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If you have followed Formula 1 for the past decade then I’m sure you’re aware of who Nico Hülkenberg is and if you haven’t head over to Netflix and watch Drive to Survive season 2. If you only followed him in Formula 1 then you probably assume that he’s not the incredible driver that he actually is but the man who works so hard to win, has been hovered over with what would appear to be a curse but is at the very least a serious run of bad luck, with his best position from 2010-2019 in Formula 1 being fourth and that ever elusive podium staying just out of reach.
Today I want to run you through the history of the Hulk’s driving career, which is very relevant right now as he stands in for Segio Perez in the Pink Mercedes of Racing Point.
NOT IN THE MOOD TO READ? WATCH INSTEAD.
THE CURSE BEGINS
Nico began racing at the age of 10 back in 1997 in karting and by the age of 15 in 2002 he had won the German Karting Championship. His skills were so impressive that his manager had become none other than Willi Webber, who was the former manager of Michael Schumacher. Webber had no doubt that Nico would go on to be one of the greats and gave him the nickname “The Hulk” because of the person he became when he sat in the driver’s seat.
In 2005 Nico made his grand debut in the no longer running Formula BMW in Germany and he destroyed the competition, he was easily beating all of his competition for the entire tournament and he won the championship with easy taking first place in his debut. However shortly afterwards he was stripped of the title after it was claimed that he had brake-tested his competition during a race while the safety car was out.
Until he began in Formula 1 though, this would be the end of his poor fortune for the most part.
AN INCREDIBLE RUN OF WINS
In the same year that Nico joined Formula Three (2006), he also entered the A1GP and took 9 wins, racking up 128 points for his team and country, making him the most successful driver in A1GP history.
He had similar luck with Formula Three between 2006 and 2008, finishing fifth in the German Formula Three in 2006 before joining the Formula Three Euro championship in 2007. He managed to claim a third place overall in this championship despite a couple of small incidents which hindered him from moving further up the list such as being penalized in qualifying for passing a chequered flag twice. However it wouldn’t matter, he would go on to destroy the competition in 2008 and earn his place moving up the ladder to GP2 (Formula 2).
On entering GP2 in January 2009, he came first in his first race which was the Bahrain GP and was so faced he finished 13 seconds ahead of Segio Perez who came second. Although he had no other wins in the season, he raced well and managed to finish 6th in his first season which would get him on the radar of a certain British Formula 1 team.
A DECADE OF NO WINS
In November of 2009, it was confirmed that Nico would drive for Williams in 2010 alongside Rubens Barrichello. The first few races for Nico didn’t go as well as he would have liked, on his first race in Bahrain he spun early in the race and finished 14th and then had similar luck and some engine failures along the way.
The 2010 Brazillian Grand Prix he gained his first pole position qualifying and it seemed the greatness Webber had seen would come to light. Nico qualified a second ahead of Sebastian Vettel who would go on to become World Champion that year for the first time. Sadly after the race started the other, more powerful, teams gained back the advantage and Nico finished in 8th place. Frank Williams decided that Nico would not stay with the team for 2011.
After being made the reserve driver for the relatively new Force India team in 2011, it was confirmed that Nico would once again get his seat in Formula 1 for the 2012 season. His first race in Australia did not get off to a good start as he took damage on the first lap, retiring shortly after. In Belgium that year he would have his best every finish in Formula 1 for the rest of his career after spending most of the race in 2nd place before being overtaken by Kimi Räikkönen during a pit stop and then both were overtaken by Vettel, which left Nico in a fourth place finish. Little did he know that this would be his best finish for the next seven years.
In 2012, he finished 11th overall in the Championship and this would be a setting trend through the next few years finishing either 9th or 10th in the tournament every year apart from 2018 where he finished in 7th place overall while driving for Renault.
Sadly this meant that in 2019 Renault announced that they would replace Nico with Ocon for 2020 and this left Nico without a seat in Formula 1 for 2020, leaving us to assume that he would never stand on that podium after a Formula 1 race. However little did he know, a year later he would get another chance.
Throughout the years he had some incredible race moments for Sauber and Renault, as well as Force India, which interestingly is now Racing Point, which is interesting because of this weekend when I’m writing this, but we’ll get to that later.
PROOF OF HIS DRIVING TALENT
In 2015 Nico drove for the Porsche Team in the 24 Hours at Le Mans, alongside Nick Tandy. This was his first race in Le Mans and he went on to take the win with his team, finishing one lap ahead of Mark Webber in the other Porsche for the race. This made Nico the first active Formula 1 driver to win at Le Mans since 1991 when Johnny Herbert won the race and also Porsche’s first win since 1998.
This was proof that Nico was still an incredibly skilled driver and that perhaps his run of poor luck was more on the teams which he drove for than his own personal skill. Given what would happen to Force India’s boss, Williams overall and Renault’s recent poor performance, this would be an easy assumption to make.
2020 BRINGS ONE MORE (MAYBE LAST) CHANCE
Just prior to the first of two Grand Prix’s at Silverstone in 2020 it was announced that Sergio Perez, who is currently driving for Racing Point, had tested positive for the Coronavirus which you may have heard a little about but that’s a different story, check out CNN or Sky News for more on that. This meant that Racing Point would now need to replace Sergio for at least one race if not two. There was massive speculation about who would be brought in to race in Perez’s car for the one or two weekends (depending on regulation decisions around the virus). In a shock to most of us, it was announced that Nico would take the seat.
However it seemed like the curse continued for weekend one. After a strong showing even though he was new to the car, Nico had qualified in the top 10 and was ready to show what he could do on race day. Bad luck struck again though on the Sunday morning of the race with engine failure making him a non starter in the race.
Luckily for Nico and unluckily for Perez, it was announced that regulations and another positive test for Perez would place Nico in the car once again. This time Nico pushed even harder, going in front of long term Racing Point driver (and owner’s son) Lance Stroll with a qualification in 3rd place.
Sadly, during the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, although he gave an incredible performance and pushed the car as hard as he could, he ended up in 7th place and it would seem, for now, the curse continued.