Q: Nico, the good news first: the VJM09 has turned into a very competitive car. The results show a real difference pre- and post-Barcelona. What has changed?
Nico Hulkenberg: To be honest it is a combination of things. Let’s start with Barcelona: it is a quick, flowing track with fast, flowing corners and our car likes more low-speed corners, 90-degree angles - twisty stuff! So after Barcelona we had Monaco - and a podium finish. Then in Montreal we were so-so. And then Baku again with a podium finish. And Baku especially suited our car and its characteristics - and on top came the supersoft and especially the ultrasoft tyres - and this combination made us very competitive on these kinds of tracks. But we’ve also changed the car a lot since Barcelona - there is a clear upward slope. The momentum is clearly on our side - and that’s fun. It is so much more fun to drive and compete at the front and not at the back! (laughs)
Q: That sounds like you’re pretty fond of the ultrasoft tyres. Are they a real enrichment to the 2016 tyre range?
NH: They are a little bit softer, yes, but of course they are not from a different planet. It is a tyre that gives you a bit more grip - especially in qualifying on one lap. But it’s not a totally different story.
Q: But is it more fun to feel the car almost glued to the track?
NH: For a driver more grip always means more fun. The faster you go, the bigger our smile! (laughs)
Q: Now the not-so-good news: you have not profited from the improvements as much as your team mate. Why? Can you talk us through your car troubles…
NH: Ha, right now it feels like the car has turned into the ‘Hulk’ and I into Bruce Banner! (laughs) Yes, lately it’s been tricky and difficult. The car has been good, yes. Take for example Monaco: the car was good, but we took a wrong decision there in my case during the race. We made a wrong call on strategy which is unfortunate, but it happens in those conditions. There I really could have been on the ‘steps’! Montreal was actually good. It was basically Baku that has let me down. In Baku we’d already compromised a lot on Saturday when I spun in qualifying. That hurt our weekend pretty much and from there onward we were on the back foot - and I take the responsibility for that. Spinning in qualifying should not happen. In the race I got hit by Esteban (Gutierrez) again into Turn 1 and lost more positions and fell really far behind. From there onwards it was a really difficult race. Unfortunately I couldn’t hang on to that seventh place. I had a mammoth stint on supersoft tyres, but couldn’t keep it together in the end. Seventh would have still been okay-ish with the car potential that we had. Yes, it was disappointing, but there are reasons behind that. We need to put it together better on the weekends.
Q: Talking of Baku, most drivers seemed to like the new street circuit. But it also seemed to be a track that you need to ‘click’ with. We have never seen so many mistakes from guys who are usually pretty flawless. One example: Lewis Hamilton…
NH: …he was looking for supermarkets! (laughs)
Q: Do you like the track?
NH: Absolutely! We need tracks like that. For me personally, it looked spectacular on TV and it was spectacular to drive - but very challenging. In qualifying you really needed to take your heart in your mouth and tell yourself: you are now going for it. Think of how narrow it is and what speed we were doing there! It’s kind of crazy and awesome at the same time. Just think of how many times we came to a ninety-degree corner at 340 or 350 km/h - with very hard braking and almost no run-off! A really difficult track - in a positive way: a huge challenge. And when you are going to the limit all the time you see drivers either using the emergency exit, or spinning or crashing, whatever.
Q: We will have a pretty demanding July: four races in a month. Usually it is the Silverstone weekend that sees serious upgrades on the cars - but is there time for implementation?
NH: Yes, of course. The race team is busy moving around, but at the factory everybody is working full steam.
Q: Will Force India be bringing something big?
NH: There are still things in the pipeline that we will bring later in the year. I am not sure if it will be at Silverstone or not. But now is the time where we are starting to look ahead to 2017, to set priorities.
Q: Wouldn’t it be a pity to let things go now that the team is on such a good run? Rather than concentrating on 2017 when nobody can guarantee the team will have such momentum?
NH: Yes, it is tempting to stick to 2016. Yes, we have put the car back to where it belongs so we have a good base - and the teams around us are in the same position. Probably not the big three, but Williams and Toro Rosso - our immediate competitors - are also in the situation of asking themselves whether they will stick with 2016 or move quickly on to 2017.
Q: Reports suggest that two big teams - Ferrari and Williams - could have seats available for 2017…
NH: Really? (laughs) Interesting. Bad timing, as I still have a contract with Force India. It’s in black and white - all written down. And I am happy that I can stay at home at my place Force India!
Q: Coming back to this weekend: you did pretty well here last year - with the pre-B-spec version. So either the track fits the car or the driver - or both...
NH: I did pretty well, yes. I came here on the tailwind of my Le Mans win and drove the life out of my car here. (laughs) Looking at the weekend I think we will be competitive again - but Williams will be strong. And if you take the big three teams you could argue that the first six places are already taken - then you have Williams, us, and Toro Rosso are also not too far away. I’ve had already some rough weekends, so luck finally should move over to my side. I want a smooth, clean weekend with a good result. And that from now on - weekend after weekend after weekend!