Nico Hülkenberg has acknowledged that he can do no more than he is already doing in his efforts to hang onto his Williams seat into a second consecutive season in 2011, after the F1 2010 rookie stunned fans and his fellow drivers alike by storming to a wholly unanticipated pole position for this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix.
The Cosworth-powered FW32 was clearly a handy package to have underneath him on slick tyres on such a treacherous track surface – as both Hülkenberg and ultra-experienced team-mate Rubens Barrichello ably demonstrated by easing through Q1 and Q2 at Interlagos – but still, to do what the young German did in Q3 was quite extraordinary.
Up against four of the current world championship protagonists and in conditions in which it was only-too-easy to get it all wrong – as a number of his adversaries did – Hülkenberg was faultless and, if you'll pardon the perhaps inevitable pun, incredible. His penultimate effort was comfortably good enough for pole position on its own; his final run obliterated that marker again.
“It's such an amazing feeling!” the 23-year-old enthused afterwards. “I didn't expect to be on pole today, but the team gave me a car that worked really well in these conditions and I hooked up a tidy lap. Going on slicks was obviously the right decision, and my engineer told me I had one last lap so I was squeezing everything out of the car, trying not to get on the wet parts. It was easy to make a mistake, but that lap was spot-on. My engineer came over the radio and told me I was on pole, but I couldn't quite believe it!
“We have to stay realistic for the race, and I'm aware that there are drivers behind me fighting for the championship, but we are fighting for position and we will be doing everything we can to get a good result. For now, thanks to Williams for giving me a really great car today – it's a great moment for us, and I'm just so happy and want to enjoy that moment with the team!”
Staying ahead of the title contenders, indeed, is not Hülkenberg's chief concern at present, but holding onto his Williams cockpit in 2011 undeniably is. With persistent rumours that his GP2 Series title-winning successor Pastor Maldonado – and the Venezuelan's reputed $15 million in backing – is trying to snatch it away from him, he needs
performances like this one to convince his employers that speed is more important than sponsorship.
“This means a pay rise actually...only joking,” quipped the driver nicknamed 'The Hulk' inside the paddock. “The situation at Williams is very open. Nothing is confirmed, but I just try to keep focussed on doing a good job – and so far it is working pretty well. If I do that and I don't make any silly mistakes, that is what I can do. Then it's up to the team if they want to keep me, but I am in a positive mood that we will have a successful conclusion to that story.”
With Williams chasing closest rival Force India's sixth spot in the constructors' rankings – and currently trailing the Silverstone-based squad by a mere three points with two races to go – the Grove-based outfit's first pole in over five years and exactly 100 races, allied to home hero Barrichello's solid sixth place, has put them in the best possible position from which to pounce.
“I am truly happy for the team – it's been a wonderful afternoon for us,” enthused the Paulista, who has rarely enjoyed any good fortune in front of his adoring partisan supporters. “We have a pole position, just not with me! I am thrilled for Nico, though. In these conditions, you need to keep temperatures up in the tyres, but I had a car in front of me going a bit slow so I lost temperature and went off. I'm pleased with P6 – it's still a strong place to start the race from.”
“That was a fantastic qualifying for the team, and for Nico and his engineers in particular,” concurred Williams' esteemed director of engineering, Patrick Head. “I think we saw something pretty special from him today. He did three timed laps on dry tyres, with his pole time over a second quicker than anyone else's. Rubens also drove well to sixth, a good starting point for the race.”