One of the most discussed drivers of the current era, Nico Hulkenberg landed in Formula 1 in 2010 with an excellent CV in his pocket, a great talent and even greater hopes over his career. Back to these days, no one would have ever thought the young German would have written his name on the wrong side of sport’s record books.
Hulkenberg indeed owns a record he would be glad to give away: never, in the 177 F1 races he took part in, the #27 managed to step on the podium.
What shocks the most is the massive talent he owns: after winning the Formula 3 Euro Series in 2008 and the GP2 championship on his first attempt in 2009, he climed all the way to the top of the F1 ladder by getting a well-deserved Williams’ seat for the 2010 season.
On his debut year, Hulkenberg even managed to score an incredibile poleposition at the end of a messy Interlagos’ qualifying session. The following day didn’t go as planned, with the German already in P3 at the end of the first lap and strolling through the racetrack in his midfield-running Williams car to finish the race in eight place.
But there was plenty of time for him to reach the rostrum. That poleposition would have been just the first of a number of opportunities in such a talented driver’s career.
After one year spent as Force India’s reserve driver, Hulkenberg came back to the pinnacle of motorsport with a solid 2012 season. The season finale was hosted in Brazil but for the second time Interlagos mercilessly bit Nico.
Having led most part of the chaotic race, Nico lost the back end of his Force India and collided with Lewis Hamilton. With the damage, Hulkenberg also got a drive-through penalty that complitely killed his chances of a podium finish.
Between 2013 and 2014 his reputation as a talented driver kept growing, also thanks to the brilliant fourth place in Korea 2013 –earned by fending off Alonso and Hamilton for the whole race- and a 12 races long top ten finish streak.
In 2015 Hulkenberg secured what’s with no doubt the biggest achievement of his career: on the first attempt, alongside Tandy and Bamber, Nico wins the glorious 24 hours of Le Mans.
Meanwhile, though, in Formula 1 team mate Checo Perez managed to score a couple of podiums, while the rostrum was still nowhere to be seen for the German.
Another year, another chance lost: following a wet to dry qualifying session in Austria, the #27 started the race from the front row, just to throw it alla way on the run to turn one. Out of the first corner, Hulkenberg was already P8.
Nico then signed for Renault for the 2017 season, team in which he has raced since. Few opportunities showed up in the meantime, due to an underperforming car, but when they were there for the taking, Nico wasted them all.
He crashed out on his own in the mayhem of both Baku 2017 and 2018 and even in his home Grand Prix at Hockenheim this year the Hulk ended up against the barriers.
It just wouldn’t be fair to call it ‘bad luck’: the idea many people got through the years is that this lack of podiums built up a massive pressure on the german driver. In this decade of waiting he became prone to mistakes right when fate was smiling to the midfield runners. Just in the last three years Stroll, Gasly, Kvyat, Sainz and Perez got in the top 3 driving for ‘average’ teams, while Hulkenberg was never there.
It’s not my intention at all to degrade Nico’s talent –he’s even one of my favorite drivers in F1-, instead, as Sebastian Vettel said “it will be bitter not to see him in F1 next year. Knowing his potential he totally deserves this category”.
As a Hulkneberg fan, I personally wish him to build his confidence back by winning in other Series before coming back to the Circus. Because that’s the only way to put an end to this regretful brilliant career.