Top 10 F1 Drivers of the Year 2012:
6: Nico Hulkenberg
August 19, 1987
Sahara Force India F1 Team
Force India-Mercedes VJM05
Crash.net F1 Driver of 2011 position:
When Adrian Sutil found himself the odd man out in a three-way battle for the Force India seats in 2012, Nico Hulkenberg was handed the opportunity to re-establish his credentials alongside Paul di Resta – and the younger German seized the opportunity with both hands.
Although he trailed the Scot early in the season, Hulkenberg came on strong in the second half, capped by fourth place in the Belgian Grand Prix. With just minor points finishes and a best of fifth from the attrition-hit European GP in Valencia to show for his early efforts, the Spa race provided something a turning point, and five points finishes in the final six races – interrupted only by a DNF in Abu Dhabi – helped lift the German to the fringe of the top ten overall and nearly 20 points clear of his team-mate, whose season kind of spiralled in the opposite direction.
Moreover, Hulkenberg's late form also propelled the former GP2 Series champion into the speculation over possible vacancies at both Ferrari and McLaren, with both apparently looking favourably on the German as a potential replacement for Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton respectively. In the end, however, Massa was retained and Sergio Perez got the nod to replace Hamilton, leaving Hulkenberg to slot into the Mexican's berth at Sauber for 2013.
Many are viewing that move as sideways from Force India, at best, and Hulkenberg's front-running form at Interlagos – where a shot at winning the Brazilian Grand Prix was ended by a clash with Hamilton while attempting to retake top spot in tricky conditions – suggested that perhaps a bigger team should have taken the opportunity to secure his services. With a rookie team-mate in 2013, there is much for the German to lose, but a decent Sauber should also allow him to again shine brightly enough to warrant consideration from the likes of Woking and Maranello.
Top 10 F1 Driver of the Year 2012 results so far:
7. Mark Webber
8. Sergio Perez
9. Felipe Massa
10. Kamui Kobayashi