Brazilian Grand Prix star-turn Nico Hülkenberg 'is never going to be without a job' in F1 – that is the view of the sport's three-time world champion Sir Jackie Stewart, as Williams technical director Sam Michael described the German's performance at Interlagos at the weekend as 'exceptional'.
Hülkenberg stunned the paddock by storming to a superb pole position in qualifying in São Paulo, lapping more than a second out-of-reach of any of his rivals – the five title protagonists amongst them – on a treacherous track surface.
He then went on to put in a mature performance to take the chequered flag eighth in the race the following day, unsurprisingly struggling to stave off the faster Red Bulls, McLarens and Ferrari of F1 2010 World Championship leader Fernando Alonso, but doing enough to move his team past nearest rival Force India into sixth spot in the constructors' rankings with one grand prix remaining in Abu Dhabi in five days' time.
Despite that, though – the latest in a string of eye-catching outings of late – the 23-year-old's seat at the Grove-based concern remains under threat for 2011, with GP2 Series title-winning successor Pastor Maldonado continuing to lurk in the shadows, and the $15 million in sponsorship money the Venezuelan is able to bring with him a significant card in his favour.
However, Stewart – who in his capacity as a global ambassador for Williams backer RBS, was in the pit garage when Hülkenberg clinched the top spot in qualifying at Interlagos – is confident the Emmerich-am-Rhein native will not be left high-and-dry next year.
“I would be very surprised if he is not taken,” the Scot told GPWeek
. “The biggest chance he has now is of being grabbed by a more affluent team, not the risk of not having a drive. He is never going to be without a job.”
Indeed, after team co-founder Sir Frank Williams described Hülkenberg as a future F1 World Champion in-the-making [see separate story – click here
] – having already prevailed in practically all of the significant junior formulae – Michael has now been similarly quick to pour praise upon the team's impressive young charge in his assessment of Williams' Brazilian weekend.
“His performance was exceptional,” mused the softly-spoken Australian of qualifying at Interlagos. “It was great to see him do everything right on the slick tyre at the correct time. He didn't put a foot wrong and warmed the tyres up perfectly to generate the grip he needed for the lap time.
“It would be reasonable to say that we expected more in the race. It was clear to us that we didn't have the pace to match the top three teams, but we expected to be fighting for sixth and seventh positions. Unfortunately, we just weren't quick enough in the first stint with Nico. However, he did a good job to move us up in the constructors' table to sixth.
“We also had the pit-stop problem with Rubens [Barrichello – team-mate] that put him out of contention. We had a problem with the wheel nut engagement; we are still looking into the problem and although we don't have a definitive answer yet, we will ensure it is rectified for this weekend. After that, Rubens went for it as we expected him to do, but unfortunately it didn't quite pay off [due to his late-race collision with Scuderia Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari that left the Brazilian with a puncture].
“We remain pretty confident [for Abu Dhabi] and we are sure the car performance will be good. Our target is to maintain sixth position in the constructors' championship.”