It’s one thing to be able to demonstrate your abilities by racing in a quick car at the front of the field. Life in the midfield is tough in a different way, but Nico Hulkenberg has consistently risen above its frustrations to prove he is worthy of a front-running car.
Those frustrations began in Australia, where his car failed before the race have even begun. The next grand prix began in wet conditions and Hulkenberg took advantage, moving up to sixth before the track dried out. He took his first points with eighth but Sauber were beginning to get a sense of their car’s shortcomings in normal conditions.
Despite that on lap seven of the Chinese Grand Prix Hulkenberg’s car appeared in the lead. This was partly due to several of the front runners making early pit stops, but also because Hulkenberg had taken of the scrapping behind them to pass Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button. His tyre-troubled car slipped to tenth at the flag.
The extent of Sauber’s tyre troubles became clear in the following races but at times the team made life harder for themselves. Hulkenberg was working his way towards the points places in Spain when he was waved into the side of Jean-Eric Vergne’s car in the pits.
|Beat team mate in qualifying||18/19|
|Beat team mate in race||12/15|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||808/943|
A slow puncture delayed his progress at Silverstone. And there were more problems in the pits in Hungary where a gearbox fault caused him to exceed the pit-lane speed limit. But amid that disappointment there were signs of encouragement for Sauber.
With a new aerodynamics package on the C32 and aided by the mid-season change of tyres, the car was suddenly a more competitive proposition. The transformation was immediately apparent in Hulkenberg’s performances: having missed Q3 by a few hundredths of a second on several occasions he now became a regular visitor to the top ten.
He delivered on that potential in extraordinary fashion in Italy, out-qualifying everything that wasn’t a Red Bull, then claiming fifth in the race behind them and the Ferraris. This was top-drawer stuff in a car that clearly wasn’t capable of more.
Hulkenberg continued his giant-killing in Korea where he not only held off Fernando Alonso but seized an opportunity to pass Lewis Hamilton as well and kept both of them behind for fourth place.
Sauber’s hopes of catching Force India in the points standings were scuppered by further misfortune on Hulkenberg’s car: a floor problem in India and another unsafe release from the pits in Abu Dhabi.
Hulkenberg was back up with the front runners at the Circuit of the Americas where he narrowly lost out in a scrap with Alonso.
It almost goes without saying that he blew rookie team mate Esteban Gutierrez into the weeds. The only time Hulkenberg started a race behind his team mate was in Singapore, due to a DRS problem in qualifying.
With cash-strapped Sauber unable to keep hold of him, Hulkenberg has returned to Force India for next year. Despite another impressive season he continues to be overlooked by the top teams. It’s a sad indictment of Formula One that talent like Hulkenberg’s is being passed over for those who have more money.
How the rankings are produced
This is a ranking of how drivers have performed in the 2013 season, irrespective of their form in previous years. Among the data referred to in producing the rankings are notes on each driver’s performance at each race weekend, compiled data on car performance, direct comparisons between team mates and each driver’s form guide.
Over to you
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2013 F1 season review
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