It’s easy to see Nico Hulkenberg’s Formula 1 career as one of missed opportunities and unfulfilled potential, but that’s harsh on the German.
He is admittedly leaving the grid with the unwanted record of competing in the most races without ever getting a podium, something that seemed unthinkable when he arrived in the sport as one of the biggest talents around.
He has, however, on multiple occasions, shown why his stock was so high all those years ago and why many rate him so highly. In case you’re struggling to recall such occasions, here’s our top 10.
It’s always a memorable occasion when a driver gets his first points in the sport, and the Hulk didn’t have to wait long for his, doing so in just his third race.
After a disappointing first two races with Williams, he showed what he was made of by qualifying P5 in Malaysia with a stunning lap. Technical issues looked to have taken the chance of points away from him but he persevered to keep himself in P11 and in with a chance. He got his reward when Fernando Alonso’s engine blew up with one lap to go, giving him his first point at the age of 22.
Just nine races later, he established himself as one of the sport’s biggest talents when he took the first of many P6 finishes.
He out-qualified team-mate Barrichello for just the third time that season on the Saturday to make it into Q3 and start his first Hungarian Grand Prix in P10.
The race would prove to be a chaotic one, with an early Saftey Car shaking things up. Nevertheless, Hulkenberg stayed out of trouble and drove perfectly to come home in the top six, finishing behind just the Red Bulls, Ferrari and a Renault.
The fact that arguably the German’s best moment on the grid came in his first season is a somewhat sad reflection on the rest of his F1 career, but that takes nothing away from the achievement.
The Williams car he was driving in Brazil was by no means quick enough to start near the top of the field, but changing conditions gave everyone a shot at pole. Hulkenberg was the man to master them, timing his run on the soft tyre compound perfectly to give his team their first pole position since 2005 by over a second.
Race day showed what an achievement it was to take pole position in that car. In dry conditions, it proved to be way, way off the pace of the top teams and P8 was the best that he could do. Despite a disappointing Sunday, Hulkenberg’s first and only pole position will live long in the memory.
Finalement, qu’est-ce qui est le plus séduisant ?
👉 Monter sur un podium durant sa carrière
— Pit Lane (@PtLaneF1) November 13, 2019
Hulkenberg had a point to prove in 2012 having been dropped for the previous season and had already gone some way to silencing the doubters with a P5 finish in Valencia. Four races later, he’d go one better to secure his joint best-ever finish in F1.
He started in P11 but, after a Grosjean-induced first corner crash, was up in the top seven by the end of the first lap. He then showed vastly superior pace to the rest of the midfield to find himself as high as P2 at one point.
Raikkonen then jumped him in the pits and Vettel passed him on track but Hulkenberg held off Massa and Webber, who were driving far quicker cars, to finish P4 and establish himself as one of the best on the grid.
In a recent interview, Hulk said that rewatching this race made his heart bleed, and you can’t blame him. This was probably the best drive of his career and the one that should have given him his first podium at the least.
Much like two years prior, he handled the unpredictable weather better than most. After he and Button stayed out when the rain began to fall, the two built a lead of over a minute to the rest of the field. He then passed the Briton to take P1 with 20 laps gone.
His hard work was all undone by a Safety Car just three laps later. Due to a mistake, Lewis Hamilton passed him at the restart to take the lead but Hulkenberg stayed with him all the way to lap 54 when he tried a pass at Turn 1 for the win. Had he pulled it off, it surely would’ve been his, but the two collided and the German was instead given a drive-through penalty.
He had driven well enough to win the race, made all the more impressive by the fact he was in a Force India. He had plenty of “what if?” moments in his career, but this was the biggest.
A large reason Hulkenberg joined Ferrari-backed team Sauber in 2013 was to put himself in the mix for a seat with the Scuderia the following season, and he did just that at their home race.
On the Saturday, he put in a hugely impressive lap to qualify in P3, 14 places ahead of his team-mate and just three tenths off pole. He was to start the race behind only the Red Bulls and directly in front of both Ferraris.
He ended up losing his place to Alonso and Massa but held off Rosberg to finish P5, a whopping 22 seconds clear of the next midfield driver. Why didn’t Ferrari give him a 2014 seat again?
Given that he spent his career at midfield teams, it’s not often that Hulkenberg got to battle the big boys. The 2013 Korean Grand Prix was one of the few times he did, and he came out on top.
After a good start, he found himself in P5 early on, under pressure from Alonso and Raikkonen, but managed to hold both of them off until the first round of pit stops, where the Finn finally got ahead of him.
Two Safety Cars later, he ended up in P4 just ahead of Hamilton and Alonso. The Mercedes did everything to try and pass him but Hulkenberg, helped by his straight-line speed, frustrated him, and Hamilton even asked his team for tips. The one time that the Brit did pass, Hulkenberg took the position back a few turns later and he then did enough to finish P4.
After a largely disappointing year at Sauber, Hulkenberg rejoined Force India for the 2014 season and enjoyed an excellent first two races, finishing P6 and P5. This run looked set to come to an end in Bahrain though when a mistake in qualifying meant he’d start down in P11.
Nevertheless, he found himself in P8 at the end of lap 1 and quickly passed Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas to move into the top six. With ten laps to go, he was challenging team-mate Sergio Perez for the final podium spot.
A hydraulics issue then reared its ugly head and the German was passed by Daniel Ricciardo before holding off Sebastian Vettel to finish P5; a shame, but it was still a great drive. He finished six places up on where he started to take his third straight top-five finish and move into P3 in the Drivers Championship. Good times.
With grid position being so crucial on the streets of Monaco, Hulkenberg looked set for a strong race after an excellent qualifying performance meant he’d start P5.
Things looked even better when, after a Safety Car start, he moved up past Vettel and into P4. However, Force India then mistimed his pit-stop and brought him out behind the Ferrari and Felipe Massa. His team-mate Perez, who had qualified behind him and had stayed there, stayed out longer and ended up on the podium.
Hulkenberg did pull off a final lap pass – no mean feat in Monaco – on Nico Rosberg to take P6 and could’ve finished much higher if not for the poor strategy he was put on.
— Gianluca D’Alessandro (@Gianludale27) May 29, 2016
Abu Dhabi 2017
Heading into the final race of the 2017 season, Renault were four points behind Toro Rosso in the Constructors Standings. With one position higher bringing them millions of pounds more, it was crucial that they overtook Red Bull’s sister team.
Hulkenberg put himself and the team in a good position when he qualified as the best-of-the-rest and, 20 laps into the race, he was up to P6 thanks to Ricciardo’s retirement. The entire fate of the team then rested upon his shoulders for the remainder of the race due to his team-mate Sainz’ DNF.
Despite picking up a five-second penalty, the German handled the pressure with ease to finish in P6 and single-handedly give his team P6 in the Championship. The German was often criticised for collapsing under pressure, but he did the opposite here.
A driver’s home race is always special for them, and Hulkenberg’s 2018 edition was even better for him given his P5 finish.
He qualified in P7, behind both drivers of his team’s seemingly quicker midfield rivals Haas. However, he quickly passed Grosjean at the start of the race before capitalising on a mistake from his old buddy Magnussen to become the race’s best-of-the-rest.
Despite rain and tyre issues, the Renault driver held on to finish in the top five. He may have squandered a home podium chance a year later, but at least he can always look back at 2018 and smile.