Nico Hülkenberg has re-asserted that he is 'sure' about remaining in F1 in 2011 and that his immediate future on the grand prix grid 'looks good' – and as he pauses to reflect upon his rookie campaign in the top flight with Williams this year, he reveals that he is 'happy and sad at the same time', but bears no rancour towards his former employer.
Hülkenberg entered F1 in a blaze of glory and with an almost unrivalled reputation from the junior formulae, with title triumphs in the feeder GP2 Series, F3 Euroseries and A1GP World Cup of Motorsport. Much was expected of the highly-regarded young German – but aside from a stand-out qualifying performance to place a superb fifth on the grid in Malaysia in April, in truth, the opening half of the season was not a happy time for him.
“It is not easy to get into F1 nowadays,” he wrote on his personal website. “Now I know that I might have said too much at the beginning of the season. Before my time in F1, everything went more than well in A1GP, GP2 and the F3 Euroseries. In 2008 and 2009, I was test driver at Williams and I felt really good there. In 2009, I had the mega season in GP2 – I had my team-mate under control, won a lot of races and at the end [won] the championship.
“Then I came to F1. Of course, I was highly-motivated and on fire, but I only had seven days of testing before my first race weekend in Bahrain. It was quite difficult to understand the tyres, how to bring the brakes up to temperature and how to get a feeling for the perfect set-up, and many more difficulties every rookie has to face.
“Our car was quite difficult to drive, especially in the first eight races which were very hard for me, and I wasn't able to handle it compared to Rubens [Barrichello – team-mate] who has 18 years of experience in F1. I realised quickly through Rubens how important it is to have experience in this sport. He was the strongest team-mate I have ever had, and I am very pleased with the year at his side – he helped me with my development.
“We are both very ambitious drivers and of course we wanted to beat the other every time, however we have, I think, worked well together and taken the team forward. He looked stronger most of the time, but I did not give up; on the contrary, I still believed in myself and worked even harder. I really had to fight for the good results!
“Altogether, I can say that I was not happy with the first half of the season. I don't know if that means 'gaining experience', but I was quite p***ed [off]. The low points were in Shanghai and Istanbul where we weren't competitive at all, but it went better and better for me starting with Montreal – a great track, by the way! That was also the time when the updates on the car started to work.”
Musing that on the whole 'it was a very long and difficult season', it was one that was nonetheless punctuated by notable highlights for Hülkenberg, with a string of impressive points-scoring finishes over the second half and that
pole position at Interlagos, when he read the ever-changing track conditions better than anyone
in Q3 to snare the prime spot on the starting grid and leave observers' mouths agape. If you'll pardon the pun, it was, quite frankly, incredible.
“The absolute highlight of the season was of course the pole in Brazil,” he acknowledged. “Man, man, man, that was just INCREDIBLE, such a goose bump feeling! I have watched my lap already around 100 times and I am very proud. Even though I finished 'only' in P8, it was a really positive race for me – and those points were important to finish in front of Force India, which meant P6 in the constructors' championship.”