Fifth place 'ideal result' for incredible Hulkenberg
9 September 2013
Nico Hulkenberg clinching a third place start on the grid was one of the highlights of qualifying on Saturday, but many still expected the Sauber to become a mobile chicane at the start of the Italian Grand Prix and to steadily fall back once the race got underway.
While it's true that Hulkenberg was unable to stop the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa surging past him on the opening lap, there's no shame in that - even the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have been unable to stop that from happening in recent times.
What's remarkable is that once the Ferraris were clear, Hulkenberg maintained fifth position right through to his one and only pit stop of the day at the end of lap 24, and after that he steadily worked his way back to fifth place which he then held for the last 15 laps of the race despite coming under strong pressure toward the end from Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes.
“It's a great result," he said. "Another great performance by the team today. I am very happy and fifth was the ideal result.
"Despite starting third, it was always clear keeping the Ferrari and Red Bulls behind was not realistic. I lost two places right at the start, but then the pace was good and, especially towards the end, I was able to catch up quite a bit again.
"I kept the Mercedes behind with Nico leaving no room for me making any mistakes," he added. "It's a very nice result for the team, and finally we have some points again. I hope this will give us some momentum, so we can carry this form on to the next couple of races."
Sauber F1 team principal Monisha Kaltenborn was ecstatic after a rare piece of good news for the Swiss team which has been under intense financial pressure in recent months.
"We are happy about such a great result. Nico fought hard and drove a fantastic race. The crew did a great job as well today," she said. "We all need money, that's what the sport is about, we have got into a partnership and it allows us to move in the right direction. But these results show we are moving in the right direction and that's what we all need.
"We are pleased to see that, for the first time, the result reflects us making a step forward with the development of the car. A big thank you to the race team here in Monza and the team back in Hinwil."
"It's a fantastic result for Nico, who withstood pressure from Nico Rosberg throughout, and didn't put a foot wrong, added Tom McCullough, Sauber's head of track engineering. "Finally he was rewarded for the fantastic job he did [in qualifying].".
Hulkenberg was at the centre of attention with his performance over the weekend. Since it all took place in Ferrari's backdoor, there was considerable speculation about whether he might just have staged a successful audition for the Ferrari number two seat in 2014 with his dazzling display at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza.
"It's definitely something I wouldn't deny which I'm definitely interested in, it's a no-brainer. I don't know if it will happen, time will tell," said said Hulkenberg. "There has been speculation and lots of talk, but at some point the talking has to stop and the decisions will be made."
Monza was not such a happy hunting ground for Hulkenberg's rookie team mate Esteban Gutierrez, who went against the mainstream opinion on tyres by starting on the hard compound and making them stretch to lap 27 before his one and only pit stop of the afternoon. Unfortunately the second half of the race on the medium options saw him fall back and lose most of that early gained ground, with the young Mexican finally finishing in 13th position from a grid place of 16th.
"Esteban was held up several times and thus lost the chance to score points," explained Kaltenborn. "Overall, however, he drove yet again a very strong race and showed he is constantly improving."
But with Kaltenborn confirming to Sky Sports F1 at the weekend that Sergei Sirotkin would indeed have a guaranteed race seat at the team in 2014 as long as he qualified for the necessary superlicence over the winter, and Gutierrez set to stay with the team because of the much-needed sponsor money he brings in from Mexico communications giant Telmex, it seems that despite Hulkenberg's outstanding run in Monza the German may yet end up being the odd man left standing when the silly season music stops playing.