Williams F1 rookie Nico Hülkenberg was left hailing 'a breakthrough' at the end of qualifying for the 2010 Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang this weekend, as the highly-regarded young German achieved what is by some margin the finest grid position of his fledgling top flight career to-date with a superb fifth place.
In challenging and treacherous conditions that caught out many a far more experienced hand – world champions Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button most notably amongst them – Hülkenberg was flawless, not putting a foot wrong as he progressed comfortably and safely through Q1 and Q2.
From there, the reigning GP2 Series Champion handled his first F1 top ten shoot-out session with seasoned aplomb, and a third row starting spot – an eight-place improvement on his previous best from his debut in Bahrain – demonstrated that the 22-year-old is now beginning to evince some of his undoubted potential at the highest level.
“Finally, we had a bit of a breakthrough today,” he expressed afterwards. “It was very tight out there and my lap wasn't perfect so I could have done a little better, but I'm happy where I am and I'm happy for the team as well. The car has proved to be good in wet conditions and I like driving in the wet, so I'm looking forward to the race. A lot will depend on what the weather will do tomorrow, though.”
One man who is invariably happy when the heavens open is Hülkenberg's Williams team-mate Rubens Barrichello, with the most experienced driver in F1 history lining up directly behind the sister Cosworth-powered FW32 in seventh – albeit acknowledging that the outcome does not accurately represent the team's true pace.
“There are two ways to look at qualifying,” reasoned the veteran Brazilian. “The positive is that we are happy as a team, but I don't think we would have achieved P5 and P7 in a dry session. In hindsight, I should have chosen intermediates for my last run, which would have given me a better lap time. I'm still pleased as we are better prepared for tomorrow.”
“That was a great qualifying result for the team,” concluded the Grove-based outfit's technical director Sam Michael. “Both drivers drove well in the conditions, and it was encouraging to watch. Furthermore, the engineers made good calls with the windows that they chose to send the cars out in. We'll now look to converting our position to a good race result tomorrow.”