“The 2019 season finale in Abu Dhabi will represent another farewell as Renault F1 Team bids au revoir to Nico Hülkenberg after three seasons together”.
This is the incipit of Renault’s press release to bid farewell to Nico Hulkenberg, who will not race in F1 next year. The German’s final race has apparently been overshadowed by other mediatic matters since the beginning of the Abu Dhabi weekend. As soon as Nicholas Latifi was announced as Williams driver on Thursday, it became automatically clear that there were no chances left for Hulkenberg.
The 32-year-old will go down in history as one of the most underrated drivers on the grid, holding the record for the highest amount of races completed without a single podium finish. Hulkenberg has never successfully secured a top-team drive throughout his 9-year career, having always emerged as a strong midfielder with Williams, during his two stints at Force India, Sauber and now Renault.
The French-based team scored a ‘superb’ fourth place in the constructors’ in 2018 with Hulkenberg in its line-up. The German also sealed a big achievement in the drivers’ championship that year, polishing his best finish (9th) to a remarkable seventh.
Sporting director Alan Permane recounted an insightful and endearing anecdote on the German, who always appeared as a focussed and quiet driver that is keen on measuring his words and reactions.
“I can remember one time in Silverstone in 2017 when he had been telling us about a particular handling characteristic of the R.S.17 – he wanted to carry more speed into the corners and felt the downforce was dropping off just where he needed it most. We developed a new floor to help with this and finally got one in time for the British Grand Prix. He didn’t say anything for a while on the radio and then finally keyed up. He said: ‘I haven’t said anything but if you could see my face, you’d see there was a massive smile on it!’ It kind of sums him up: when he’s got something to say, it’s always worth listening”.
His race engineer Mark Slade also took the chance to describe his driver, by enhancing his sense of humour and straightforwardness. “He’s smart, efficient and doesn’t mess around, although he does have a particularly good sense of humour. He’s determined to deliver and he’s remarkably resilient, probably much more than we are in engineering!”
Nico Hulkenberg’s farewell goes along with the end of a decade, where experienced yet talented drivers have been overlooked and youngsters have been moving up to F1 at a fast pace. Hulkenberg has been put aside as the ‘odd man out’ in a cruel game where money moves prevail, but his value as a competitive driver who made a name for himself through his talent will remain unquestionable.
The German has not announced his future plans yet, but he is rumoured to be closing in on a deal with DTM, the same option that Polish driver Robert Kubica might have been considering to date.
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