YOU ASK THE QUESTIONS
The Renault racer looks back at missed chances with stoicism and regards Daniel Ricciardo’s arrival at Renault with equanimity. But his composure frays when talk turns to spiders…
Nico Hülkenberg gets grilled by you. Just don’t mention spiders
It’s not often that F1 Racing specifically asks a photographer to shoot a subject from the waist up. Perhaps it’s because we’re in Brazil and the carnival atmosphere has proved infectious, or perhaps it’s just the fact that it’s the Thursday of a grand prix weekend that has moved Nico Hülkenberg to wear his civvies. But there is something about the jangly patterning of his trousers that simply will not do and, in much the same manner that Jeeves’ policing of Bertie Wooster’s wardrobe powered a thousand comic sub-plots in PG Wodehouse novels, we, as a responsible magazine, acting in utmost good faith, must spare our readers’ eyes from this.
Aside from being a dedicated follower of some sort of fashion, Nico is the only driver on the current Formula 1 grid to have appeared on the BBC’S venerable sports quiz A Question Of Sport. He is therefore ideally placed to face the often eccentric questions our readers pose – a task he approaches with good humour.
“These are the fan questions?” he asks with a twinkle in his eye as he regards the stack of cards placed before him. “They can be a little crazy, no?”
Nico Hülkenberg: Spiders. F1 Racing: Is it the number of legs? NH: It’s just that they are disgusting little creatures… urrrggghhh.
F1R: Because they suck the vital fluids out of their prey? NH: I just don’t like them very much…
NH: [Long, long pause]. I would probably have to say Kevin Magnussen. I really enjoy going wheel to wheel with him.
What is your biggest fear? Severine Covens, UK Against whom do you most enjoy going wheel to wheel? Chris Sartor, UK
Which team-mate do you feel you’ve learned the most from in your career? Michael Filletti, Malta Does it annoy you that junior drivers like Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc get the drives in the top teams when you cannot? Dave Hopkinson, UK Would you ever consider a double championship campaign of Formula 1 and WEC, just like Alonso? Matt Lloyd, UK Is there anyone in sports besides F1, that you particularly admire? Pedro Eca, Portugal Nico, do you think Renault could be better next year, and make it into the top three? Gisella Clavel, Mexico
NH: It was probably Rubens Barrichello at Williams because it was my first year and his 19th. He was incredibly experienced and so good technically with feedback about the car. And I was very young, obviously, and had to learn a lot. That was interesting and he was a really good teacher.
NH: It doesn’t really annoy me. That’s the way Formula 1 works. It’s not always, and I don’t want to say fair, but every career works out differently. It’s to do with momentum and it’s about being in the right place at the right moment and, unfortunately, in my career it hasn’t happened with any of the top teams. Early on I was close, they sniffed a little bit, but ultimately, for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. Now I’m here with Renault trying to pull it off.
F1R: With that very healthy looking drink [one of the Renault catering team has arrived bearing a glass of effervescent green liquid] you probably should.
NH: This is a German apfelschorle, apple juice mixed with sparkling water. Like cider without the booze!
NH: Um, generally, at the moment, I think my answer would be no. But in a way sometimes it would be fun if the F1 world would be more open to us exploring other series a little bit, like I did in 2016 [when he won the Le Mans 24 Hours with Porsche]. Why not? I did it, obviously not the full championship but if there was something else out there that I was interested in…
F1R: Drivers used to do that. Jim Clark would race touring cars one weekend and a grand prix the next.
NH: Yeah, very different times – and there were far fewer grands prix during the season. Now it’s so commercial and your team owns all the rights and you can’t just go and do it, you need their approval. After what happened with Robert Kubica you wouldn’t be allowed to do it now.
NH: Yeah, I’m a big tennis fan and there are a couple of guys I admire. I’m quite a big, I don’t know if I can say ‘a fan’, but I like watching Andy Murray. He’s a fighter. I know lately in his career he’s gone through a tough time with the hip surgery, but I like his spirit and how he’s always fighting. Similarly Rafa Nadal.
NH: Yes, I do think that Renault can be better next year. Can we be in the top three? That’s the challenge. It’s going to be tough but we will try.
NH: There will be fewer funny radio messages… but otherwise I don’t think that things will change too much. And it doesn’t really mean too much to me. Obviously, when a champion retires that’s part of a natural cycle. At some point everybody has to stop. No hard feelings there.
F1R: You could fill the vacancy with some amusing radio messages of your own.
NH: I’m trying, I’m trying all of the time to get to his level of sarcasm…
NH: No, I think that would just add another complication.
If you have refuelling and more strategies it’s just more complicated for the outside world to understand. I think we just need better cars – less aerosensitive cars – maybe tyres that are a bit more robust and able to cope with overheating, and that should be it. I don’t think we need to go back to refuelling.
NH: I feel good about it. I think it will boost Renault. He will obviously bring his driving skills and his knowledge from Red Bull, and I think he will boost the whole team and be a motivation for everybody. I look forward to working with him.
NH: Race, or race weekend? F1R: It could be either, I suppose.
NH: So, for me, 2012 here in Brazil, and 2013 in Korea. F1R: Korea. That was with Sauber?
NH: Yes, Sauber, and I kept Hamilton and Alonso behind me the whole race.
F1R: They were furious about that, weren’t they? NH: Yes, that was a nice one!
[Nico’s team-mate Carlos Sainz appears mid-question, makes an unprintable interjection, playfully slaps the peak of Nico’s baseball cap downwards, then toddles off. Nico raises an eyebrow and gathers himself…]
F1R: What comes into your head?
NH: Probably 2012, the race here in Brazil. Even though the outcome wasn’t what we wanted, the way I managed that race, those conditions, that’s still something that I look back to and think: ‘Wow, respect to myself.’
NH: Oh, nothing special when I get there. I’ll just lift the trophy, celebrate, and feel good about it.
F1R: Perhaps you could take a lesson from Rubens. He used to do that little comedy stumble on the way up to the podium.
NH: Ha! No, I won’t stumble. It’s frustrating, but it’s how my career has gone. There have been missed chances where it got taken away from me. I haven’t been up there, and of course I’d like to. I’m still fighting and trying.
“I’M A BIG TENNIS FAN AND I LIKE WATCHING ANDY MURRAY. LATELY HE’S GONE THROUGH A TOUGH TIME WITH HIP SURGERY BUT I LIKE HIS SPIRIT If our memories are triggered by our sense of smell, what is your most evocative Formula 1 memory? Rick Bruck, USA How frustrating has it been to not yet be on the podium in F1? Will you do anything special when you get there? Tom Jakovljevic, Australia
He may have won Le Mans in 2016, but for now, Nico is firmly focused on Formula 1
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