Nico Hülkenberg is a man with a plan, and one who knows exactly where he wants to go and when. He may be missing the final two rounds of the 2008/09 GP2 Asia Series to make way for ART Grand Prix team-mate Pastor Maldonado, but that has not knocked his confidence. Not one bit.
The young German stunned the GP2 community by setting pole position on his debut in Bahrain last month, and though he could manage no better than fourth position in either of the two races that weekend, he had nevertheless well-and-truly arrived. Having graduated from the F3 Euroseries as champion with ASM Formule 3, Hülkenberg was clearly keen to pick up exactly where he had left off.
In further evidence of that, the 21-year-old went on to take pole position again on his second outing at Losail in Qatar – to the tune of a gaping seven tenths of a second this time – and followed it up with a dominant victory in race one, only his third start in the championship, together with a further rostrum finish from eighth on the grid in race two.
Though a title challenge has been torpedoed by his having to relinquish the car to allow Maldonado some seat time before the main season gets underway in April [see separate story – click here
], it has been an encouraging start, to say the very least – and one not un-reminiscent of that of Renault Formula 1 test driver Romain Grosjean in last year's Asia Series.
“I think he will also do the main series this year, so I hope we can challenge him and have some good fights and good races,” the man dubbed the 'Incredible Hulk' said of Grosjean, who as team-mates he pipped to F3 Ultimate Masters glory at Zolder in 2007. “There are many other drivers in GP2 who are in their second or third year, though. That makes it even more difficult for a rookie, but we are trying hard and pushing and trying to get good results from the beginning.
“Qualifying was very surprising in Bahrain, even for me; I didn't expect to be that quick in my first qualifying session, but I just arrived in the car and felt comfortable in it and with the team. We have a good package, and we showed that in Bahrain and again in Qatar. Being competitive is great news for us.”
Indeed, Hülkenberg has been competitive in virtually every category of racing he has turned his hand to, from karting through German Formula BMW, up to A1GP, F3 and GP2, but that is not to say he has had things easy – far from it. Having triumphed in the Formula BMW World Finals in 2005 – at the end of his debut season in the series – he was subsequently stripped of the trophy for having brake-tested one of his rivals during a safety car period.
“That was a strange situation for everybody,” he recollected, speaking to our journalists, “but I took the penalty and for sure I learned from it for my future racing and moved on.
“We were lucky when we started Formula BMW with Josef Kaufmann; that was a very successful team and we had a very successful year. I felt very comfortable in the team and I had good team-mates; we were pushing each other a lot. I think that was one of the keys to the success we had.