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

The Hulk has no fear of the Honey Badger, as Ricciardo gets set to join Re­nault

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