Nico Hulkenberg is still considered a candidate for the cockpit of Alex Albon at Red Bull. He talks about it in an exclusive interview
Mr. Hulkenberg, have you already realized that you spontaneously drove three Formula 1 races this year?
Nico Hulkenberg: Yes, I did. All those events happened a while ago now. My stakes were always very short and very concentrated. But very exciting. I like such crazy challenges! In retrospect, it’s easy to say how great it was anyway. After all, everything went well. But I’m thankful that I got the stage again, otherwise my name would surely be less present now.
You are now known as the fireman of Formula 1. Is that also a confirmation for you?
The firefighter story is a by-product. Of course I perceive that, too. But I’m rather proud of the achievements and what I was able to implement.
How does a qualifying session without preparation feel like?
(laughs) At first ungrateful. It was clear to me from the start that it would be almost impossible to get past the last place. Because the circumstances were just too extreme: completely out of my cold pants! Fortunately I still had Sunday (laughs). But in the end I had nothing to lose. So: get in and do it! These are chances in life, you just have to take them.
You are now in 15th place in the world championship, two places behind Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari. What does that tell you?
I wasn’t really aware of it until now. But of course it also reflects Sebastian’s difficult year in figures.
Would you have thought that you would be a candidate for a top team, namely Red Bull, again out of such a situation?
No. You couldn’t have expected that. That makes me all the more grateful that things have gone this far.
What would it mean to you if you were to win a place on a top team again? You came close several times.
Once I was realistically close (at Ferrari; d. Red.) and of course that would be an amazing story. I’m extremely excited to have another opportunity like this in the fall of my career. And in general I feel how much I miss the competition.
At Red Bull you’d have to compete against one of the super talents of the present: Max Verstappen.
This Dutchman who is quite strong for you at Red Bull. And one of the greatest natural talents of all time.
Right. I have heard of him (laughs). I get on well with him too… Seriously: Max is felt to be much more than a super talent, a real house number. But I don’t deal with such thoughts at the moment. That’s too much subjunctive for me.
Who was your strongest team mate so far?
That is difficult to compare. Of course Rubens Barrichello was a board for me in my first year. I was new, he was extremely experienced. At the same time, I have to emphasize Checo (Perez; editor), who was and is an excellent driver. Then at Renault, of course, Daniel as well.
Why did it never work out with Red Bull before? They were not exactly slow even in junior times…
Our paths have always crossed from time to time, but over the years they have tended to run parallel. I competed against some Red Bull juniors in the junior series. Later also in Formula 1.
Why should Red Bull take you now? Here you can submit your application verbally…
(laughs) In Formula 1, it doesn’t work like that with an interview and CV. People know the results and know how to judge the drivers.
With his seventh world championship title, Lewis Hamilton has equaled Michael Schumacher’s record. What do you think about that?
It’s a tremendous achievement that Lewis has been delivering since 2014. In combination with Mercedes, he has simply built up a power. Of course, there are reasons for this, because Mercedes simply does an extremely good job – better than anyone else. And Lewis is an absolute killer on the track, who simply always puts it into action – even under the most difficult conditions such as in Istanbul. Lewis always knows how to get his performance to the point. You have to give him a lot of credit for that, it makes him a champion.
You are coming from the generation of Michael Schumacher fans and have experienced his record hunt as a child and teenager. Would you ever have dreamed that there was someone better?
Hardly. Michael’s performance was overpowering and great. It was always unthinkable that someone would ever come along to top it.
Actually, Sebastian Vettel wanted to be the one. But now he has had a very difficult season with Ferrari. This year you showed that you don’t forget how to drive so quickly with your unprepared spontaneous drives.
Seb also showed in Turkey that he has not forgotten how to drive. Obviously, a lot of things went wrong with the team and drivers this year, which had an impact on performance.
Now Vettel is practically getting the car that you drove three races this year. What can he expect?
First of all, of course, he will have a completely different team compared to Ferrari. An English team with a long history, which has never been a top team, but which has often – even when I was there – fought above its weight class with little means. And which now wants to make a difference with a financially strong, serious new owner. I’m sure that Sebastian will do his part to contribute to the success.
Can he expect a car there whose rear end is more stable than that of his Ferrari?
Of course he will need a period of adjustment, like every driver when he changes racing teams. He will have to get into the groove, both in the car and in the team. But he will master this. In the end, every car reacts critically at the limit – and it is our job as drivers to find the absolute limit and deal with it.
That’s what Mick Schumacher is currently doing in Formula 2, where he is preparing to be your successor – because you, too, have already won the junior class. You have already competed against his father in Formula 1, would you also like to compete against Mick?
That would be nice. But whoever is in the other cars is secondary. With Sebastian, Alonso, Max and Hamilton there are enough top-class drivers that I would love to compete against. But Mick is doing a good job. He gets a lot of attention at a young age and it’s not always easy to deal with it. But he has done well in the junior series.
Now we’ve talked a lot about the Formula 1 opportunity. What happens if it doesn’t work out.
Then I look further. I’ve had various inquiries from other racing series, but I haven’t put anything in concrete terms. If it doesn’t work out with F1, I will probably have to look for alternatives.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
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