After Nico Hulkenberg's stellar fifth place in the Italian Grand Prix, Sauber hoped to carry its momentum to Singapore, and very nearly came away with a double points finish.
Although it was rookie team-mate Esteban Gutierrez who stole team headlines in qualifying by making it through to Q3 for the first time – Hulkenberg having been denied at the last gasp by Jenson Button – the German came through in the race, holding on in the face of pressure and fading tyre performance to escape with ninth place and another couple of points.
“All in all, we can be happy,” Hulkenberg admitted, ““It was a very tough race and, at the end, it was a pure fight for survival, because the tyres were pretty much gone. Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber were all on fresh tyres and I simply had to focus on staying on track and finishing the race.
“However, we brought home two points and, to be honest, I didn't expect much more than that. You can't expect that every weekend will be like Monza now, but we improved significantly.”
Hulkenberg started on Pirelli's supersoft tyres, and ran a second set between laps 13-25 before changing to the harder medium compound and trying to make it to the end. In common with team-mate Gutierrez and Jenson Button's McLaren, it was a little too far, as all three cars faded in the closing stages, but Hulkenberg was more perplexed by a mid-race stewards call that he felt cost him vital track position earlier on.
“I had a very good start and then a racing situation with Sergio Perez,” he explained, “In the end, I had to give back the position to him and I don't quite agree with that. There was a Williams in the fight as well, Sergio was on the inside, but I had to leave space and caught the outer kerb. Then my car bottomed and I was off… However, I was in front of Sergio before and after the corner!”
Gutierrez, after his sterling efforts in qualifying – he lined up tenth after the team opted not to make a run in Q3 – was running in the points until the closing stages, when he suffered a similar tyre issue to his team-mate. However, he blamed himself for earlier struggles that prevented him making the most of his grid position.
“We expected a better result today,” the rookie sighed, “Our pace during the race was not good enough, especially at the beginning, as I was fighting a lot with the car. At times, I pushed a bit too much, had a lot of oversteer and the tyres were degrading.
“The strategy was not ideal [and] it was one of the toughest races I have ever had, but I did the best I could and this is where we finished. Despite that, the weekend was a step forward and now I will keep working to improve.”
“Scoring points again was obviously very good for the team,” head of track engineering Tom McCullough confirmed, “The timing of the safety car meant it was very difficult to get to the end from there, but we elected to do that with both cars.
“Nico managed the tyres and the pressure from behind very well, and it's a shame he had to give his position up to Sergio Perez because he went off the track - not to gain a position but to avoid a crash. Esteban lost track positions when the safety car came out, and, after that, he suffered some slight tyre degradation, but overall, we take a lot of positives from this weekend to the upcoming races.”