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Nico Hulkenberg Q&A: Williams in Force India's sights

09 Mar 2016

Even after eight days of pre-season testing, teams will only truly find out where they stand in 2016 when qualifying begins in Australia. Despite this Nico Hulkenberg says Force India have seen enough to be optimistic about their prospects - and are setting their sights on Williams as a result...

Q: Nico, you topped the timesheets on day three of the first test but said not to read too much into it at the time. Now we've had the full eight days of the pre-season, what can we read into Force India's prospects?

Nico Hulkenberg: The test days are often tactical rather than being a sporting showdown - many teams bluff to hide their real performance level. We did a little reality check, probably earlier than most other teams. I guess that explains the result of that test day - that and my moderate poker skills (laughs). But I am satisfied with the pre-season and leave Barcelona pretty optimistic.

Q: Most of the teams brought upgrades to the crucial last few days of testing. What is new for Force India heading into the Australian season opener?

NH: In general, the stability in the technical regulations means that upgrades are more of an evolution than a revolution. Good for us: last year we already achieved the team's best result in the championship and had a strong base. Our VJM09 is the targeted progression of our successful B-spec chassis. Even the design is quite similar to the one last year. However, my new helmet is definitely the most remarkable change in 2016!

Q: So how competitive do you think your car is now? And how long will that last before major upgrades will be needed not to fall seriously behind?

NH: Why speculate about it? Let's just be a little patient and find out together in the coming months! Anyhow - I have big faith in our factory to bake a nice little upgrade in time to be in sweet shape!

Q: During the first test we saw a fair number of 'political' lap times - drivers running on ultrasoft tyres and with very low fuel. What did you make of such laps - and did they reveal anything ahead of Melbourne?

NH: As I mentioned the test days are a platform for tactical moves. Each team must make a decision whether pure testing or political driving is the best way to improve the starting position in Australia. It's part of the game. Melbourne will show which team followed the best strategy.

Q: So who do you think is in the best shape, based on your own reading of the timesheets?

NH: I think this F1 season will be highly competitive. Not boring. Obviously, Mercedes and Ferrari will dominate in 2016 - again. Williams are the favourites for third place in the championship. What counts for me and our team is being the best of the rest - and perhaps a little bit more! Who knows...

Q: How did you spend your winter? What is the cool side of Nico Hulkenberg?

NH: I have done a lot of nothing, which is great after a long year and a demanding season! (laughs) I always give my mind and body a few quiet weeks to recharge, which I enjoy a lot. Some lazy days at home, watching movies from bed, etc. But I did some cool stuff: I had a trip to Lapland to drive on ice, spent some time in sunny Miami as compensation for the icy temperatures in Lapland, and attended the Milan Fashion week - to name a few things!

Q: With the huge changes coming in 2017, some teams might opt to stick with their current driver line-ups. Could that upset your plans for your future?

NH: No. Just now the future doesn't matter for me. I extended my contract last year and I'm happy to work with my team on new objectives. Last year was the best year for Sahara Force India. This season should become the best year of my career too. I'm hungry to push myself onto the podium - in a Sahara Force India.

Q: Looking to the more immediate future, we have Australia in just over seven days. You've scored big points in the last two years there - what are you expecting in 2016? 

NH: After the testing days we look optimistically forward to the start of the season in Melbourne. To repeat the seventh [from 2015] or sixth [in 2014] place would be a good start. We will need the combination of a reliable powerful car and steady performance of the driver. But as I already said: I always push myself to the maximum.