?

NH: It is certainly not my decision. And I think, as far as I know, nothing is decided yet.

Q: Renault’s plan is to be competitive for 2019 and beyond. That’s the time when your contract ends with them. Does that make you the development driver?

NH: I certainly hope we will become competitive before 2019. Maybe the targets that they set themselves are a bit conservative. Next season will mix up the field, so let’s hope I will help Renault further to the front. But let’s get started first, before talking about results.

Q: Austin was a bit of a lost weekend for you, after your contact at Turn 1. How did that all happen?

NH: Ha, that is the irony in this sport. My weekend was great up until that one moment - and then my whole weekend was destroyed. That only moment. It was a great qualifying - and then in the race one little moment decides whether you look great or like a loser. Sometimes the sport is really harsh on you. To be out on lap one - in corner one - that’s the worst! It just hurts. On top I haven’t done anything wrong. Unfortunately they say Sebastian (Vettel) hit me on my right-front tyre and broke my steering arm. Maybe a little earlier or later and I would have got away with probably losing some positions, but still being in the race. Frustrating, but nothing you can do.

Q: So what’s your plan for this weekend? At least finish lap one?

NH: Ha, that for sure! It is a very important weekend for the team with all our Mexican support. Last year it was a bit tricky here with the altitude and the pressure on the brakes and cooling system because of that. But we are prepared now - we have learned from 2015.

Q: So you believe that Force India can come away on Sunday still in P4?

NH: A very clear yes. Yes, we can.