Top 10 of 2012: Number 5

This driver has burst onto the F1 scene as a potential world champion. He did this prospect no harm by becoming one of the outstanding sophomore drivers of the year, with solid and sometimes spectacular results throughout the whole year! this guy is one to watch out for, I can feel it. If you don’t see him in a top team by 2014, there is something wrong with the world.

5. Nico Hulkenberg

Over winter testing, there was a sense of quiet confidence in the silverstone-based team. They finished the year in 6th place, and, had they run one more race, they would almost have certainly taken 5th from Renault.  Testing went down rather inconspicuously, with the team not making too many headlines right away.  Their goal of 5th in the constructors’ championship would surely be a tough ask.  Nico Hulkenberg was now a fully fledged member of the team after he took Adrian Sutil’s race season for 2012.  His impressive rookie year in 2010 was a great foundation to build upon in the new season.

In Melbourne, Nico started the year off on a positive note by making Q3 and qualifying 9th.  In the race however, he was taken out before the first lap ended, just like in 2010.

In Malaysia, Nico’s qualifying wasn’t as impressive, and he ended Saturday down in 16th.  The chaotic race provided an excellent opportunity for Nico to show his race craft.  He battled his way up to 9th place by the end of the race.  In, fact, Force India was the only team that day to have both cars in the points.

In China and Bahrain, Nico had some underwhelming performances.  In Bahrain, it was the other Force Dndia driver who starred, taking a fine 6th place.

In Spain, Nico was back to the points.  A slightly underwhelming qualifying was improved upon in the race, though.  The young German had a race long battle with Mark Webber, with Nico eventually winning, bumping the Red Bull driver out of the points.

In Monaco, the strengths of the Force India came to the fore.  The VJMO5 chassis loves the tight confines and sharp turns of the luxurious principality and this showed in the race.  Staying out of trouble with the late-arriving rain, Nico ended the race in 8th place, one spot behind his teammate.

Nico ended up pointless in Canada, however it was an all around good drive.

Back in Europe, Nico started to show his true abilities.  He had a great qualifying and went to 8th on the grid.  He took advantage of his car’s strengths on street circuits to manage his tire wear to perfection and pull off some fantastic overtaking maneuvers.  In the end, he finished a career best 5th place, taking home 10 hard-fought world championship points.

However, this form didn’t last as long as he would have wanted.  Over the nest 3 races, Nico managed only 2 points in Germany.  The race at Hockenhiem looked to be one of his most promising, though.  In the wet qualifying session, Nico showed his colors and skills in the wet to qualify 5th on the grid.  This became 4th when Mark Webber took his gearbox penalty.  In the race however, the tendency for the force india to eat up its tires faster than rivals Sauber, took hold and he was unable to hold them, and a charging Button and Raikkonen, back.  His 9th place at the end of the day was hard-fought, but you got the sense that he could have dont more to get a better result.

Following this was an average race to 11th in Hungary. In Belgium, however, the story would be much different.

Rain throughout the weekend made the race a gamble in terms of tire wear and strategy, however, a one-stop looked feasible for every team on the grid.  Nico had a good qualifying session considering the conditions of the 2 days prior and went 12th fastest, with his teammate 9th.  Nico took advantage of the startline crash on race day to rise up to second while heading down the back straight.  This was a revelation for Force india. Could they get that magical win that they just missed out on in 2009? They couldn’t win in the end, but Nico held his own against the likes of Vettel, Raikkonen, Schumacher, Webber and Massa to take a new career-best 4th place.  these 12 points elevated him in the standings and within his team.

In Italy, everything was still looking good.  He was setting competitive times in practice (although Di Resta was being much more spectacular) and his long run pace was decent.  By the time qualifying started, he was in good spirits with a lot to look forward to.  On his first lap, however, as he braked for the first chicane, he went straight on and took to the run-off area.  A mechanical failure meant a potentially great qualifying was lost.  With no time set, he had to start dead last the next day.  His pace was good during the race, but in the end, not good enough to get him into the points. He ended up 14th.

