Force India's Nico Hulkenberg 100 races in Formula One
His rise has already seen him win three championships outside F1
"The Hulk" set believes he will one day become world champion
A bad workman blames his tools, but in the case of Formula One, an elite race car is the minimum requirement.
As Nico Hulkenberg prepares for his 100th grand prix in Russia this weekend, the German is still waiting for the top-tier machine which will enable him to compete for the podium finishes he craves.
“When I discovered racing at seven years old, straight away there was that desire,” Hulkenberg tells CNN, illustrating his point with a sharp snap of the fingers.
“The wish to become a Formula One driver and formula one world champion started in me and has never left me since.”
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After taking the German junior karting title in 2002, 16 years after Michael Schumacher, many earmarked Hulkenberg as a potential star.
Indeed, as he earned his racing stripes, the German emerged a winner in every category he competed in, and has Formula BMW, A1GP, and Formula Three championships to his name.
The considerable step-up to F1 beckoned, but not before a GP2 Series title in his rookie season – a feat matched by just two men, Lewis Hamilton and current championship leader Nico Rosberg.
It was the Williams team that eventually gave him his big break and, on the 2 November 2009, Hulkenberg had a spot on the grid at the age of just 22.
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Big Leagues, small gains
“You need to be better than the others,” Hulkenberg enthuses. “You need to beat them; you need to win.”
An unlikely pole position at the Brazil Grand Prix during his debut F1 season suggested he was ready to do just that. Wisely opting for slicks instead of intermediate tires, Hulkenberg qualified a full second faster than his nearest rivals.
But his eventual eight place finish will have been a rude awakening.
And it got worse. That year, despite a strong back end to the campaign, Williams directors opted to replace Hulkenberg with his former GP2 series teammate, Venezuelan driver Pastor Maldonado.
The new man provided lucrative financial backing, but it was the first of a catalog of frustrations for the youngster, typified by the fact Maldonado had finished a full 64 points behind him during their time together.
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Now, despite his youthful complexion, Hulkenberg approaches 30 still searching for that elusive first win.
With Force India since 2014, the German has twice finished fourth, but he is yet to climb onto the podium.
He retired from five of the 10 final races in a frustrating 2015 season, and sits adrift in eleventh place in the drivers’ standings this campaign.
Luckily, Hulkenberg’s dissatisfaction with not competing at the front of the grid hasn’t made him angry. After all, nobody likes “The Hulk” when he’s angry.
“You need to catch the attention of the people that run the sport and team bosses at F1,” says Hulkenberg, when asked about the nickname which adorns the back of his helmet. “I think that’s what I’ve managed to do.
“I’m quick. I think I’m good and consistent. And I think I can be focused on the sport when it really counts – that one lap. To be there, to be present and to deliver the things that need to be delivered.”
“Obviously it’s a team sport so you have to get on with many people,” Hulkenberg reflects. “You have to be social and help people.
“But when you get behind that wheel, in the action during a race, you have to … change character a bit.”
Referring back to his nickname, he laughs. “You know Hulkenberg is the full name,” he adds. “You just cut off the second bit and go with Hulk.”
“The press and media use it a lot but also friends and everybody around me. It’s just short and crispy and easy for everybody to understand.
“It’s something that we identify ourselves with.”
100 down, 100 to go
Reflecting on his career to date, Hulkenberg describes it as “challenging” and “emotional.”
“To capture the 100 races in three words is tough, but one word for sure would be fun,” he says.
And if it’s been a wild ride so far, he is not content with resting on his achievements.
“You know the Grands Prix that are ahead are of equal or maybe even more importance,” says Hulkenberg, thinking of the future. “So I look forward to the next 100!”
“2012 force India VJM05.”
“To be patient and to be social with people.”
“F1 world champion.”
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