A final underwhelming race in Singapore, where his teammate also shined to take a brilliant 4th place, set the stage for a final third of the season for the German which would distinguish him as one of the stars of the season.

In Japan, Nico qualified 10th, making it his 6th Q3 appearance of the season.  In the race, he took advantage of the crashes at the start to sit in 7th place for most of the race.  He stayed user the radar for a majority of the Grand Prix, but took home 6 great world Championship points.

In Korea he improved on his last qualifying effort to go 8th fastest.  He was one of the movers and shakers of the race, putting on fabulous displays of race craft when he overtook Hamilton and Grojean at the same time in 2 corners.  He kept up his pace throughout the day and managed his tire wear well to finish the race in 6th place. 8 more points to take home.

In India, the team wanted to put on a great performance for their loyal home crowd.  Nico didn’t put in a fantastic qualifying lap, but did a decent  job to end up 12th.  In the race, once again, he displayed calm and poise to finish the day 8th on a day when a lot of the midfield drivers were busy knocking into each other.

In Abu Dhabi, Hulkenberg again had a decent qualifying and went 11th fastest.  On Sunday however, his day ended abruptly as he became the innocent victim of a clash between Senna and Di Resta.  Ironically, Hulkenberg was the only one to retire on the spot even though he had nothing to do with the crash. Nico’s teammate later crashed out after coming together with Perez.

In Austin, Hulkenberg showed his adaptability by qualifying 8th on the brand new track.  This became 6th when Romain Grojean and Felipe Massa took their gearbox penalties. The latter one’s being controversial.  Nico couldn’t quite keep up with the leaders on Sunday, but did a stout job to finish best of the rest behind the leading 4 teams, bar Webber, to finish 8th.  He also did a fantastic job to keep behind the much faster Senna and Maldonado who easily has superior cars that day.

Brazil was the race which pointed out Hulkenberg as a future star of the sport.  The Force India was going very well the whole weekend at Interlagos.  Hulkenberg’s natural skill on this track showed when he qualified 7th.  Surely the memory of taking that shock pole position in 2010 at Interlagos was playing in his mind during his qualifying lap.  The rain that bucketed down the next day provided him the perfect opportunity to prove himself.  At the start, he made his was up into 4th place.  It soon became 3rd when he passed Massa.  When the rain increased in intensity, everyone thought he would start to fall behind the leading Mclarens.  if anything, though, he caught up to them.  He stuck to the gearboxes of the silver cars and impressed everyone lap after lap.  what was more impressive was his confidence in staying out on the slicks with Button when the rain picked up even more.  This turned out to be an inspired choice when the rain quickly leveled out to a manageable intensity.  Soon, after everyone had sorted themselves out in the pits, Hulkenberg and leader Button found themselves 40 seconds ahead of the pack with no sign of that lead decreasing.  Hulkenberg passed Button for the lead and then kept himself there for 30 laps, until Button repassed him.  An unfortunate safety car closed the increasing gap between Hulkenberg, Button, and the rest of the field. on the restart, Hamilton got the better of Button and passed Hulkenberg a few laps later.  However, the young german stuck with hamilton and soon sized him up for a pass into the first corner.  As he dove down the inside of the Mclaren, he put his back right wheel into the wet and slid wide into the Mclaren.  amazingly, the Force India escaped unharmed, but the Mclaren’s day was over.  Hulkenberg recieved a drive-through penalty for this incident which was a bit harsh considering the driving conditions.  nevertheless, Nico pushed on and finished the race in a fine 5th place.  The podium was easily possible that day, however.

These performances at the end of the season, I think, made Hulkenberg’s career.  He is moving to Sauber for 2013, but only really because Mclaren didn’t think to snatch him up instead of Perez.  It is rumored that Hulkenberg is first in like for a Ferrari seat in 2014, which would be very interesting indeed.  I have put Hulkenberg 5th on my list because he, like Perez, put in performances that surpassed the car he was in.  But unlike Perez, Nico built up to these performances with steady improvements to his racecraft and qualifying skills.  Hulkenberg has proved this year, that he has the potential to win not only races, but championships in the highest level of racing.

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